One of the most ancient and forgotten conflict in the world has just witnessed a major evolution with the US decision to recognize "Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory".
For the last forty Years, the Kingdom of Morocco and Algeria-Backed Polisario Front have been engaged in a territorial dispute over this mostly desert territory. Morocco proposed in 2007 a large "autonomy plan", described as "serious and credible" by the successive relevant Security Council resolutions and most of the countries in the world. However, the Guerilla Movement still declares it will accept nothing less than a referendum.
Under the United Nations supervision, both sides, along with Mauritania and Algeria, engaged in several rounds of direct negotiations since 2007 but the discussions have not until now been fruitful. While this option of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan is still on the table, recent tensions occurred in the no-man's land around the crossing post of Guerguerate , which has been occupied by the Polisario militias stopping all the lorries traffic.
This crossing point was evacuated by the Moroccan army Friday 13th November after 3 weeks of blockade to secure the zone and re-allow safe trade between Morocco and west Africa. Both parties accuse each other of breaching the ceasefire signed in October 1991. Indeed, observers were worried that Algeria having its president, Abdelmajid Tebboune, absent, since hospitalized over two months ago in Germany, some members of the Algerian military apparatus could seize the opportunity to encourage the Polisario to engage in a military conflict against Morocco.
As tensions were rising, King Mohammed VI made a bold and swift move
As tensions were rising, conditions seemed favorable for a bold and swift move for King Mohammed VI, to accelerate negotiations with the United States in order to obtain a full recognition of its territory by the world's number one superpower and permanent member of the UN security council. For the last three years, the Moroccan Monarch has been in fact personally engaged in discreet discussions with President Trump and his closest advisors to broker a deal that would change the nature of the conflict and pave the way for its resolution.
Indeed, securing US recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara appeared as a very important step forward in order to close the chapter of one of the last conflicts, rooted in colonization era and inherited from the Cold War. For months, King Mohammed VI asserted his arguments with conviction to the American President: not only Morocco has a legitimate claim on this territory, but it has also invested hugely to develop this desert area, lifting it from a very poor region in the in the mid-seventies to a fully developed territory with state-of the art infrastructures, education system and health coverage in the benefit of local populations. The Moroccan King also argued that Morocco has proven its institutional and macro-economic stability, and represents therefore a "rock of stability" to ensure peace, stability, and security in the region.
King Mohammed VI imagined accordingly a much broader deal that would not only secure full recognition by the US of Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara, but would also address the crucial question of the 700 000 Moroccan Jews living in Israel, a community with very strong bonds with the Kingdom, and who is struggling to come to its home country for pilgrimage, tourism and investments.
Morocco, an "Honest Broker" of the Middle East Conflict
For the last five decades, Morocco has been a very important "Honest Broker" for conflict resolution in the Middle East. Late King Hassan II, alongside late King Hussein of Jordan, were the two most active actors who worked behind the scenes to negotiate peace for the region. King Hassan II was instrumental not only for the Camp David agreements, but also for the Oslo peace negotiations. On their way back from Washington after signing the agreement on Palestine in September 1993, Israeli prime minister Rabin and foreign minister Peres stopped in Morocco to "thank" King Hassan for his major contribution to peace.
In that respect, Morocco's positions on the middle-east conflict have been steady. Since the sixties, Morocco has always supported the "two states" solution and a special status for Jerusalem. As chair of the "Al Qods" (Jerusalem) Committee the King of Morocco enjoys an immense spiritual leadership over the fate of the emblematic city. Moreover, Morocco has a very specific place in the Arab world, being the only country of the region to recognize in the preamble of its constitution the Jewish component of its pluri-dimensional identity.
Finally, the deal secured by the Moroccan Monarch can be considered as a game-changer forMorocco, for Western Sahara, but also for the region as a whole. By securing US support of the Moroccan claim over Western Sahara, Mohammed VI deployed his diplomatic skills to keep the Kingdom of Morocco a pivotal country in the region.