Will the roundtable discussion over the Western Sahara conflict serve as an opportunity to increase dialogue between Morocco and Algeria?
Rabat – The much-anticipated roundtable discussion over the future of Western Sahara negotiations began yesterday, convening the four parties to the conflict.
The two-day meeting is the first of its kind since 2012. At the request of the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy Horst Kohler, the roundtable aims to step up measures to launch negotiations to end the Western Sahara conflict.
Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita is leading the Moroccan delegation, composed mostly of Sahrawis, in order to reinforce Morocco’s position that there should be no solution that damages Morocco’s territorial integrity.
Morocco has held firm that its autonomy plan, introduced in 2007, is a just and credible solution to the dispute. The North African country has also been putting pressure on its eastern neighbor Algeria to admit its role in the conflict.
Following direct and clear messages from the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Algeria, King Mohammed VI decided to extend his hand to the Algerian government hoping to initiate frank and direct dialogue, and in turn break the icy bilateral ties between the two countries.
Bouteflika’s government has not answered Morocco’s dialogue initiative yet, and some Algerian observers found King Mohammed VI’s offer “questionable” and “not sincere.”
Moroccan analysts and observers believe that Algeria is unlikely to accept its role in the Western Sahara conflict nor Morocco’s dialogue offer.
In a statement to Morocco World News, Moroccan political analyst El Moussaoui El Ajlaoui said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aims to identify a path towards future negotiations to end the persistent conflict. Guterres, according to Ajlaoui, is “focusing on the conflict as a regional dispute,” as his personal envoy invited Morocco and Polisario, as well as Mauritania and Algeria to the discussion in Geneva.
The use of the word ‘parties’ includes Algeria, Mauritania
“Inviting Algeria and Mauritania as parties in the conflict and not observers is proving that Guterres is making the conflict a regional issue that should be solved between all parties and not between Polisario and Morocco as Algeria claims,” according to the analyst.
Algerian officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and his foreign minister Abdelkader Messahel, shrunk their country’s role in the conflict, claiming that the conflict will end after discussion solely between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
Morocco, however, says Polisario is an illegitimate representative of the Sahrawis in the Tindouf camps in Algeria.
While it is hosting and arming the members of the Polisario Front, Algeria still claims to be neutral and an observer party to the conflict that aims to back Sahrawis’ “independence” referendum.
Ajlaoui said that in its last resolutions and reports the UN and its Security Council used the word “parties.” In Arabic, according to Ajlaoui, there was a misleading translation of the word parties to indicate a duality of “two parties” to the conflict.
Algeria has been using this translation to convince itself that the Western Sahara conflict should be solved between the “two parties” to the conflict: Morocco and Polisario.
Now Security Council Resolution 2440 has used clear language including Algeria and Mauritania as parties, according to Ajlaoui.
In his talk with Morocco World News, Ajlaoui doubted that Geneva’s roundtable will lead to future negotiations. “What Guterres and his personal envoy Kohler aim to do is to implement Resolution 2440, which clarified that the conflict is regional.” He added that the resolution also confirmed the threat imposed by the regional conflict in Western Sahara and in the Sahel.
The United Nations also decided on claims promoted by the Polisario Front regarding the “liberated zones.” The resolution clearly called on Polisario to respect its commitments in Bir Lahlou and Tifariti, two regions that have been claimed as “liberated zones.”
The resolution, therefore, brushed aside Polisario’s claims, calling it to comply with the UN orders.
High-level Moroccan delegation is significant message
Commenting on the Moroccan delegation accompanying Bourita, Ajlaoui said that the choice of the members of the delegation is “very important and significant.”
He added that the delegation, for the first time, included three members from the Sahara, who were voted on without any refusal from the United Nations.
The Moroccan delegation includes President of the Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra region Sidi Hamdi Ould Errachid; President of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region Ynja Khattat; and Fatima Adli, a member of the Smara municipal council.
Observers believe that the participation of Sahrawis strengthens their legitimate representation.
The representation of Sahrawis in the Moroccan delegation, according to Ajlaoui, is an essential card during Geneva’s roundtable and negotiations around Morocco’s agreements with the EU.
Algeria’s ignorance of resolution shows ill intention
Political expert Abdelfettah El Fatihi told Morocco World News yesterday that Algeria’s ignorance towards Morocco’s dialogue offer shows that the eastern neighbor is attending the Geneva round-table with “ill intention.”
He added that Morocco is complying with UN Resolution 2440, which called on all parties to show determination in working constructively with Kohler to ensure a successful UN-led political process.
He added that Polisario and its supporter Algeria “did not understand this part of the UN resolution.” He said this ignorance will “threaten the future of the consultations in Geneva.”
El Fatihi told MWN that Algeria’s silence “urged Guterres to address a message to the parties in order to respect the content of the latest resolution without preconditions.”
Prior to the roundtable, Guterres’ deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said on December 4 that Guterres wants the four parties to the conflict to engage in “good faith, without preconditions and in a constructive spirit in the discussions.”
Ajlaoui also commented on Algeria’s silence regarding Morocco’s dialogue offer. He said that Algeria has a problem of trust. “Algeria’s borders with all the surrounding states are military zones. When a state turns its border areas into military zones, it means that there is tension with all its surrounding countries, including Niger, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, and Morocco.”
He added that if the Algerian regime changes, there might be a possible future solution to the Western Sahara conflict.