The United Nations Security Council should show resolve and determination to uphold its resolutions on Western Sahara and ensure that the parties to the conflict abide by them.
Washington D.C – Polisario has conducted military exercises east of Morocco’s defense wall included in the 1991 ceasefire agreement in a flagrant violation of Security Council Resolutions 2414 and 2440.
In the two resolutions, the Security Council expressed its concern about the presence of Polisario forces in Guerguerat, calling on the breakaway movement to refrain from any destabilizing measures in the buffer zone and along the Moroccan defense wall, including in Bir Lahlou and Tifariti.
Such provocations by Polisario could undermine the credibility of the Security Council. The Security Council’s resolutions and the ceasefire agreement are clear and leave no room for debate or interpretation.
When Morocco withdrew its military forces from the buffer zone as a result of the 1991 settlement agreement, it did not do so to allow the Polisario to take control of the region or to claim it is part of its “liberated territory.” Morocco’s move was made in good faith to pave the way for the UN political process to be initiated.
Polisario’s uncalculated move will undermine the cautious optimism that emerged from the roundtable in Geneva in early December and reduce the chances of enabling the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy to achieve a breakthrough in the political process. Polisario’s maneuvering in the area will most likely dash any hopes of building confidence between the parties to the conflict and doom it to a more prolonged stalemate.
Without building confidence between the parties, it will be impossible to achieve any tangible progress in the political process.
Polisario should not be fooled by Bolton
Algeria and Polisario would be mistaken and misguided to believe that Morocco will budge an inch in its efforts to defend its sovereignty over the territory. They would also be misguided to think that their maneuver will put the referendum of self-determination back on the table.
The recent statements of US National Security Advisor John Bolton, a proponent of holding a referendum in Western Sahara, has likely emboldened Algeria and Polisario and encouraged them to escalate tension in the region.
Perhaps Polisario and Algeria believe that with the presence of Bolton in the US government, they have free reign to advance their agenda in the region and upend the political process initiated in 2007. Such short-sighted reading overlooks the fact that the United States is not a banana republic where decisions on questions of national interest are made on a whim without checks and balances from other branches of government and other influential members of the Trump administration.
However influential Bolton may be in the Trump administration and however strong his position on Western Sahara may be, if push comes to shove, Morocco can resort to its friends in Washington to avoid any decision that endangers the traditional alliance between the Morocco and the US.
In addition, in the remote possibility that the US repudiates its positive neutrality in the conflict and tilts in favor of Algeria and Polisario, other members of the Security Council—especially France—will step in to keep the political process on the right track and prevent any escalation that might undermine the stability and security of the region.
UN must act to save political process
Algeria and Polisario’s disregard of Security Council resolutions is worrisome and should be addressed firmly. Such provocations put Polisario in direct confrontation with the Security Council, which must step in to assert its authority and discharge its responsibility in preserving international peace and security.
The latest Security Council resolutions, like the previous ones, called for a climate of trust between the two parties and to avoid any escalation that could threaten the region or undermine the political process.
Recent events, however, suggest Polisario is uninterested in reaching a political solution in accordance with UN resolutions and the spirit of the political process that started with the adoption of Resolution 1754 in 2007.
In the event the Security Council does not address this recent escalation in the meeting on the conflict on January 29, the second round of talks under the auspices of the Secretary-General’s personal envoy to Western Sahara, Horst Kohler, set for March, will have zero chances of yielding progress.
Meanwhile, in keeping with its sincere desire to reach a mutually acceptable political solution, Morocco has reacted responsibly to Polisario’s provocations, calling on the United Nations to respond firmly to the violations.
In light of Polisario’s continuing violations of the resolutions, the members of the Security Council must act more firmly than ever. Firm action would prevent such maneuvers from threatening regional security and stability.
The Security Council and the UN Secretary-General should, therefore, send a clear message to Polisario that it has no sovereignty over the buffer zone and that any violation of the red lines as set out in Resolutions 2414 and 2440 could have serious consequences for them and put the political process in jeopardy.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.