While hesitant and inconclusive, the latest UNSC meeting on Western Sahara reinforced the dominant UN consensus around a compromise-based political solution.
The UN Security Council’s latest meeting on Western Sahara was yet another concerning development for the Polisario Front, a number of experts and diplomats have observed.
While the closed UNSC session, held on April 21, did not come to any substantive or binding conclusions regarding the immediate future of the now stagnating UN-led political process, the predominant sentiment among most Sahara watchers and diplomats is that the international community is gradually burying Polisario’s statehood hopes.
Writing on Friday about the latest UNSC meeting meant for Polisario and the prolonged peace process, Sky News Arabia argued that the UN session dealt “a heavy blow” to the Polisario Front’s ultimate goal of creating an independent state.
The newspaper cited a number of researchers and experts who, while diverging on some details, unanimously made the point that Morocco’s diplomatic gains in the past few years – especially in the months that followed the Guerguerat incident – have starkly put to the fore Rabat’s seemingly irreversible diplomatic gains and Polisario’s mounting pile of contradictions and frustrations.
From the wave of consulate openings in the cities of Dakhla and Laayoune in southern Morocco to the apparent consensus that Morocco’s 2007 Autonomy Plan should be the basis for negotiating a pragmatic and lasting political settlement, there is little or no hope for a breakaway “republic” in an already fragile Sahelo-Saharan corridor, Sky News Arabia quoted its experts and UN sources as saying.
For the Arab outlet, one sure conclusion from the UNSC’s largely inconclusive meeting this week is that the Biden administration will most likely uphold the former US president’s Western Sahara proclamation.
During this week’s UN session, the US appeared to stand by its newfound, unambiguously pro-Rabat position. This, according to the newspaper, was indication enough that the Biden White House will not torpedo the recent Morocco-US agreements. For most experts, the main takeaway here is that Polisaro’s supporters and sympathizers can forget about their hopes for a renewed US stance on Western Sahara.
Another point of concern for Polisario is its supporters’ relentless but fruitless attempts to nullify the African Union’s recognition of the centrality of the UN-led process.
Kenya, now a non-permanent UNSC member, is reported to have urged for a more assertive and independent AU-led process to find a “pan-African” solution to the Sahara conflict.
But the sentiment among observers is that, like similar moves by Algeria and South Africa in the past months, Kenya’s call spoke more of desperation than of genuine hope that such a u-turn is possible.
One argument is that, with insurgency groups proliferating in Africa and most African governments battling with multifarious threats to their territorial integrity, it is not hard to envision the continent opposing the creation of a new state that would wreck yet more uncertainty and chaos in the Sahel and Sahara regions.
Another, more commonly mobilized, argument simply points to Morocco’s growing prominence – political, economic, strategic – in African affairs.
For experts basing their assessment on this point, Polisario’s recognition prospects on the continental stage have been blown away by the increasingly deep and critical overtures Morocco has made since its return to the AU to cement its newfound pan-African leadership.
Nicolas Beau, a French journalist who has extensively written on North African affairs, echoed this thesis in an article about the UNSC’s April 21 meeting.
For Beau, one obvious conclusion from the UN’s Western Sahara deliberations in recent years is that the self-determination referendum is now an “impossible” alternative.
“In recent years, the Moroccan strategy to marginalize the Polisario Front, the armed wing of the hypothetical republic, has gained ground,” he wrote. “Back in force within the African Union, Moroccan diplomacy has found many allies in the Arab and African world.”