The prospects for the resumption of talks on the settlement of the Western Sahara conflict have brightened since the appointment of German Horst Kohler as Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, who is holding a series of meetings with the parties to the conflict (Morocco and the Polisario Front) as well as the two observer countries, Algeria and Mauritania.
The approach of Kohler, who held working sessions with his interlocutors, with the exception of Morocco, which has not yet met the UN envoy but is obliged to do so, is in line with the various resolutions of the UN Security Council calling for the resumption of negotiations to achieve a lasting solution to a 42-year-old conflict under the relevant decisions “of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which has become the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN).
Although all resolutions call for negotiations without preconditions, negotiations have not progressed as Morocco hinders the process and imposes a plan of “autonomy” as the only one basis of negotiation, while the Polisario Front is always willing to discuss all proposals, and remained open to negotiating all issues under a self-determination referendum through which all options are possible (independence, autonomy and integration).
However, Morocco refuses to discuss the independence option, and this precondition hampers discussions and negotiations.
The latest Security Council resolution on the conflict dates back to April 2017. It unanimously extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and called Morocco and the Polisario Front to maintain “political will and work in an atmosphere conducive to dialogue in order to resume negotiations and ensure their success.”
Meanwhile, many members of the Security Council welcomed the efforts of Guterres and his Personal Envoy to revive the negotiations process under a new dynamics leading to the resumption of the political process to reach a solution based on the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.
The Security Council’s actions are a step in the process of settlement effectively launched on 20 June 1991 with the signing, at the initiative of the former OAU (currently AU) and the UN, a cease-fire agreement between the Moroccan occupier and the Polisario Front, unique and legitimate representative of the Saharawi people. The ceasefire agreement includes a peace plan that provides for the organization of a self-determination referendum in 1992 (resolution 690).
Morocco’s stubbornness, denial of international legality
Since 1992, the aforementioned referendum has been postponed because of Morocco’s failure to respect its commitments to the international community while the Security Council’s action has pursued its action through the adoption of twenty resolutions.
In addition to the recurring extension of MINURSO’s mandate, the parties to the conflict are urged to “continue to demonstrate political will, work in an atmosphere conducive to dialogue, and engage in negotiations leading to the implementation of these resolutions under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General.”
But the last time the Polisario Front and Morocco met around the same negotiating table was in March 2012 in Manhasset (US).
Since then, the peace process launched by the UN is at standstill because of the obstacles put by Morocco to prevent the settlement of the conflict on the basis of the principles of international legitimacy that guarantee the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination.