Morocco’s proposed plan to grant Western Sahara autonomy is a poor solution to Africa’s forgotten conflict.
Imagine an Arab Muslim nation, most of whose people have lived in the squalor of refugee camps for decades in exile from their homeland. Most of the remaining population suffers under foreign military occupation, with a smaller number living as a minority within the legally-recognized territory of the occupier. The occupying power is in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions, has illegally brought in tens of thousands of settlers into the occupied territory, routinely violates international standards of human rights, has built a heavily-fortified separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory, and continues to defy a landmark decision of the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, and despite all this, the occupying power is considered to be a close ally of the United States and receives substantial American military, economic, and diplomatic support to maintain its occupation and colonization of the territory. This certainly describes the situation regarding Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank (including greater East Jerusalem) and Syria’s Golan region, as well as its quasi-occupation of the Gaza Strip. But it also describes the thirty-year occupation of Western Sahara by the Kingdom of Morocco.
After much wrangling from the French, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1495 right on the July 31st deadline for the rollover of the MINURSO peacekeeping operation in Western Sahara. In the best diplomatic tradition, the resolution affirmed the commitment to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, even while it seriously compromised on it by supporting a peace plan that would allow the Moroccan settlers in the territory to vote on independence in five years. As with Israeli settlers on the West Bank, these Moroccan colonists are there in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits countries from transfering their civilian population onto territories seized by military force.
Book chapter in Rightsizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders edited by Brendan O’Leary, Ian Lustick and Thomas Callaghy (Oxford University Press 2001).
Article in Peace Review, Vol. 10, No. 1 (April 1998).
Article in Middle East Policy, Vol. V, No. 4 (February 1998).
Article in Current History (May 1996).
Book chapter in International Dimensions of the Western Sahara Conflict edited by Daniel Volman and Yahia Zoubir (Greenwood Press 1993).
Article in Scandinavian Journal of Development Alternatives Vol. 7; Nos. 2-3 (June-September 1988).
Article in Africa Today Vol. 34; No. 3 (February 10, 1988).