Disputed Western Sahara is entirely bounded by Mauritania on its southern and eastern flanks, Algeria borders a piece of its north east and Morocco lies to the north. To the west lies the Atlantic and the Canary Islands.
When Spain surrendered control of this Western African outpost, it retained the Canary Islands, from where Franco launched his Reconquista and to where millions of north Europeans flock each year to lie on its beaches and swim in its seas.
Because Spain,a global world power in fishing, well knows that those seas are amongst the world’s richest, the European Union, of which Spain is an integral part, has a dog, and very large fishing and naval fleets, in the fight between Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco and sundry others for control over this North West African outpost.
As of course, do the United States and Israel for a dispute would not be a dispute without those two poking their noses in. Shortly before leaving office, Donald Trump’s diplomacy, like a knock-off version of Pope Alexander V1’s Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided up the New World between Spain and Portugal and to hell with all other disputants, the locals included, bequeathed the entire area to Morocco. The Moroccans, for their part, have insisted that Israel recognizes the Western Sahara as being an integral part of Morocco, something Israel is happy enough to do in return for reciprocal recognitions and large arms sales. Although some Moroccans object to their leaders metaphorically getting into bed with Israel, this is undoubtedly another big diplomatic win for Israel who don’t have to explain their political promiscuity to the Algerians, the West Saharans or anybody else.
Although NBC News was amongst those denouncing Trump’s decision which, it claims, will lead to more violent conflict, not less, Moroccan Ambassador to South Africa Youssef Amran, speaking to South African News, considers this a step forward towards lasting peace and in line with international law that is in total harmony with Morocco’s historical leadership in decolonising Africa, Western Sahara included.
Ambassador Amran’s considered arguments on Palestine and the Western Sahara notwithstanding, because Algeria, still challenges Morocco’s claim, it finds the West’s major power now aligned against it; Mauritania, for reasons that need not detain us, long ago dropped its claims on Western Sahara, thus making it a less than straight fight between Morocco and Algeria or, more properly perhaps, the Polisario Front, which Morocco regards as an Algerian cat’s paw.
As the Polisario Front, for its part, claims that America’s recognition of Morocco’s claims changes nothing on the ground, one must reasonably expect further bloodshed ahead.
Morocco has invested heavily in the Western Sahara. They have peppered it with settlements and they have given ordinary Moroccans considerable financial incentives to move there and, much like the Palestinian West Bank, Moroccan settlers are treated preferentially in the 80% of the disputed land that the Moroccan military control, whereas its critics claim the local Sahrawi population are heavily discriminated against in terms of employment and housing.
To add further fuel to Western Sahara’s still smouldering fire, American companies Northrop and Westinghouse built giant “peace walls”, berm as they are called, beyond which lie the Algerian-backed Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the Polisario’s armed wing, which wishes to control all of Western Africa, which they call the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The problem for the SADR vision is not so much Morocco but that over 90% of the fish EU super trawlers hoover up as part of the Euro-Moroccan partnership are caught off the coast of the SADR. Without those revenues, its democratic republic would quickly wilt. And it seems that neither Morocco nor the EU have any tangible reason to hand those licences over to the SADR.
Here, for what it is worth, is a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union unequivocally finding that all of that EU poaching is totally illegal and criminal. And so also here for the record, is it that a not insignificant amount of the phosphates the EU imports from Morocco comes from the SADR aka Western Sahara. And there likewise seems equally little prospects of Morocco suddenly gifting those licences to their adversaries.
So, how then can we initiate a peace process so a Te Deum may be offered up in the region’s appropriately named St Francis of Assisi Cathedral, which was designed by architect Diego Méndez, famous for having worked on Madrid’s Valle de los Caídos, which once housed the mortal remains of Franco, whose armies were no strangers to the region?
If the Western Sahara is to achieve peace in our time, then the outside military, fishing, mining and diplomatic powers of the EU, Spain, the U.S. and Israel must be excluded from the process. Like Palestine, there must be a fair balance between the competing interests of all who live there, as well as the security and other concerns of countries that border the Western Sahara. However, as long as the avarice of Spain and EU leaders with their modern versions of gunboat diplomacy trump all else, so all we can we expect this problem of the Western Sahara, of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or whatever it should be called, to needlessly rumble onwards and onwards with no lasting resolution in sight, save those that Morocco’s feet and lucrative contracts on the ground make.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Maghrebi.org which encourages a wide range of views on such controversial subjects.