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Samir Bennis

UN resolution on Western Sahara is within Morocco's agenda

The resolution clearly shows that the language utilised is not binding for Morocco [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 May, 2016

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Morocco hasn't really lost in its confrontation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the recent UN resolution on Western Sahara is indicative of that, writes Samir Bennis.

The Security Council adopted its annual resolution on Friday, extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission of the Organisation of a Referendum in the Western Sahara [MINURSO] until April 2017. Moroccan and foreign observers alike wonder whether Morocco lost or won this year’s diplomatic battle.

Since the adoption of the resolution, many hurried to argue that Morocco’s efforts in recent years have been setback by the language of the resolution.

This argument begs the following question: has Morocco really lost in its confrontation with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the one hand, and with the Algeria-backed Polisario on the other. As far as content is concerned, we find that positive language towards Morocco, as was the case with previous resolutions, has been considerably reduced.

One of the most notable changes in the resolution this year is the absence of any "welcoming" expressions for Morocco’s autonomy initiative presented in 2007 as a framework for a political solution; rather, there is instead only a hint at it.

Morocco’s decision to request MINURSO’s civilian component to leave the territory, following the flagrant bias of the United Nations' Secretary General in favour of the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, was not an easy one

Equally important is the Security Council’s emphasis on MINURSO returning to work with full functionality in the disputed region.

However, it’s crucial to read the content of the resolution in light of the recent events and developments on the issue of the Sahara.

Morocco’s decision to request MINURSO’s civilian component to leave the territory, following the flagrant bias of the United Nations' Secretary General in favour of the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, was not an easy one.

Morocco was aware that the decision would have serious ramifications.

From the United Nations' point of view, the decision of a member state to request the departure of elements of a UN peacekeeping mission is a very serious matter.

It would not be a surprise if in such a case, the Security Council immediately convened to issue a decision condemning, with the harshest words, such "a peace-thwarting move" and demanding, with strict language, the immediate return of the mission to its work.

This was the exact scenario that some UN member states, such as Angola, Venezuela and Uruguay wanted to see happen.

However, thanks to the considerable support of Morocco’s friends, particularly France, Spain, Egypt and Senegal, the Security Council did not take any hostile measures against Morocco except for a weakly-worded press release last month.

Neither did the Council resolution condemn Morocco or blame it for requesting the departure of MIUNURS’ civilian component.

Thanks to the considerable support of Morocco’s friends, particularly France, Spain, Egypt and Senegal, the Security Council did not take any hostile measures against Morocco

Additionally, the language used in the resolution to demand the return of MINURSO to full functionality was soft if compared to the language used by the Security Council in similar cases.

The resolution also does not take into account the language used in the UN chief’s report in which he clearly stated that the departure of the civilian component has prevented MINURSO from properly doing its job. In addition, there is no reference in the resolution to the "expulsion" of MINURSO’s civilian staff.

The resolution only expresses regret for the fact that the mission is unable to fully meet its mandate as the majority of members of the civilian staff are unable to perform their duties within the mission's area of operations.

The absence of the term "expulsion" and the lack of any condemnation of this decision by the Council is what explains the vote of Uruguay and Venezuela against the decision.

Morocco succeeds in maintaining the status quo

Despite attempts made by the United States to put pressure on Morocco and impose a strong binding resolution, under which Morocco would be obliged to accept the return of MINURSO’s civilian component, Morocco has succeeded – thanks to the instrumental role of France – in thwarting the project and substituting its language for more consensual terms.

The resolution clearly shows that the language utilised is not binding for Morocco. It does not oblige it to accept the return of MINURSO to its state prior to the crisis between Morocco and Ban Ki-moon. Rather, the language used emphasised that MINURSO operates with full functionality.

One of the most important changes made in the resolution was the removal of the term "immediate", which was used in the first draft.

This shows that Morocco is not obliged to ensure the return of the civilian component of MINURSO and neither is it bound by a specific timeframe. Instead, the door was left open for negotiations between Morocco and the United Nations without putting any pressure on Rabat. 

One of the most important changes made in the resolution was the removal of the term 'immediate', which was used in the first draft

A second key point was the call in the resolution for the UN chief to brief the Security Council on whether Morocco has abided by the resolution in three months, knowing that in the first draft the UN Secretary General was required to do so within two months.

In addition, this paragraph no longer contains the expression "taking immediate measures" to facilitate the return of MINURSO’s civilian component. Rather, it was substituted with the expression "considering how to facilitate the achievement of this goal."

The latter expression can be considered softer than the first one and does not put Rabat under pressure or threat since the resolution does not provide for any coercive action compelling Morocco to accept the return of MINURSO to its full functionality.

With this language, the resolution leaves the door open with regard to the steps that should be taken to ensure its implementation and again suggests that this goal will only be achieved through negotiations with Morocco. The resolution also does not include any reference to achieving a political solution by means of a referendum.

Like previous resolutions, it includes a reference to "self-determination," by calling for "a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations."

However, self-determination does not necessarily mean independence of the Sahara from Morocco.

Morocco thwarts Ban Ki-moon’s plans

Regardless of the different analyses on whether Morocco lost this year’s battle or achieved any progress, one things is certain: the resolution adopted on Friday is the lesser of two evils.

Things might have been worse had Morocco not reacted strongly to the statements made by Ban Ki-moon during his recent trip to the region. When Ban Ki-moon made those statements, he showed his intent to call on the Security Council to review the parameters of negotiations set out by resolution 1754.

In fact, in his report presented to the Council in 2014, the UN chief had already called on the Council to conduct a compressive review of the political process initiated in 2007 if no progress was made by the April 2015. The statements made by Ban Ki-moon in March heralded his intention to put the same demand on the table.

Morocco will have another year to prepare a new line of offence and reshuffle its diplomacy until the election of a new UN Secretary General and a new American President

The strong decision taken by Morocco to condemn Ban Ki-moon’s bias in favour of the Polisario, requesting the departure of MINURSO’s civilian component took the UN chief by surprise and put the debate on a different footing, away from any attempts by the UN to call for establishing a mechanism for the monitoring of human rights in the Sahara.

By asking MINRSO’s civilian component to leave the territory, Morocco succeeded in refocusing the debate in accordance with its own agenda.

Regardless of the outcome of the resolution, Morocco will have another year to prepare a new line of offence and reshuffle its diplomacy until the election of a new UN Secretary General and a new American President.

Moroccan officials realised long ago that they could not expect much from the current UN chief or the American administration. Hence the need to gain time and wait until the election of the new Secretary General and the new American President.


Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France and his research areas include relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. 

He has published more than 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored
Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder of Morocco World News and lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @SamirBennis

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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