Dr Mohamed Chtatou
The U.S. decision to recognize the Moroccan Sahara was not expressed through a statement or a communiqué, but by a presidential proclamation (decree). It is a strong political and legal act. Very much like America, a growing number of states have affirmed their recognition of the Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara in the last decade. They did so through knowledge of the history of Morocco, a country that has more than 6 millennia of existence and twelve centuries of monarchy rule of which the Sahara has always been a part. They, also, do so in strict compliance with international law, geopolitical logic and historical legitimacy.
Trump recognizes the sovereignty of Morocco over the Sahara
The relations between the United States and Morocco are strong and ancient, Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the young republic in 1777 during the reign of sultan Mohammed III and sign with it a Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1786, unbroken since. These relations are not cyclical, they have always transcended the various administrations.
The recognition by the United States of Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara will have, no doubt, positive economic consequences, noting that all states that are committed to the economic development and prosperity of the region can only welcome the momentum underway. It will, undeniably, create new opportunities for the entire region.
This recognition of the Moroccan Sahara is a victory for the diplomacy of the Kingdom of Morocco. It was accompanied, according to the U.S. President, by the signing of an agreement for the full normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel, an event that Trump presents as “historic”.
Just weeks after the Guerguerate incidents, which forced the Royal Armed Forces to install a security cordon to end the blockade of the buffer zone by some 60 Polisario militiamen, outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump announced on December 10, 2020 that the United States now recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“Morocco recognized the United States in 1777. It should therefore recognize its sovereignty over Western Sahara,” Trump tweeted. He added in another tweet: “Today, I signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Morocco’s serious, credible and realistic autonomy proposal is the ONLY basis for a just and lasting solution for enduring peace and prosperity! »
This decision, which comes following a telephone exchange between King Mohammed VI and the head of the American State, reinforces Morocco’s position on this issue, in which it has always defended the option of autonomy as the only political solution to this dispute.
“During this conversation, President Trump informed His Majesty the King of the promulgation of a presidential decree, with what this act entails as undeniable legal and political force and with immediate effect, on the decision of the United States of America to recognize, for the first time in their history, the full sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco over the entire region of Moroccan Sahara,” said a statement issued December 10, 2020 by the Moroccan Royal Cabinet.
In this document, which also states that “the United States of America has decided to open a consulate in Dakhla”, the monarch wished to express, “on his own behalf and on behalf of the entire Moroccan people, to the U.S. President his deep gratitude to the United States of America for this historic position.”
Towards the reopening of liaison offices with Israel
Donald Trump also announced that Morocco has signed a diplomatic agreement with Israel for a normalization of relations between the two countries. ” Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!” he also tweeted.
The Moroccan Royal Cabinet confirmed that “the sovereign has informed the U.S. President that Morocco intends … to resume official contacts with the other side and diplomatic relations as soon as possible, … and work to reopen liaison offices in both countries, as was the case previously and for several years until 2002. “
Nevertheless, the King made a point of recalling his attachment to the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution: “His Majesty the King referred to the constant and balanced positions of the Kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian question, stressing that Morocco supports a solution based on two states living side by side in peace and security, and that negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli parties remain the only way to achieve a final, lasting and comprehensive settlement of this conflict. He stressed “respect for the freedom to practice religious rites for the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as well as respect for the Muslim character of Al-Quds Asharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque”.
King Mohammed VI also sought to reassure Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, in a phone call on the same day. During this communication, the sovereign stressed that “the action of the kingdom to consecrate its Moroccan identity will never be done, neither today nor in the future, to the detriment of the struggle of the Palestinian people for their legitimate rights”.
Is the recognition of the Sahara linked to the normalization of Morocco’s relations with Israel? Everything leads us to believe so. Moroccan diplomacy has never denied its intentions on this subject. In a parliamentary session held a few weeks ago, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita, had told MPs that the first cause of Morocco is the Sahara and not Palestine.
A statement that left no doubt about what was being prepared behind the scenes, particularly through the various visits of the son-in-law of U.S. President, Jared Kushner, especially in May 2018, as mentioned in the statement of the Royal Cabinet: “His Majesty the King stressed that although the opportunity did not arise to meet directly with His Excellency the President, consultations and coordination have continued, especially since the visit of His Excellency Mr. Jared Kushner”.
Morocco is thus the latest Arab country, to date, after the Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, to have recently embarked on the path of normalization with Israel.
Donald Trump convinced Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to restore diplomatic relations with Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara and in his major announcement made on December 10, 2020, (on Twitter as usual): he obtained from the Kingdom of Morocco to become the sixth state in the Arab world (after Egypt, Jordan and more recently Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan) to recognize de facto Israel as a diplomatic and economic partner.
This announcement must be directly linked to another, made almost simultaneously in the White House: the United States recognized the complete sovereignty of Morocco over the territories of Western Sahara contested by the Polisario Front. By violating international law recognized by the UN, notes the Moroccan news site Yabiladi, Washington is nevertheless ensuring the support of King Mohammed VI in this great diplomatic work that Donald Trump wants to leave behind him: a semblance of “Arab peace”, or at least a calming of relations between Tel Aviv and its neighbors more or less close.
And in fact, notes the weekly TelQuel, with this movement operated by Morocco it seems that “Arab solidarity [with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation] has had its time”, replaced by a pro-Israeli “realpolitik”. “Between two sacred causes, the Sahara and Palestine, Morocco has made its choice,” Mehdi Duval and Mehdi Mahmoud coldly summarize. Whether one regrets it or not, the Palestinian cause is no longer the structuring element that it has long been in international relations from Tangier to Karachi.
Even more bitterly, in the columns of Haaretz in Israel, the journalist Noa Landau does not mince words: “what was concluded this Thursday between Morocco and Israel through the intermediary of the United States,” she writes, has “nothing to do with a peace agreement, it is rather the agreement of two occupying forces,” in a way “I let you occupy Palestine and you let me occupy Western Sahara.”
And it is, also, adds Ryad Hamadi for the online daily Tout sur l’Algérie (TSA), “Donald Trump’s latest fait accompli on the international scene”: he gives in to Morocco on the Saharawi issue to ensure a front success, knowing full well as TelQuel says that “it will be very hard for Joe Biden to go back on Trump’s announcements”.
And it is true, acknowledges Seth Frantzman, in turn, in his analysis of the situation for the Jerusalem Post, that the next U.S. administration will have a lot to do to make the relay of this foreign policy very pro-Israeli and burdened by all the conditions that America has had to give in order to convince every Arab country to restore relations with Tel Aviv.
And in the end if there is a winner in this whole affair, it is Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli Prime Minister who welcomed the news in the Times of Israel and promised to restore concrete ties with Morocco “as soon as possible”. The economic relations already existed, it is an open secret, they will be formalized in particular with the opening of direct air routes between the two countries.
And that pleases David Suissa, as stated in the Jewish Journal: like about 10% of the Israeli population, he is originally from Morocco, very nostalgic for this former Sephardic Jewish community in Casablanca with which he hopes to renew ties with now. A little like “a return home”, this resumption of diplomatic ties assures David Suissa, it is “a miracle of Hanukkah”, the Jewish festival of the Enlightenment which, (there is no coincidence) just began on Thursday, December 10, 2020:
“When two countries say, “We need each other, we can help each other, we can work together,” that is humanity at work. If we go back far enough, we realize that Jews and Muslims share the same father, Abraham. We worship one God. We live in the same land. We love hospitality. We love music. We want to work and make a living. We love our children. “
He goes on to say:
“I can only imagine that Moroccan Israelis will gladly take advantage of the new direct flights between the two countries. They will have a chance to visit the land of their ancestors, a land where Judaism flourished and an Arab King looked over us. “
Stephen Zunes a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco and co-author, with Jacob Mundy, of “Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution,” argues in The Washington Post that:
“This puts President-elect Joe Biden in a dilemma when he comes into office next month. While he could rescind U.S. recognition of the Moroccan annexation with the stroke of a pen, Morocco could then renounce its recognition of Israel. Biden therefore could find himself under considerable pressure to not undermine what many see as an important breakthrough. “
And he goes on to say:
“But even strong pro-Israel members of Congress have expressed concerns. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), while welcoming the news of Morocco’s recognition of Israel, has noted how U.S. recognition of Moroccan territorial expansion “upends a credible, internationally supported U.N. process … which successive administrations of both parties have supported.” “
In its electronic edition of December 17, 2020 issue, TelQuel reports that Pierre-Henri Dumont, Assistant Secretary General of the party Les Républicains (LR), the main right-wing political party in France has called on France and the European Union to follow the American example and recognize the Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara:
“Sincerely, the decree signed by Donald Trump is a decision that can and will hopefully move the lines. Because it seems obvious from reading international treaties that Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara is not subject to any possible discussion. “
And goes on to say:
“Today, Morocco is an island of stability of the Maghreb in particular, and part of the African continent, because of the solidity of its institutions, and also because of the monarchy embodied by King Mohammed VI. This makes it possible to really mark a difference with the other countries that make up this continent.”
And further emphasize, with vehemence, that:
“I think, once again, that Trump’s decision is courageous and I believe that the EU and France must now take up and follow suit.”
Reaction of Algeria and the Polisario
Algeria considered, Saturday, December 19, 2020, the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump, recognizing the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara as “having no legal effect in reality.” In the first comment on Trump’s decision, the Algerian Foreign Ministry stressed that “this decision has no legal effect in reality, since it is contrary to all UN and Security Council resolutions.” The Ministry added that “the latest resolution number 2548 issued by the Security Council, dated October 30, 2020, was drafted and defended by the American side.”
For Algeria, Trump is “nothing” in the face of international law. “Since when does a decision by Trump announced on Twitter have the value of international law?” Half annoyed, half ironic, an Algerian diplomat commented in Le Figaro on Morocco’s decision to normalize its relations with Israel, being rewarded by Washington’s recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara: “Once Biden is in the White House, in the same way that he will reintegrate the Paris climate agreement, he will reverse this decision and comply with international resolutions.”
The resolution 2548 extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), until October 2021, and urged all parties to work to help the UN mission to identify a political and realistic solution to the conflict.
According to the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, “Trump’s announcement is likely to undermine the de-escalation efforts in the Western Sahara region, which have been deployed at all levels to pave the way for the launch of a real political process. “
A press release from the Moroccan Royal Cabinet made a point of indicating that “this measure will in no way affect Morocco’s permanent commitment to defend the just Palestinian Cause.” Rabat claims its right over the Sahara region and proposes an extended autonomy under its sovereignty, while the Polisario calls for a referendum on self-determination, a proposal supported by Algeria, which shelters and supports this organization to pester Morocco.
The conflict between Morocco and the Polisario over the Sahara region began in 1975, after the end of the Spanish occupation of the territory. The conflict turned into an armed confrontation that continued until 1991, when a cease-fire agreement was signed that considered the Guerguerate zone to be “demilitarized”. At the end of last November, the Polisario announced that it is no longer bound by the cease-fire agreement, following a movement by the Moroccan Army that ended the closure of the Guerguerate passage by elements of the Front since October 21, 2020.
The Polisario Front’s representative in Washington, Mouloud Said, regretted the decision of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize the Moroccan identity of Western Sahara, stressing that such a move will not change the nature or status of the occupied territories.
“We regret President Trump’s decision, but the reality is that Morocco is occupying part of the territory of a member state of the African Union. Such a decision will change neither the nature nor the status of the territory,” said the representative of the Polisario in an initial reaction to the decision of the outgoing U.S. president.
“Moreover, the Saharawi people cannot be used as a commodity in international diplomatic transactions. The Saharawi people will continue with its determination to fight until the end of the occupation and respect for the Charter of the African Union,” he added.
Irritated by the diplomatic win of Morocco in America, Algeria activated its lobby in the United states and thus after James Baker, John Bolton, James Inhof and Betty McCollum, it was Christopher Ross’ turn to support the “right of the Saharawi people to self-determination “and to denounce the act of the outgoing President.
In this regard, Maghreb Online, an electronic mouth-piece of the Algerian army, reported what Tarek Hafid has written in the Algerian newspaper Le Soir that since last Thursday, December 10, 2020 , several voices have been raised in Washington to condemn the proclamation of recognition of the sovereignty of Western Sahara signed by President Donald Trump in return for a normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel:
“This Monday, it is an American personality with knowledge of this issue who reacted: Christopher Ross, former Personal Representative of the UN Secretary General for Western Sahara, a position he held from 2009 to 2017. Ross first published a long text on his Facebook account to denounce Trump’s act. “This senseless and ill-considered decision goes against the commitment of the United States to the principles of non-acquisition of territory by force and the right of peoples to self-determination, both enshrined in the UN Charter. It is true that we have ignored these principles when dealing with Israel and others, but that does not excuse ignoring them in Western Sahara and causing us significant repercussions in terms of regional stability and security and in our relations with Algeria,” he said. “
Morocco and normalization with Israel
The official announcement of the normalization of relations between Morocco and Israel announced by Trump on December 10, 2020 was badly received by the Algerian regime fearing the resumption of the Hirak protests, as a result, and the probable demise of the military regime, especially at a time when the newly-elected President Tebboune is still in treatment for Covid-19 in Germany and the country’s oil industry is in turmoil because of the international price slump of such important commodity for this rentier country. In short, Algeria is in bad shape and recent political developments in the area will make things worse for the military in power, contested by the Hirak uprising.
For the Algerian Soviet-style regime, Israel is going to set up military bases in the Sahara to destabilize this country. Maghreb Online goes even far to treat the Moroccan establishment of treason and advance historical evident stated in the article written by Noureddine Khelassi:
“The roots of the Makhzen’s felony towards its Maghreb neighbor go back to the Treaty of Tangier of September 10, 1844, which constituted, at first glance, an important turnaround in Franco-Moroccan political relations. Following the scathing defeat of the Moroccan troops supporting Emir Abdelkader at the battle of Isly (14 August 1844), Sultan Abderrahmane Ibn Hicham then asked for peace. The Treaty of Tangier, signed on 10 September 1844, obliges Morocco to recognize the colonization of Algeria. As a result, the Alawite king ceased all official support for Emir Abdelkader, declared by both contracting parties to be an outlaw in Morocco and Algeria. In an impulse of zealous submission, the Sultan even committed himself to interning the Emir if he fell into his hands! “
The rapprochement between Morocco and Israel goes back several years and is materializing especially in the economic and commercial field. The Moroccan decision is not a question of recognition, but rather of resumption of existing relations.
In 1994, King Hassan II had restored diplomatic relations at a subordinate level (understand without an ambassador). In making this decision, Morocco became the third country – after Egypt and Jordan – to establish formal relations with the Jewish state. Mohammed VI finally broke them on 21 October 2000, following the outbreak of the second Intifada, as a sign of support for the Palestinians.
A special bond unites the two countries, which rests largely on the Moroccan Jewish community with which Morocco has never broken. The Constitution of 2011 also enshrines, in its preamble, the richness and diversity of the spiritual and cultural components (including the Hebrew tributary) that forge the identity of Moroccans. Israelis of Moroccan origin remain, for their part, attached to their country and do not hide from it. Some of them occupy high-ranking positions in the Israeli administration: no less than ten ministers in the government of Benyamin Netanyahu, installed last May, are of Moroccan origin. For the past twenty years, it is also through “cultural exchanges” that relations between Morocco and Israel continued.
With Moroccan recognition, trade could now also materialize economically. For the Kingdom has acceded to an old Israeli request: the establishment of an air link for the transport of members of the Moroccan Jewish community and Israeli tourists to and from Morocco. But it is above all the recognition of the Moroccan Sahara by the United States – in return for the normalization of diplomatic ties between Morocco and Israel – that promises the greatest economic benefits.
The fourth normalization agreement concluded in 2020 between Israel and an Arab country – Morocco -, announced on December 10, 2020 may for the first time cause problems on the ground. Not in the Middle East but in the Maghreb. The emotion, palpable in Israel on the links forged with a kingdom from which 800,000 Israelis come from is certainly legitimate, especially since Moroccan Jews were the only ones in the Arab world to be able to travel to their homeland. Mohammed VI also distinguished himself by emphasizing since the beginning of his reign the Jewish heritage and rehabilitating the ancient synagogues. A few thousand Jews still live in the country, today.
The policy of Mohammed VI – like the memory of his grandfather Mohammed V, protector of his Jewish subjects during the Second World War – has done much for the image of an enlightened kingdom among Europeans. The news of normalization was announced on the first evening of the Jewish holiday of Hannuka, that of the lights, by a tweet from Trump, a statement by the king in Rabat, and another from Netanyahu lighting the first candle at the Wailing Wall, in the company of the still American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center wonders in Newsweek:
“Morocco and Israel have had cooperative relations for years. Israelis of Moroccan descent have traveled back to see where their families lived, and the small Jewish communities of Rabat and Casablanca were generally respected and left alone. There was trade in the amount of $37 million in 2017, and it is growing. Before the pandemic, nearly 50,000 Israelis visited Morocco annually and more than 2,000 Moroccans visited Israel in 2019. Things were going nicely, albeit quietly—so why make it public now? “
And her answer is:
“Because both countries had something to gain—and not only American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The world is changing in ways that are both positive and negative and, for rulers like Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, hiding from the negative is not a good option. Instability in both North Africa and the second tier of African countries—Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Nigeria—is threatening chaos. In the best of times, those countries represent difficult amalgams of (sometimes violently) competing religions, multiple (and sometimes violent) ethnic groups, corrupt governments and poverty. But these are not the best of times, and flames are being stoked by Iran, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda.
King Mohammed VI, as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, has enormous standing among Muslims, particularly in Africa, and the form of Islam he promotes is entirely different from that of Iran’s mullahs, al-Qaeda or ISIS. Al-Karaouine University is the oldest still-functioning university in the Islamic world. Founded in 859 C.E. by a female scholar, it has formulated family law that gives women rights in divorce and property ownership, and citizenship to children of non-Moroccan fathers. Female chaplains, called Morchidat, work in Muslim communities around the world. There is more, but it is enough to know that this road is a better fit for a multi-religious, multi-ethnic Africa than those envisioned by radical Islamists. “*
At a time when the Middle East is still in the throes of post-Arab Spring uprisings and Iran military hegemony threatens the Arab world, peace between Morocco and Israel can only strengthen the Arab front and work towards finding a lasting and equitable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict within the two-state political framework. Amen.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu