Despite being labeled, uncritically by Western Media, a peace-deal, Morocco-Israel normalization is in fact a deal which may usher in a new war in Northern Africa.
Last Thursday, US President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that the Kingdom of Morocco and Israel have reached a normalization agreement. But what many didn’t take much notice of, which was mentioned in his tweet, was that the United States will now recognize the occupied territory of Western Sahara, as officially part of Morocco.
This recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory runs contrary to the unanimously ruling opinion of the International Community, which has translated to the UN not recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the land. The territory is also claimed by the Sahrawi Nationalist Movement known as the Polisario Front.
The reason why Trump’s recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is so important, is not only to do with the US becoming the first country on earth to recognize this, contrary to the opinion of the UN, but instead that this could birth not only a war between the Polisario Front and Morocco, but potentially a war between Algeria and Morocco.
Western Sahara is considered by the United Nations as non-decolonized and is listed as a non-self-governing territory (NSGT), which is to say the inhabitants of the land do not have self governance according to Chapter 11 of the UN Charter. The region was formally ruled by Spain, during which the Polisario Front emerged to resist the Spanish colonial power between 1973-1975. The Polisario then continued its resistance against the invading Moroccan army, following the Spanish withdrawal, and sees Morocco as Spain’s replacement, representing an occupying power in Sahrawi lands.
From 1975-1991 Morocco found itself at war with the Polisario, which received backing from the Algerian government in its efforts to liberate the Western Sahara. In 1991, the UN Peacekeeping Mission MINURSO was set up under UN Security Council Resolution 690, setting in place a ceasefire. MINURSO was supposed to facilitate an eventual referendum, in which a vote would have been cast to decide whether the people of Western Sahara wished to have independence or integrate into Morocco, however all attempts to facilitate a vote failed, with Morocco rejecting the latest attempt in 2003 to achieve the referendum.
The ceasefire of 1991 however, coincidentally ended – after holding for almost 30 years – last month, as the Polisario Front leader, Ibrahim Ghali, announced a “return to armed struggle”, blaming Morocco for violating the ceasefire. Just the week prior to this breakdown in the ceasefire, a familiar influencer in another normalization deal, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had opened up the first ever Arab Consulate in Laayoune (Western Sahara) and pledged its support for Morocco in the territory. This move had clearly indicated the UAE’s intentions to not only aggravate Algeria, which is where the Polisario Front’s officials are based, but also to back the Moroccan Regime against the Polisario in the event of armed conflict. According to Algerian sources, it has been claimed that UAE fighter jets have even been used in bombing targets in the Western Sahara.
Since then, the pressure had been mounting on Morocco as it was being slowly dragged into a larger confrontation for which it would need international legitimacy to succeed. At stake for Morocco, is not only the resources and access that the Western Sahara grants it, but also the possibility of being dragged into a devastating war which could carry with it a great economic toll on the country. The United States issuing their approval of a Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and also the backing of the United Arab Emirates, would therefore give Morocco the edge it needs in the event of conflict.
It is not possible to know what exactly was said during the negotiations that took place, leading up to the normalization deal having been reached, but one thing for sure is that the pressure applied by the United States and the UAE, would have been more than enough to get the Kingdom of Morocco to come to the table. Many neo-Conservatives, such as John Bolton, in the past had gestured towards supporting a peace settlement which would favour the Sahrawi people, this issue actually arising a fair bit during 2017. In 2018, Morocco had been pressured into cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, issuing an official explanation in which they claimed Lebanese Hezbollah had provided support to the Polisario Front. The excuses used however, were not taken seriously, even by the US, and were highly unlikely to have been true.
The current ruler of Morocco, King Mohammed 6 is not however the first Moroccan King to have hosted talks with Israel, his predecessor, King Hassan the 2nd hosted, then Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Perez for talks in July, 1986. At that time, Rabat had been at war with the Polisario (Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army) for 10 years, over the contested Western Sahara, a conflict which also then put the Moroccan regime at odds with Algeria. Just as it is today, the pro-Western ‘reactionary’ Moroccan Regime was at the behest of the United States, due to the US’s flow of economic aid assistance and its importance as an arms supplier. Back then however, the Unity deal signed with Col. Muammar Ghaddafi’s Libya was perhaps the only force holding Morocco in place from going further.
On the 30th of November, prior to the normalization deal announcement, leading Human Rights Organisation ‘Amnesty International’ published an article in which they called on the UN to support the establishment of a proper mission to allow independent Human Rights Monitors into Western Sahara. Currently, journalists and human rights advocates and workers are largely banned from entering Moroccan occupied Western Sahara, due to a media blackout that has been issued.
Following the breakdown of the ceasefire, provocative moves have been continually carried out by the Moroccan authorities, including military operations, as well as various guerrilla ops announced by the Polisario Front. Morocco is also notably sending Moroccan settlers into the territory, in order to get a stronger foothold there.
From this normalisation deal, Israel not only gains another strategic foothold in the region, but also sinks another nail into the 2002 ‘Arab Peace Initiative’ coffin as a strategy, to deliver a two-State solution, to the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Algeria is also taking this as a very serious issue, with the Algerian Prime Minister, Abdel Aziz Jarad, warning of “the will of the Zionist Entity to reach Algerian borders”. This is a significant element to note, as Algerians may feel as if Moroccan aggression in Western Sahara, represents a larger US-Israeli plot against them.
If anything, this normalisation deal is perhaps the most dangerous of the four recently signed, as this represents a war deal. A war deal for which Morocco has signed up on the side of Israel and the United States.