Could the prestige of Biden correct Trump’s error on Western Sahara?

Deich Mohamed Saleh

As soon as president Donald Trump twittered on 10th of December that he signed a “proclamation” recognizing the Moroccan illegal occupation of the Western Sahara, condemnations surged inside and outside the USA, considering the outgoing president’s decision in contravention of international law. All voices warned that such position would undermine the possibility of restoring calm in northwest Africa. However, they urged the United States to fulfill its obligations towards the implementation of the UN’s Charter and resolutions regarding the peoples’ right to self-determination and independence. Trump has challenged the whole world by trampling on the values ​​and principles of the United Nations, denying the great sacrifices under which the humanity lives today at this level of progress and civilization. 

Foolish and cynically

Notable American personalities from both Republicans and Democrats, such as Eliot Engel, James Inhofe, James Baker III, John Bolton, Patrick Leahy, Betty McCollum, Christopher Ross and others, slammed Trump’s announcement calling for the respect of the  legitimate right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence.

While regretting Trump’s declaration to trade off the right of the people of Western Sahara by normalizing relations with Israel, they urged  to respect decades of multilateral mediation for the enforcement of the international legitimacy. 

“I am concerned this announcement upends a credible, internationally supported U.N. process to address the territorial dispute over Western Sahara,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said.

From his side, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, strongly criticized Trump’s deal by considering the recognition of Rabat’s claims over the Western Sahara “shocking and deeply disappointing.” “I am saddened that the rights of the Western Saharan people have been traded away,” he added. 

Senior United States Senator from Vermont, Democrat Patrick Leahy, stressed in a Twit that “After losing his own bid for re-election, President Trump cannot by “proclamation” negate international law or the rights of the people of Western Sahara.”

The Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, denounced Trump’s unilateral promise emphasizing on that “ the Sahrawi people have internationally recognized right to self-determination that must be respected”.

Criticism came also from the former Trump national security adviser, John Bolton, who contributed actively in the momentum achieved by the designate UNGS Special Envoy President hörst Kohler to restart negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front and was deeply involved in efforts around the issue at the United Nations throughout the 1990s. “Trump was wrong to abandon thirty years of US policy on Western Sahara just to score a fast foreign policy victory,” Bolton wrote on Twitter. 

The two famous former UNSG Special Envoys, James Baker III, formed Secretary of State, and Christopher Ross, former US Ambassador in Algeria, also decried Trump’s fatuousness negation to the principle of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.  “Accords must not be done by cynically trading off the self-determination rights of the people of Western Sahara. US was founded on principle of self-determination but walked away from that principle regarding the people of Western Sahara” James Baker III stated. Meanwhile Ambassador Christopher Ross underscored in a statement on Facebook that “This foolish and ill-considered decision flies in the face of the US commitment to the principles of the non-acquisition of territory by force and the right of peoples to self-determination, both enshrined in the UN Charter.” 

The penultimate UNSG Special Envoy (2009-2017), Ambassador Christopher Ross, highlighted that “The argument that some in Washington have been making for decades to the effect that an independent state in Western Sahara would be another failed mini-state is false”. “ Western Sahara is as large as Great Britain and has ample resources of phosphates, fisheries, precious metals, and tourism based on wind surfing and desert excursions. It is much better off than many mini-states whose establishment the US has supported.” He added. He ensures the capacity of Saharawi Republic saying  that “ The Polisario Liberation Front of Western Sahara has demonstrated in setting up a government-in-exile in the Western Saharan refugee camps in southwestern Algeria that it is capable of running a government in an organized and semi-democratic way.”

“I plan to present this map as a gift to His Majesty King Mohammed VI, in appreciation of his bold leadership and his continuous and valuable support for the deep friendship between our two countries.”

Reckless and trespass

The government of the Saharawi Republic and the Polisario Front  condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the unilateral announcements of the USA outgoing president, Donald Trump, of siding with  the Moroccan illegal occupation of The Western Sahara describing it as a “ reckless”. In a communiqué, they emphasized that it “ constitutes a flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations and its resolutions and the precepts of international legality.” “It hampers the efforts of the international community to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between the Sahrawi Republic and the Kingdom of Morocco” Added the communiqué.  It is also “an infringement upon the African Union (AU) and its Constitutive Act and decisions” the Saharawi Government and the Polisario Front stressed.

Stripped of legal effect

The Spokesperson of the Chairman of the African Union Commission Ms. Ebba Kalondo, said on tweeter that “the position of the African Union regarding  the Western Sahara remains unchanged, in conformity with the relevant AU and UN resolutions.” 

Algeria, the giant of the region, left clear in a communiqué of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Trump’s declaration is “stripped of legal effect, because it upends all the UN resolutions”.. and “has no legal effect and could undermine the de-escalation efforts in order to prepare the ground for the launch of a real political process.” The  South African Minister of International relations and Cooperation, Dr. Naledi Pandor, stated that Trump’s decision “ does not have force and effect because essentially is recognition of an illegality”.

Unilateral and breaking of consensus 

The International reactions on Trump’s wrongdoing against the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence enshrined in the UN Charter and resolutions, qualified it of unilateral and has no effect on the status of Western Sahara  as a non-self-governing territory nor on its decolonization process. The UN Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres reaffirmed that “the solution of Western Sahara does not depend on recognitions by individual states, but depends on the implementation of the Security Council resolutions, of which we are the guardians.” Permanent members of the UN Security Council like Russia, United Kingdom and France, besides to the EU and other countries such as Germany, Sweden, Norway and Canada, expressed their commitment to the UN Charter and resolutions regarding the Western Sahara. “By this decision, the Donald Trump administration aims to undermine the universally recognized international legal groundwork of the Western Sahara settlement, which stipulates the determination of the final status of that area through a referendum. This new position of the United States could dramatically impede UN efforts to promote the Settlement Plan for Western Sahara and to exacerbate the relations between the directly involved parties and to provoke a new spiral of armed confrontation in the Sahara-Sahel region,” the Russia foreign ministry stressed.

Spain, the former colonial power of Western Sahara, according to its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya, affirmed that the solution to the problem of Western Sahara “does not depend on the will or unilateral action of a country, no matter how great this country is.” Rather, “the center of gravity is at the UN.” 

Enforcement of international legality

The people of Western Sahara have placed their expectations on the United States to give an end to more than forty-five years of illegal occupation of their homeland by the Kingdom of Morocco. The Saharawi people suffered and still suffer the dire consequences and the hardship of the military occupation: exodus, bombardment, massacres, torture and imprisonment since 1975 when they were deprived of enjoying  their independence on the eve of the Spanish colonial departure. Despite that, they never lose hope that their legitimate right will be restored . They have co-operated fully with the UN and all the international stakeholders and respected the provisions of the cease-fire. They also endured suffering and waited for at least thirty years, just in exchange of having the opportunity where they can freely exercise their right to self-determination.

Despite the US direct involvement in the vigorous efforts in seeking an honorable compromise between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco, at the end it became clear that  the Settlement Plan of 1990 – agreed upon by the two parties – remains viable as the best solution . Two Special Envoys of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, James Baker and Christopher Ross, had reached  the same conclusion; that only a referendum of self-determination is consistent with the international legality. The stark reality is that Morocco  isobstructing the referendum for fears of losing its result.

For a long time, the United States has taken the same distance from both parties of the conflict, the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco, and adhered to the Security Council resolutions, which it constantly was drafting. It was almost convinced of monitoring the human rights in the territory to put pressure on Morocco to lift the oppressive practices against the Saharawi citizens. The US also maintained regular contacts with the Polisario Front at various levels and there was common understanding.

Unfortunately, while looking  forward for the US to pushing the UN Security Council for immediate action against Morocco after its violation to the ceasefire on 13 of last November in Guerguerat, the president Donald Trump stabbed the people of Western Sahara in the back again by recognizing Morocco illegal annexation of their territory. It was a big disappointment. Trump’s trade off justice in Western Sahara will make the United States miss a great opportunity to consolidate its position, not only by maintaining security and stability in Africa as a whole, but also by facilitating the region’s forward integration. Instead, Trump preferred pouring oil on fire by standing by those who do not scruple in depriving the peoples’ right, plundering their natural resources and destabilizing the whole region.

The Joe Biden administration has to correct immediately the Trump’s mistake in order to avoid any possible misalignment in the global system. The application of the international legality is the right road map to tackle conflicts, particularly the respect of the peoples’ right to self-determination and independence like in the case of Western Sahara. That means that Biden’s administration is called to place all its weight in removing any obstacles which may impede the exercise of the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. 

Today, no one can deny the legitimacy of the struggle of the people of Western Sahara nor the  irreversible reality that has been achieved thanks to the tremendous sacrifices of these people. The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was proclaimed by the Polisario Front under artillery fire of the Moroccan army In 1976, it nowadays possesses all necessary attributes of statehood and has succeeded in challenging all difficulties to offer high quality of life for its citizens . It is a full member of the African Union and one of the founding states of this bloc as well as well-respected among its African sisters.

The 14th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on “Silencing the Guns in Africa”, on the 5th and 6th of December, set out a new roadmap following the outbreak of armed confrontations between the SADR and the Kingdom of Morocco again after the latter’s breach of the ceasefire in Guerguerat. The summit called upon the two member states to gather under the AU auspices and reach a new ceasefire agreement between them, which will be discussed and elaborated by heads of state and government at the next ordinary summit. 

The enforcement of international legality is the best roadmap to adhere to. Was it not better for Trump to recognize the SADR rather than trade it? Hope Biden does.

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