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Morocco Won’t Trade Palestine for US Support in Western Sahara

Source : | 8 February 2020 |  News | 148 views

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Washington, D.C. –Four days have passed since the American news website Axios published a report claiming that Israel is trying to pressure the Trump administration into recognizing Western Sahara as part of Morocco in exchange for the normalization of relations between Rabat and Tel Aviv. Four days later, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet denied the news.The Moroccan government’s silence may give the impression that there is a behind-the-scenes agreement between Morocco and Israel. The fact that Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, said Moroccans should not be more Palestinian than Palestinians themselves reinforces the impression.Morocco’s statement after Trump’s “Deal of the Century†announcement further reinforces the impression, as it did not include all the principles Morocco has always presented in defending the rights of Palestinians.While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ statement expressed support for the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state, it did not argue for the withdrawal of Israel from the territories it has occupied since June 1967. Nor did it include the clear language Morocco has usually used to defend the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.What is remarkable about the Moroccan statement is the assertion that the “Deal of the Century†includes some principles in line with the Moroccan position, especially the two-state solution. However, a careful reading of President Trump’s plan shows that the deal does not respect any Security Council resolution on the conflict and violates the principle of a two-state solution by recognizing Israel’s annexation of the lands occupied in 1967.The plan also recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, depriving Palestinians of sovereignty over any part of the holy city. The project gives Palestinians authority over lands adjacent to the city only, saying they can call them “Al-Quds,†the Arabic name for Jerusalem, or any name they would like.The unclear language of the Moroccan statement makes Morocco’s position vulnerable to all interpretations, including, perhaps, an intention to support Trump’s plan as a basis for an eventual solution.In light of the silence of both the Moroccan and American governments on Axios’ allegations, no one can speculate on the meaning behind the language Morocco used and whether it is a tactic to buy time without angering President Trump or, indeed, preparation to accept normalization with Israel in exchange for US support on the Western Sahara issue.If Morocco makes any deal with the Trump administration and Israel, it would give the Polisario Front and Algeria a golden opportunity to create a parallel between the Western Sahara issue and the Palestinian one.In the past, Morocco’s opponents have tried to apply the Palestinian issue narrative to Western Sahara, using words such as “occupied land†and calling Morocco an “occupying power†in the Sahara. However, the efforts failed due to the historical, demographic, ethnic, and legal differences between the two conflicts.If Morocco gives up the Palestinian issue in return for gaining ground on the Western Sahara file, it would put itself in the same category as Israel, becoming subject to campaigns from international civil society organizations. The campaigns would have dire effects on Morocco’s international reputation and lead many countries to support Polisario.The international community’s view of the Western Sahara conflict as having a low intensity regional or global impact, along with the failure of the international public to continuously shed light on the issue, have helped Morocco over the past four decades maintain its momentum in the Sahara. However, if Morocco makes any uncalculated move, the situation could change and the kingdom could find itself under unprecedented media, political, and diplomatic pressure.If Morocco makes a deal with Israel, it could also create a frenzy in Moroccan streets. The vast majority of Moroccans reject normalization with Israel without a solution guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian people. While the Sahara issue is the primary political issue in Morocco, the Palestinian issue also holds significant value in the shared conscience of both the Moroccan people and government, for its historical and religious connotations.That is why Morocco has been steadfast on the issue and remained at the forefront of countries defending the rights of the Palestinian people in building their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. King Mohammed VI and the Moroccan government have expressed this position on many occasions.For example, Morocco was one of the first countries that expressed unequivocal rejection of President Trump’s decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In his message to Trump in December 2017, King Mohammed VI stressed that the legal status of Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The King expressed the same position in a letter to the Secretary-General of the UN.In November 2019, King Mohammed VI reiterated his stance in a message to the chairman of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. In December 2019, he also sent a note of the same nature to the conference for the 50th anniversary of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Rabat.In all the letters, the King affirmed Morocco’s steadfast position, calling for Jerusalem to be the capital of the Palestinian state and for the implementation of the Security Council resolutions, including Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967.In the wake of  Axios’s report, some said Morocco should not be ashamed to normalize relations with Israel as long as it achieves diplomatic gains on the Sahara issue.The argument for a US-Morocco-Israel deal ignores the dynamics of the conflict at the Security Council and how the UN works. Even if the US supports Morocco, it cannot impose its position on the other members of the council or change the course of the political process launched in 2007. Whether the US wants to support Morocco or the Polisario, it will face fierce resistance from other UN members.US’ recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara would be a significant diplomatic victory for Morocco and a strong blow to its opponents in the short term. It would also be a feel-good boost for Moroccan diplomats. However, the scenario would not serve Morocco’s image internationally, both in the medium and long term.Moreover, the step would not lead to any solution to the Sahara issue. Even if President Trump decided to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, the move would not have any legal effects unless the US pressures other members of the Security Council to recognize that the only way to solve the conflict is direct negotiation between Morocco and Algeria, a major party in the dispute.However, this is very unlikely to be achieved due to the different political agendas of the Security Council permanent members. Even if we assume that France would side with the US, it is highly unlikely Russia would give up its Algerian ally. China and the UK are also unlikely to support the American move.The recent history of the Western Sahara conflict is perhaps good evidence that the approach will not work for Morocco. If there is real American intention to recognize the Moroccaness of the Sahara—which I rule out—it would not be the first time that an American administration has tried to use its international influence to support the Moroccan position.After Morocco submitted its Autonomy Plan to the Security Council in April 2007, the Bush administration tried to persuade other members of the council to support Morocco. During consultations before the adoption of resolutions 1754 and 1783, in April and October 2007, respectively, then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to pressure Polisario and the Security Council to adopt a draft resolution making the Moroccan proposal the only basis for a political solution. However, her attempt failed due to opposition from Russia, Spain, and the UK.Rice tried again in April 2008, when she worked on adopting a three-step plan to support the Moroccan position. First, she called on the Secretary-General to indicate in his annual report that the Moroccan proposal is the only basis for a final political solution to the Sahara issue. Second, Rice invited member states of the council to issue statements supporting the Moroccan plan. Finally, she planned to invite Morocco and Polisario to visit Washington and start negotiations.However, the American diplomat’s attempt was unsuccessful, due to opposition in the Security Council and the exclusion of the American position from the Secretary-General’s annual report. Even France, which Morocco expected to support the American approach, did not make an explicit statement calling the Moroccan proposal the only basis for the political process.Based on the history and differing agendas of the Security Council’s permanent members, it is unlikely the council would support Washington if it recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Consequently, the conflict would be in the same deadlock. On the other hand, due to unprecedented political division in the US because of Trump’s way of handling power and media, his unilateral decision-making, and his keenness to challenge many Obama-administration policies, there is a very high possibility that American recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara would no longer hold when a Democratic president comes to power, either in 2020 or 2024.Fierce opposition and condemnation from the Democratic Party on many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions, including those related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indicate that one of the first decisions a Democratic president would adopt is restoring US foreign policy to its former state of balance, caution, and pragmatism.Hence, it is highly likely that the Western Sahara issue would be reviewed to Morocco’s dismay. The people who would accept normalization with Israel, as long as Israel can influence President Trump in favor of Morocco, have an exaggerated impression of how much influence Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has within the Trump administration.Perhaps the reason for this misunderstanding is the decisions serving Israel’s interests that President Trump has made since coming to power. However, the main motive behind the decisions was Trump’s agenda, not Netanyahu.President Trump is aware that defending Israel is a central value of evangelicals, representing 70 million people in the US and a strong electoral base for Trump. Supporting Israel is also a top priority for the American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the top donor in President Trump’s 2016 election campaign.Consequently, to maintain the support of this influential group in American politics, Trump must make decisions in line with their ideological and religious orientations.And contrary to Israel’s security interests, Trump did not hesitate to withdraw American forces from northeastern Syria, leaving Israel in confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah. Trump also did not respond to the attack on Saudi oil facilities by Iran in September 2019. He even refused Netanyahu’s request to lift US’ freeze of financial support to Palestinian security forces.According to a December 2019 article in the Foreign Policy magazine by Andrew Miller, the former director of the Israeli file in the National Security Council under Obama, Trump’s indifference to Israeli national security created a state of anxiety in Israel and an impression that Trump is an unreliable ally in deterring Iran and preserving Israel’s security.Based on these objective considerations, it appears that Morocco does not need to make what would be a suspicious deal with the US and Israel. But two scenarios explain why Morocco has been silent in the face of media reports suggesting normalization with Israel.The first scenario is that Morocco is seriously considering normalization with Israel, contradicting its consistent position on the Palestinian issue. In this case, Morocco will serve the agenda of the Israeli prime minister, who has been seeking diplomatic gains to cover up his corruption scandals. Whether Morocco has a desire to normalize with Israel or not, the media momentum achieved in Axios’ report may benefit Netanyahu, who wants to appear as the only Israeli leader able to preserve Israel’s interests and achieve expansion in the Palestinian territories and end Israel’s regional isolation at the same time.The second scenario, and perhaps the most compatible with reality, is that the kingdom is aware it is not dealing with a conventional American administration that builds its positions on balance, pragmatism, and respect of international law. Rather Morocco is dealing with an administration under the leadership of an impulsive president who does not take into account the interests of Americans allies, but only his own interests and the interests of those close to him.Given President Trump’s special care for the “Deal of the Century†and his close relationship with fierce Israel-defender Sheldon Adelson, Morocco may have thought that it should make a vague statement that could lead both sides to believe in Morocco’s support for them.Through its statement, Morocco may be seeking to avoid confrontation with President Trump or incurring any decisions that could harm the kingdom, especially on the Western Sahara issue.The Moroccan statement welcomes the efforts of Trump to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The statement also vaguely affirms that Trump’s plan includes some points that intersect with the Moroccan position, especially regarding the two-state solution.At the same time, the statement emphasized that any agreement should be based on international legitimacy and result in the creation of an independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.Regardless of whether the current media bubble is based on facts or only seeks to serve Netanyahu’s agenda, Morocco must demonstrate sophistication and courage in managing its foreign policy, staying out of any complicated situations that could affect its reputation and diminish its efforts over the past four decades to defend its legitimate right of territorial integrity.

Click www.moroccoworldnews.com/ to read the article from its source.

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