The latest diplomatic bout over the issue of Sahara involving the United Nations Secretary-General and King Mohammed VI himself proves that when the country’s leadership and government is proactive concerning the Sahara, things can move in accordance with Morocco’s interests.

One case in point is what happened last year when the United States circulated a draft Security Council resolution on the Sahara that included provisions not in line with Morocco’s interest but soon after dropped the controversial element in the proposal. This happened after the Moroccan monarch unleashed an unprecedented diplomatic campaign to convince the American Administration and the members of the Security Council to forego the provision calling for the inclusion of a human rights monitoring mechanism in the mandate of the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO. This year agan, the King’s diplomacy has proven equally effective.

On April 10th, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, issued the advance copy of his annual report on the “Situation in the Western Sahara.”

Although the report did not include a clear recommendation on the necessity to provide MINURSO with a human rights monitoring mechanism, it, however, included a sentence that I described as “troubling” in a previous article.

“The end goal nevertheless remains a sustained, independent and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism, covering both the Territory and the camps,” the UN chief said in the advanced copy of his report.

The statement, which in a way calls for the establishment of human rights monitoring mechanism in the Sahara, was not well received in Morocco, whose leaders viewed it as deviation from the United Nations core mandate, which is to help the parties to the Sahara conflict to find a mutually acceptable and political solution to the conflict.

Two days later King Mohammed VI held a phone a call with Ban Ki-moon and reminded him of Morocco’s commitment to continuing its cooperation with the United Nations in order to put an end to the conflict. King Mohammed VI emphasized the imperative need to preserve the parameters of the negotiations “as they were defined by the Security Council, safeguarding the current framework and modalities of the UN involvement and avoiding biased approaches and risky options.”

The phone call was followed by two symbolic yet decisive moves by the Moroccan monarch. The first was the appointment of Omar Hilale as Morocco’s new permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. Hilale, who from 2008 until his appointment last week served as Morocco’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, is known for being a well-spoken diplomat and a hardliner. He is also known for putting the Algerians on the defensive on the issue of human rights, responding to Algeria’s attacks on Morocco by using tactics similar to the Algerians’.

The second move made by the King was his visit to the city of Dakhla, the second largest city of the Sahara after Laayoune. The timeliness of these decisions is not fortuitous. They come to show world leaders and the international public opinion that Morocco holds dear its sovereignty and won’t accept any UN mediation that won’t lead to the achievement of a mutually acceptable and political solution to the conflict based on the spirit of compromise and win-win.

Following the King’s timely phone call with the UN chief and the efforts made by Moroccan diplomats behind the scenes, Ban Ki-moon reviewed the advance copy of his report and take Morocco’s concerns into account.

Unlike the first version of the report, in which the UNSG said that the end goal “remains a sustained, independent and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism,” in the Sahara and the Tindouf camps in Algeria, the final version of the report does not include the word “mechanism.”

The change in the wording of this sentence renders the UN report more impartial and puts it in line with the UN’s core mandate. The monitoring of human rights is not the main goal of this mandate, but could be considered one of the tools, if any, that are likely to help Morocco and the Polisario reach a final and political solution to the conflict away from any politicization.

After this slight modification in the language of the UNSG report, it is unlikely that the resolution that will be adopted by the Security Council this week on the renewal of MINURSO mandate until April 2015 will include any provision establishing a human rights mechanism in the Sahara and the Tindouf camps.

It is time that Moroccan officials built on this relative success and redoubled their efforts at every level throughout the year in order to garner more support to Morocco’s position regarding the conflict and convince world leaders and the international public opinion of the suitability of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Sahara as basis for the achievement of a political solution to the conflict.

To succeed in doing so, Moroccan officials should not limit themselves, as has been the case so far, to repeating to our media quotes and testimonies by the members of the Security Council and other influential countries and figures describing that Moroccan autonomy plan as “serious’ and credible” and as basis for a solution.

This kind of statement will do little to advance Morocco’s standing and convince a mostly hostile international public opinion of its rightful position. What will help Morocco to score more strategic victories in its diplomatic war against Algeria and the other countries that support the Polisario is to launch a far-reaching international campaign to explain to the world the ins and outs of the Moroccan autonomy plan, why it is the most suitable solution to the conflict and why it is in line with international standards as regards the rights of self-determination.

When one reads the Moroccan autonomy plan in detail, it becomes obvious that the prerogatives it offers the autonomous government that may eventually be installed in the Sahara – if a political solution is reached – are in line with international standards. But the international public opinion is not aware of the details of this autonomy plan, nor are Moroccans themselves cognizant of it.

Morocco should also strive to shift the debate on the Sahara away from the politicized question of human rights and remind the United Nations that its core mandate is to focus on the achievement of a solution where the one party-takes-all approach is excluded. This implies that the UN needs to do away with its fixation on the classic concept of self-determination as necessarily leading to independence and a panacea that can be applied to every territorial conflict irrespective of the singularity of each case and without taking into account the reality on the ground.

Moroccan officials should be reminded once again that the road will be arduous before they can come out victorious in this diplomatic war and that the country’s rivals will not sit idle and wait for Morocco to score more victories. They will rather redouble their efforts in order to stall the political process and thwart any diplomatic efforts geared towards helping the parties to the conflict achieve a political solution.

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. He also holds a Master’s degree in political science from the University of Toulouse I, a Master’s degree in Iberian studies ...

22/04/2014