It has been nearly six years since Peter Van Walsum, then-UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for the Western Sahara, issued his assessment on the status of Western Sahara. He concluded that “an independent Western Sahara is not an attainable goal” and called for compromise and realism in ongoing negotiations.
He urged the Security Council to pursue the only realistic compromise political solution to the conflict: autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
The US has long supported a similar policy, as have a number of prominent members of the international community, not to mention a host of regional experts.
So has consensus advanced a resolution?
Unfortunately not. The Polisario has continued to prove that it is not interested in resolving the dispute.
Rather than negotiating the compromise political solution urged by the United Nations, they maintain a hard-line position and resort to violent rhetoric.
After almost four decades, tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees continue to languish in the Polisario-controlled camps near Tindouf in Algeria, hostages of the Polisario’s obstinance.
Even after the Security Council acknowledged in 2004 that conducting a referendum was unworkable, the Polisario Front has continued to demand one. And they reject inclusive proposals for voter registration based on Sahrawi tribal membership and the actual population of the disputed territory, insisting that registration be based exclusively on an out‐of‐date census conducted in 1974.
Ignoring Security Council calls for negotiating a mutually acceptable political solution, the Polisario Front has rejected every proposal that does not follow their own mistaken claim that independence is the only expression of self‐determination for the territory.
Moreover, they refuse to negotiate on the basis of Morocco’s compromise autonomy plan, presented in 2007 and widely accepted by the US and much of the international community as a “serious, realistic, and credible” proposal that provides real autonomy for the Western Sahara.
To date, the Polisario Front has not offered any kind of alternative plan or compromise.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees continue to languish in the Polisario-controlled camps near Tindouf, hostages of the Polisario’s obstinance. Almost four decades is far too long for them to wait for a compromise. And six years is far too long to ignore the prudent advice of Mr. Van Walsum.
It is time for realism with regard to the Western Sahara.
Robert M. Holley is Senior Policy Advisor for the Moroccan American Center for Policy, MACP.