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[Dehai-WN] Eurasiareview.com: Western Sahara: Deferred Referendum Or Lasting Settlement?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 11 May 2012 20:57:49 +0200

Western Sahara: Deferred Referendum Or Lasting Settlement? - OpEd

By: <http://www.eurasiareview.com/author/mei/> MEI

May 11, 2012

By Jacques Roussellier

Over the last decade, the dispute over the future status of the Western
Sahara territory, which has set Morocco and the Algeria-backed
pro-independence Polisario front in opposition, has entered a qualitatively
new phase. This is due to attempts at finding a negotiated outcome instead
of the long-delayed self-determination referendum. The idea of a political
solution to break a twice deadlocked (1997 and 2000) UN self-determination
referendum for the Western Sahara territory has steadily revived the
prospect of an autonomous status for the territory within Moroccan
jurisdiction. As the viability of the implementation of the UN settlement
plan became increasingly questionable, the relevance of a political solution
to the dispute acquired renewed saliency. Yet, while Morocco quickly
embraced the idea of a negotiated settlement, Polisario resented what it
perceived as the hijacking of the old UN settlement plan, which it wanted to
be fully implemented. The submission of two proposals on autonomy and
self-determination by the UN Personal Envoy, James Baker, eventually linked
the autonomy option with a self-determination referendum, but failed to gain
support from Morocco.

From 2001 to 2009, the complex and multi-centered diplomacy around the
autonomy proposal, self-determination, and negotiated settlement would
deserve a much closer assessment. In hindsight, what has the proposal
achieved? The UN Settlement plan -which no direct or interested parties to
the dispute support any longer - is still the basis of the mandate of the UN
Mission in Western Sahara, a situation that has become increasingly
untenable. Polisario and Algeria have endorsed the Baker Peace Plan while
Morocco has issued its own autonomy blueprint. The UN Security Council has
retracted its initial support for the Peace Plan but reiterated interest in
a political solution that would provide for the self-determination of the
people of Western Sahara.

Are autonomy and a referendum on self-determination still acceptable and
compatible? Is the core issue still about defining the electorate both for
autonomy and the self-determination referendum? Have the talks around
autonomy effectively shifted the diplomatic game from a defunct plan to a
more promising platform without modifying the very terms of the stalemate?
Has the UN played a transparent role? Have the talks on autonomy added
complexity to negotiations with no single plan on the table, though at the
same time highlighting parties' flexibility in accepting devolution with or
without self-determination referendum?

We have asked a panel of distinguished actors and observers of the Western
Sahara scene - with first-hand knowledge of negotiations around autonomy and
self-determination - to share their views and assessment of this critical
juncture of the history of the Western Sahara dispute:

* Bernard Miyet, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping
operations from 1997 to 2000, is Chairman of the Board of the French society
of music authors, composers and publishers (SACEM).

* Carne Ross is Executive Director of Independent Diplomat, a
non-profit group advising Polisario leadership on diplomatic strategy since

* Edward Gabriel, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco from 1997 to 2001,
is Chairman of the Moroccan-American Center, which promotes U.S.-Moroccan

These papers will be published in succession, allowing the authors to
respond to points raised by others and to raise new issues themselves. All
will be collected here and serve as, we hope, a useful discussion about the
conflict still awaiting resolution nearly 40 years later. In addition, we
have presented a reference for the timeline of the conflict and the key
provisions of the various settlement agreements.

Jacques Roussellier is an instructor at American Military University and an
international political consultant. His current research concentration is on
security in North Africa, including the Western Sahara dispute, terrorism,
and sovereignty. Previously, he worked for the World Bank Group, the United
Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.


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