Last week, US President Donald J. Trump and His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco (pictured), in a move that immediately prompted calls for a Nobel Peace Prize, agreed that Morocco would be the fourth Arab country -- joining the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan -- in establishing a solid peace with Israel this year. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
Last week, US President Donald J. Trump and His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco, in a move that immediately prompted calls for a Nobel Peace Prize, agreed that Morocco would be the fourth Arab country -- joining the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan -- in establishing a solid peace with Israel this year. A felicitous reciprocity is that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States.
Since 1975, when Spain gave up its colony in the Western Sahara, the sovereignty of the territory has been under dispute. The area, about the size of Britain, wedged between Morocco and Mauritania, runs southward along the Atlantic Ocean. The territory and its waters are rich with phosphates, bauxite, fish, and possibly offshore oil reserves. Although Morocco has officially administered the area for the last 30 years, it has been claimed by the Polisario Front, (an abbreviation for "Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro"), an Algerian-backed group composed of a nomadic people, the Sahrawis.
In 1975, the Polisario Front, in a bid to "liberate" the territory to create an independent state, rebelled against the colony, then ruled by Spain. A guerrilla war ensued, lasting for 16 years until a ceasefire was signed in 1991, with a referendum on self-determination expected to follow. So far, it has yet to be seen.
Salmi Gailani, who was born in 1991, the year of the ceasefire, "blames the U.N. for the fact that for 30 years, Western Sahara has been a frozen conflict.... '30 years is long enough to place ballot boxes,' he said."
Last year, after the Polisario Front blockaded all commerce on the sole road to export all commerce from Morocco to Mauritania, the 1991 ceasefire collapsed. For weeks, trucks carrying fruit and vegetables on which Mauritania depends, were lined up for miles, stranded, unable to move.
When Moroccan forces eventually tried to reopen this sole road to Mauritania, they had "received rules of engagement, according to the FAR [Moroccan Royal Armed Forces] statement. Morocco's military stated it would avoid all contact with civilians and its military officers were only permitted to use force after sustaining fire."
On November 17, the Polisario Front declared war on Morocco.
The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied in a statement:
"In the face of provocations from the militias of the Polisario, the Kingdom of Morocco had no other choice but to assume its responsibilities in order to put an end to the deadlock situation generated by these actions and restore free civil and commercial movement."
When Morocco finally sent in forces to reopen the road, a report in Moroccan World News said that the "Polisario and Algeria are presenting Morocco's response to weeks of provocation as an outright declaration of war...." The report added:
"Supporters of Polisario shared images of an ambulance beside a Moroccan helicopter as 'evidence' of Moroccan casualties, yet the photograph dates back to 2015. The image was part of a story on two Spanish speleologists who died due to an accident in the High Atlas mountains."
"Algerian outlet Liberte Algerie described the events in the border region as 'Moroccan military aggression,' calling the militant group and its supporters blocking the border peaceful demonstrators. Reports did not mention how a 'sit-in' by 'peaceful demonstrators' had successfully managed to block all trade in the region."
The international community has been trying to broker a peace for the Western Sahara for 30 years. Some observers, however, suggest that "if the Polisario Front were to have sovereignty over the Western Sahara, it would mean that Algeria was effectively surrounding Morocco."
Along with last week's the triumph for President Trump and King Mohammed VI, there have also been charges that Morocco could have joined the Abraham Accords without the US recognizing Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara. So far, however, no one has quite said how.