Western Sahara - Biden Must Backtrack Over US Support for Morocco Claim, Says Polisario

Polisario fighters inside Western Sahara in 1977, resisting a Moroccan takeover.

Western Sahara's Polisario Front wants US President-elect Joe Biden to reverse a decision by incumbent President Donald Trump to recognise Morocco's claim of sovereignty over the disputed territory, a representative of the pro-independence movement has told RFI.

"It's not part of Trump's real estate to give to Morocco, he could have given them one of his golf properties, not Western Sahara," Polisario Front's Kamal Fadel told this week's Africa Calling podcast.

Trump signed a proclamation on 10 December recognising Morocco's claim over the Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco normalising relations with Israel, with the US leader describing the deal as "the only basis for a just and lasting solution for enduring peace and prosperity".

"On the Western Sahara, President Trump is rejecting the status quo which benefits no one, and driving towards serious, realistic and credible solutions to the Western Sahara conflict," US ambassador to Morocco David Fischer told journalists.

Fischer said that autonomy for the disputed territory is "the only realistic option", putting the US presidency at odds with an UN-backed referendum on self-determination.

Self-determination for Saharawi people

An UN-mediated ceasefire in 1991 ended years of fighting in the disputed territory. However a referendum on self-determination never materialised.

Despite Trump's move to recognise Morocco's claim, the situation remains the same for the UN, according to Secretary-General António Guterres.

"The solution of Western Sahara does not depend on recognitions by individual states," said Guterres. "[It] depends on the implementation of Security Council resolutions, of which we are the guardians."

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Reacting to Trump's proclamation, the African Union bloc reiterated its support for the UN position, as did the EU, giving its support for UN initiatives on Western Sahara, but at the same time welcoming the warming of relations between Morocco and Israel.

"I don't think that any other reasonable or responsible country or international organisation will follow suit," Fadel, the Polisario Front's representative to Australia and New Zealand told RFI, talking about the impact of Trump's announcement.

"This is just a presidential proclamation which is largely ceremonial or symbolic, unless authorised by US congress it does not have the force of law," he added.

Tensions flared in the Western Sahara recently with reports of the ceasefire, monitored by UN peacekeepers, being broken with military confrontation.

Bipartisan criticism

US lawmakers across party lines have been critical of Trump's decision to recognise Morocco's claim over Western Sahara.

"I am concerned this announcement upends a credible, internationally supported UN process to address the territorial dispute over Western Sahara," said Eliot Engel, a Democrat and chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representations.

Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator for Oklahoma, described the White House decision on Western Sahara as shocking and deeply disappointing.

"The president has been poorly advised by his team," said Inhofe. "He could have made this deal without trading the rights of a voiceless people," he added, referring to the deal between Morocco and Israel.

Morocco's foreign affairs ministry said the "constructive position" taken by Trump over Western Sahara would strengthen the "Moroccaness" of the territory, which Rabat calls Moroccan Sahara.

The pro-independence Polisario Front wants the incoming US administration to go back on Trump's decision and reaffirm its support for a UN referendum.

"We are hopeful that US President-elect Joe Biden, who I understand as a man of integrity and very familiar with the legacy of colonialism in Africa, that he will have a positive influence on self-determination in Western Sahara and would reverse this decision," said Fadel.

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