After 20 days of haggling over the precise phrasing and content of a draft resolution on the Western Sahara, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1495 (pdf, 24 Kb) on July 31.
The significance of this resolution is that the UN Security Council has for the first time officially moved away from implementing the Settlement Plan, and has accepted a novel approach to the resolution of the conflict of the Western Sahara. This new approach is known as the "Peace Plan for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara" and is proposed by James Baker, the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Western Sahara.
The problem facing Baker's plan is that one of the parties to the conflict, Morocco, has vehemently rejected it. Hence, resolution 1495 was diluted from its draft form, which sought for the Security Council to endorse the Plan. The Security Council has expressed its support for the new plan but has called upon the parties "to work with the United Nations and with each other towards acceptance and implementation of the Peace plan".
Baker's plan is not very different from an earlier version - the "Draft Framework Agreement" - presented to the Security Council, which Morocco had accepted. Both plans envisage an autonomous status for Western Sahara under Morocco's sovereignty eventually followed by a referendum of self-determination, which would allow Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara to vote.
By rejecting Baker's plan, the Moroccan regime has once again clearly indicated to the UN and the international community its unwillingness to cooperate in order to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Western Sahara.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time that the Moroccan regime has rejected or violated UN resolutions. For example, in 1975 Morocco rejected UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/380 (1975), which stated that the Council "deplores the holding of the (Green) march" and "calls upon Morocco immediately to withdraw from the Territory of Western Sahara all the participants in the march".
In recent years Morocco also rejected the Settlement Plan which the Security Council approved in resolutions S/RES/ 690 and S/RES/725 of 1991, and in addition rejected the Houston Agreements which the Council endorsed in its resolution S/RES/1133 (1997).
The Polisario independence movement, on the other hand, has continuously shown flexibility and willingness to compromise. Polisario's acceptance of the Settlement Plan and the ceasefire was a significant compromise from its earlier stance, which called for Morocco's unconditional withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. There was also the compromise concerning the criteria of eligibility of voters, which was biased towards Morocco. Polisario again showed a great degree of flexibility during the negotiation process involved in the Houston Agreements and the identification process of eligible voters.
Furthermore, Polisario's recent willingness to examine Baker's novel plan, is a major shift from its position which originally rejected an autonomy option during the transitional period prior to the organisation of the referendum of self-determination.
It has become crystal clear that Morocco will not adhere to a solution until it is confident that it will be in its favour. Two main elements have encouraged Morocco to obstruct the peace process: the lack of any concrete and significant pressure since the guns were silenced in 1991, and the support of some members of the UN Security Council, such as France.
It is well known that Morocco agreed to the Settlement Plan mainly because of the pressure of the war. Nevertheless, should the Moroccan regime now be subjected to real pressure it is likely that this could tilt the pendulum towards a real solution. It is now the time to exercise such pressure both from inside the Occupied Territories and from outside.
The Saharawi people need to intensify the pressure within Western Sahara to make the occupying power feel the heat, thereby making its presence uncomfortable. This is a challenge because of the brutal nature of the Moroccan police-state but it is not impossible. Other means of pressure from outside need to be considered, and there are many options available that have worked in similar situations such as economic sanctions and a campaign directed at the tourist industry which the regime depends upon a great deal.
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