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Israel recognises Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara

Written by Marie-Cécile Audibert on Tuesday, March 29th 2022 à 16:00 | Read 337 times

The participants of the Arab-Israeli Summit in the Negev discussed in particular the Israeli-Palestinian and Western Sahara issues (photo: MFA Morocco)
The participants of the Arab-Israeli Summit in the Negev discussed in particular the Israeli-Palestinian and Western Sahara issues (photo: MFA Morocco)
WESTERN SAHARA. During the Arab-Israeli summit held from 27 to 28 March 2022 in Sde Boker (Negev desert) in the presence of the heads of diplomacy of Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, and in the presence of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, to discuss peace in the Middle East, Yair Lapid affirmed his support for Morocco's autonomy proposal for Western Sahara.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, said on Monday 28 March 2022 in a statement after a discussion with his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita, that the countries gathered in Sde Boker would work together to counter "attempts to weaken the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Morocco. The autonomy plan for Western Sahara was presented to the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in April 2007 in New York by El Mostapha Sahel, Morocco's permanent representative to the UN. It provides for the Sahara Autonomous Region (SAR) to have a government invested by the King, but previously elected by the Region's Parliament (local assembly). This executive and legislative body will have exclusive competences, notably in fiscal matters to finance the development of the SAR, but will remain under Moroccan sovereignty (flag, currency...). The Cherifian Kingdom will keep its competences in the regalian domains, such as defence, foreign relations (even if the State commits itself to consult the SAR on questions concerning the region) and the constitutional and religious attributions of the King.

Rabat has always indicated that it does not intend to go further in its concessions.

Moroccan and Israeli foreign ministers ready to support each other on the Palestinian and Western Sahara issues (photo: MFA Morocco)
Moroccan and Israeli foreign ministers ready to support each other on the Palestinian and Western Sahara issues (photo: MFA Morocco)

Israel calls new Spanish position on Western Sahara a "positive development

Since the rapprochement with Israel, in the framework of the Abraham Accords negotiated by the United States in exchange for American recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara, Morocco has been gaining support on this issue, which has been unresolved for nearly five decades.

A few days ago, Pedro Sanchez, president of the Spanish government, sent a message to the King of Morocco. "Spain considers the Moroccan autonomy initiative, presented in 2007, as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute". A real change of position with the abandonment of the doctrine of neutrality of Spanish diplomacy on the status of its former colony, yet constant for forty-six years. A decision described on Monday 28 March 2022 by Yair Lapid as a "positive development".

On the occasion of Antony Blinken's two-day official visit to Morocco, the US State Department issued a statement on Monday 28 March 2022 reaffirming its position adopted in December 2020 : "the United States continues to view the autonomy plan presented by Morocco as serious, credible and realistic."

"A Negev spirit"

The Moroccan Plan is rejected by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), self-proclaimed in 1976, and its armed wing, the Polisario Front, which demands independence for Western Sahara, which is on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. And wants a referendum on self-determination. Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to organise it in 1988, but it never took place because of a lack of agreement on the composition of the electorate. Algeria is also calling for the region to be transformed into a new sovereign state.

"I think there must be a spirit of the Negev. A spirit of co-existence, of tangible acts and building for peace (...) I hope that we will meet again very soon, in a different desert but with the same spirit," said Nasser Bourita at the close of the Negev Summit. An allusion by the Moroccan Foreign Minister to the organisation of an extraordinary summit in the Moroccan Sahara, which could take place in 2023 in Dakhla, a city on the Atlantic coast of Western Sahara under Moroccan control.

"We are here because we really believe in peace. Not the peace in which we ignore each other, but the peace based on building common values and interests and the peace that takes us away from war," said Nasser Bourita.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also on the table

In addition to coordinating positions against the common enemy Iran, the backbone of this meeting, the Negev Summit also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian issue. "We are here in the Negev to be a force working for peace and to say that a solution to the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict is possible," said Nasser Bourita. While recalling that Mohammed VI has always supported the solution of two states living side by side and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

For Anthony Blinken, "The Abraham Accords cannot be a substitute for peace with the Palestinians. We have talked about how they can help the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We will continue to work towards an agreement based on the two-state solution." Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry made a similar plea, also stressing "the importance of the two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinians."

The Arab-Israeli Negev Summit will become a permanent forum as announced by Yair Lapid. "Together with our closest friend, the United States, we are opening a door today before all the peoples of the region, including the Palestinians, and offering them to replace the path of terror and destruction with a shared future of progress and success. This new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidate and deter our common enemies - first and foremost Iran and its proxies - they certainly have something to fear," he stressed.

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