Reactions to US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara

Responses to the surprise recognition of the United States and the normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco have been quick to come from different parts of the world
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AFP PHOTO / MOROCCAN ROYAL PALACE  -   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and King Mohammed VI of Morocco

Donald Trump is using his last months at the helm of the White House to break some of the most established paradigms of international relations and global functioning. In addition to the historic Abraham Agreements between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, which were followed by Bahrain and Sudan, he has now added the normalisation of the fourth Arab country, Morocco, and US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The latter is furthermore occurring in contravention of the provisions of the United Nations and with its presidency already in place, pending the installation of Joe Biden in the White House.

The United States' announcement also includes the opening of a consulate in Dakhla, in what would be the first Western diplomatic representation in Western Sahara. The consulate would join that of other African countries-most of which have been confirming the location of a consulate in Western Sahara, whether in Dakhla or Laayoune-and other Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Morocco has thus managed to diplomatically consolidate its claims to sovereignty over Western Sahara, despite the complaints of the Polisario Front and the concern of other countries such as Qatar, Algeria and the United Nations itself, which renewed MINURSO's mandate in October.

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AFP/ SAUL LOEB - Signing of the Abraham Agreements, in which the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC

As for the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, took advantage of the beginning of Hanukkah to welcome Morocco's "historic" decision in a television appearance. Netanyahu indicated what the first moves would be: "first we will establish liaison offices, then direct diplomatic relations and finally direct flights between the two countries". Another of the first statements on the normalisation of relations between Morocco and Israel was made by Egyptian President Al-Sisi, who stated that "this is an important step towards stabilisation and regional cooperation in the Middle East".

The Hamas spokesman, Hazem Qassem, repeated the statements made previously regarding the agreements with the other countries, and pointed out that this decision "does not help the Palestinian cause and encourages the occupation of Israel"

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Like Hamas with respect to Morocco's decision, the Polisario Front has harshly criticised the United States' decision, which is a blow to its position in the conflict in Western Sahara, as, furthermore, US recognition may generate a domino effect involving the recognition of other influential countries. In particular, the Polisario Front awaits with interest the position of the European Union, and in particular that of some of the countries, such as France and Spain. In a press release, it was stated that "The Polisario Front and the Saharawi government condemn in the strongest terms Donald Trump's decision to attribute to Morocco something that does not belong to it".

The Saharawi statement also pointed out "the lack of recognition by the majority of the international community of Moroccan sovereignty, and the violation of the United Nations Charter that this entails". In this regard, the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, did not change his position, indicating that his decision is linked to the resolutions of the Security Council. Despite Guterres' statements, the reality is that the negotiations led by the United Nations between the regional events, which in addition to Morocco and the Polisario Front include Mauritania and Algeria, are suspended, and the change in the US position, although it may not be maintained by Joe Biden, may set a new precedent.

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PHOTO/AFP - Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army participate in a ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) by the Polisario Front

Donald Trump's decision is counterproductive to the European Union, which has been meeting since yesterday at a new European Council which has to decide, among other things, on possible sanctions against Turkey, although it is possible that some kind of response will be sought on this new diplomatic front. Spain, for its part, last night announced the cancellation of the high-level meeting scheduled to be held in Morocco next week. According to the communiqué, questions relating to the pandemic have been put forward for its cancellation, though the fact that it coincides with the US decision raises the possibility of seeking a position on it before any kind of meeting.

Over the coming days and weeks, it will be assessed how important this decision will be for the future of the conflict in Western Sahara, and whether other Western countries will follow the United States in its decision. Also with respect to the normalisation of relations with Israel, Donald Trump warned that at least five countries were in a position to normalise relations, of which Morocco would be the fourth. Eyes are now on others such as Oman and even Saudi Arabia, which could be the next to do so.