Sahara Conflict: The Manhasset “Resolutions”

The first round of negotiations between Moroccan and Polisario delegations started on Monday in Manhasset (Long Island), in accordance with the recent resolution of the United Nations Security Council calling for negotiations without preconditions between the two parties to solve the three-decade old Sahara dispute.  the combination of Morocco's autonomy plan, the Polisario Front's counter-proposal of independence with guarantees for Moroccan interests, and the UN Security Council's 30 April resolution calling for direct negotiations between the parties, has been  hailed as a promising breakthrough in the Western Sahara dispute.The UN Secretary General has deputized his personal envoy, Peter Van Walsum, to host the two-day closed meeting. Representatives of Algeria and Mauritania, as well as of the so-called Group of Friends of Western Sahara, (France, Britain, Spain, the United States and Russia) are also attending, but are not taking part in the direct talks between the parties.

The Sahara Conflict has been on the agenda of the UN Security Council since 1991. (The settlement plan that came into effect that year envisaged a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara).
In March 1997, former US Secretary of State James A. Baker, was asked by then Secretary General Kofi Annan to assist the parties in finding a solution to their conflict after they had completely blocked implementation of the settlement plan.  Baker worked on this conflict for seven years, first breaking the impasse in the implementation of the settlement plan through the Houston Agreements and then when progress towards that goal collapsed, working to devise a mutually acceptable political solution.
Morocco is entering the first talks in 10 years with the Polisario Front in a spirit of goodwill, great optimism and with a strong willingness to definitively turn the page.  It has proposed far-reaching autonomy for the people of the Western Sahara region.  They would elect their own leaders, run their own affairs, levy taxes and establish budgets, maintain their own police forces, and control the education of their children.  Only external security and foreign affairs will be controlled by the central Moroccan government.  The leadership of the Polisario should accept the reasonable and realistic offer currently on the table. They should realize that they will never again get such a good deal for the population they claim to represent.  The Moroccan autonomy plan is an open initiative which can be developed and enriched within the framework of consensual consultations.  It offers a potential path forward…this is a chance to put something new on the table and address it.