Western Sahara Occidental: A Vision

EDITORIAL, 14 Mar 2016

#419 | Johan Galtung

Alfaz, Spain

At the two ends of the Mediterranean very similar wars are fought against two Arab-Muslim peoples: Palestinians in Palestine-a former English colony-since 1948, and Sahrawis in Western Sahara-former Spanish colony and still is, since 1975; when Franco was dying.

The aggressors are Jewish Israel and Arab Morocco and Mauritania. The former colonies were handed to Israel by England and to Morocco by Spain (both invited to this seminar but did not answer); backed by USA and by USA-France, two UNSC veto powers. Israel claims millennia old rights to the land, Morocco claims centuries. The military conquests were followed by occupation-annexation; refugees in camps in Jordan and Algeria; violent and nonviolent resistance for independence; met by brutal warfare bordering on genocide, by torture, and by walls.

The Israel-Morocco goal is sovereign power over conquered lands; with some limited internal autonomy; Jewish and Moroccan settlements; economic exploitation of labor and resources. UN resolutions and ICJ rulings have had no impact. No self-determination.

The European Union-11 of 28 states are former colonial powers-cannot be expected to exercise pressure on England, Spain and France to “do something”, given the rule “I do not critique you, nor you me”.

Talks have not led to basic change of the unacceptable situation. Also unacceptable is concern only with Israeli, not Moroccan violence, with Palestinian, not Sahrawi suffering. Ignorance, not anti-Semitism.

In the USA very many know about the Middle East but very few like Stephen Zunes about “Hillary Clinton, phosphates, and Western Sahara”.

History casts dark shadows over both. The Christian West lost the Crusades 1095-1291; were the Jews invited to reconquer Jerusalem? Christian Iberia became the Córdoba Caliphate 711, the reconquest was completed in 1492; are Moroccans used against anti-Spanish Sahrawis?

The legal cases against Spain for negligence of decolonization, and against Morocco for colonization, are very strong. But blocked.

Spain apologizing would be helpful, but unlikely; the country was lost in its concern for the post-Franco transition. Italy apologized in 2011 for genocidal 1911 state terrorism bombing of oases in Libya; a century later. The responsible were all dead: not the case in Spain. England actually compensated Kenyans fighting colonial rule in the 1950s–claiming they had been beaten, tortured, raped, castrated–by “regretting that it took place”, not apologizing (IHT 7 June 2013).

A new vision has to be introduced to unblock the situation, of a positive future that might be acceptable to all the parties. At the Eastern end the Two-states solution and in the West Independence next to their big neighbor are such visions. But in both cases there are more countries involved, and the occupied countries are manipulable.

Classical independence with so much mutual dependency makes no sense. The formula is confederation, community. In Africa–53 states, 500 nations–do not change borders; Morocco did, against international law. Open them!, for those wanting to be closer, and make federations inside for those wanting to be apart and not dominated by one nation.

A West African Union-WAU-of the four countries concerned-Western Sahara–Morocco-Mauritania-Algeria–with open borders, equitable economic-political cooperation, and much shared culture, might one day be attractive to all four. With UN membership for all, equal autonomy inside WAU, and cooperation and coordination, based on consensus.

A model: the Nordic Union-NU-of five countries–Denmark-Finland-Iceland-Norway-Sweden (with peripheries) works very well on a basis of consensus, after centuries of conquests and annexation. And hatred. Take from the European Union an architecture with Council of Ministers for the states, a Commission for the functions, a Court, a Parliament.

That this will take time is obvious. But reflections can start right away. Learning from ASEAN about unity in diversity.

What can be done to accelerate history toward something positive like WAU–which would loom large, with new opportunities for all four?

The Sahrawis could learn from the Palestinians to think locally and act more globally. Western Sahara should be recognized by the UN. like Palestine and the Vatican, as a non-member observer state, one day with its flag over the UN building. They could also be recognized by UNESCO. And by progressive countries like Sweden, and more. Like for Palestine parliaments may be ahead of governments. Also Spain, if, a big if, Podemos wins more seats in the national elections 26 June?

There is a spirit of renewal in the United Nations, turning 70. A key aspect is more power to the General Assembly “uniting for peace” when Security Council vetos block progress. Sahara membership, like in the African Union, should be possible before 2020. However, more media coverage, today meaning Internet, is indispensable.

Very useful would be Trump and Sanders mentioning the case, also arguing against Hillary Clinton receiving Moroccan money and praising Morocco as a part of her disastrous foreign policy.   And that brings us to Russia and Putin: Trump has good contacts. And Cuba, a voice increasingly listened to, preferred over Spain for Sahrawi students.

BDS, boycott-divestment-sanctions, makes no sense only against Israel and not also against Morocco, starting with the boycott of goods from the occupied-annexed territories. Yet keeping lines of communication open for mutually searching dialogues, not necessarily with governments but with people and organizations from civil society, less tied by formal rules. Moroccans claim that opposition to Morocco is organized and financed by Algeria to destroy them; disprove that.

Sáhara Occidental, “the last colony” is an unacceptable shame for Spain; like flagrant corruption, halting democracy. Overcome it, add to sanctions for past misdeeds positive deeds for a better future.

And, look at the map: with a role for the Canary islands.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Mar 2016.

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