Perhaps it was a coincidence this time that forced the Sahara negotiators to try their luck in the suburbs of New York, two days after Morocco celebrated the anniversary of the Green March of 1975. If anything was achieved on the ground, it was that the concerned sides have begun to talk to each other without mediation, with a view to permit the formulation of a true determination to foster stability in the region through a political solution to the regional conflict. Irrespective of whether some progress can be made in the direct dialogue sponsored by UN envoy Christopher Ross, or if the stalemate continues, this accomplishment can neither be cancelled, nor, by the same token, be forsaken, since that would lead to unknown consequences.
Meanwhile, it was no coincidence that Taieb Fassi Fihri, Morocco’s Foreign Minister, chose to pay a quick visit to Madrid before heading to the suburbs of New York. He relayed a message that the Sahara conflict was the last confrontation between Morocco and Spain, especially after the Madrid Accords of 1975. Thus, in other words, there would be no going back to the situation prior to that date, as the conflicts that followed have instead taken on another dimension and involved other parties. Thus, Fihri may have sought with this visit to test the waters before the negotiations.
It is very unlikely that the negotiations will result in more than what the previous rounds have achieved. However, none of the parties wants to be held responsible for the collapse of negotiations that are mandated by the Security Council. When Minister al-Fahri declared from Madrid that the related resolutions say nothing about a referendum on self-determination, but that they have instead emphasized the idea of an alternative political solution, he was directing his comments to his partners in the negotiations to be held in the suburbs of New York, particularly since Ross heard a similar position during his recent stop in Rabat.
The Sahara negotiations are no longer taking place in a closed setting. They could have retained the traditions of negotiation with a continued commitment to the link between all of the proposals being put forth, namely negotiations in which each side is aware of the limits of concessions and the red lines that cannot be crossed. Up to now, the negotiations that have usually led to a period of calm and to a roadmap into the accomplishment of goals, have now become a reason for more tension and escalation.
Hopes have risen regarding the negotiation track that was launched three years ago, as it gathers all the elements of the problem. In other words, it takes into account the regional dimension, in the course of focusing on the two principal actors, Morocco and the Polisario Front. This formula is closest to understanding all of the surrounding aspects of the Sahara issue. However, the imbalance no longer lies in identifying the concerned parties, which may be involved directly or indirectly, but in the will to search for a solution.
What is absent in the formula previously established by the former UN envoy James Baker are the responsibilities it had assigned, as part of a previous agenda, to certain parties. Such responsibilities involved the preparation for the participation of the Saharan people in the plebiscite on self-determination. Since Algeria and Mauritania hosted a large number of Saharans concerned with this referendum -that no longer has any political significance-, they became indirect parties to this issue. Thus, it is correct to believe that the participation of all parties should be determined as part of the formula for a political solution, under the UN umbrella.
Morocco wants the upcoming negotiations to engender a certain reality that follows the conclusion of a Maghreb Union accord. Thus, it continues to seek a solution for the Sahara by going back to the Maghreb accord. But since all of this has changed, the negotiations in themselves become meaningless, at least in Rabat’s opinion, if strategic objectives are not achieved - objectives that would otherwise lead the Sahara conflict to disappear in context of the Maghreb accord. These are precisely the stakes involved in the negotiations, which have more reasons to collapse than reasons to succeed.