Monday, June 13, 2011

Ross’s Arbitration In The “Sahara”

By Mohammad el-Ashab 

Broadening the base of negotiations around the desert (the Sahara) after all the previous rounds only means that these were not going in the right direction. This is not only about opening a new channel in order to solve some aspects of the current crisis. It has also to do with asking for the help of new parties that could rid the negotiators of several problems.

The problem of representativeness in the negotiations of the desert has been addressed in a different context this time, the closest problems having to do with who would represents who. Returning to square one would have been out of the question had the process been a realistic one, noting that related resolutions by the Security Council had called for realism. However, the lack of realism was one of the major causes for the relapse. Thus, no agreement was reached concerning the referential aspect of the negotiations.
Morocco is saying that the plan to grant an autonomous rule to the desert’s governorates must constitute the platform that should be used to take off and to land in order to find a final solution. The Polisario is responding by saying that the self determination referendum will constitute the ultimate solution. The United Nations cannot possibly impose a solution that falls outside the formula of harmony of the type that is warranted in regional conflicts such as this one.

Practically speaking, the United Nations have found a harmonious framework that was formulated in the image of “a political solution.” The United Nations are right since they are incapable of canceling the previous decisions unless they practice a smart political cloning that would prevent them from being described as being biased. But the political solution remains loose and prone to having different interpretations, although it is nothing but a remedy that will yield the desired outcome, i.e. ending the dispute under the slogan of no winners and no losers.
The desert dispute originally started and continued under the obsession of representativeness. The distribution of people with desert origins between Morocco, the Tindouf Camps, and Mauritania served to complicate the picture and the stands. Thus, it was only natural for the efforts of the United Nations in coming up with the lists of the desert people to fail, which led in turn to the collapse of the entire referendum plan.

Yet, international mediator James Baker, who was behind the idea of looking for an alternative solution, is the same person who sketched the features of the negotiations between the concerned parties. In fact, he considered Morocco and the Polisario to be direct parties, while Algeria and Mauritania are just observers. The source of the defect in the current negotiations could be that he has transformed the old formula in defining the sides into a new framework. However, the partnership of the different sides in the failing consensus project is not equaled by their efforts to find a political solution. The biggest proof is that a dead end was reached, when the problem of the representativeness was brought up.
It might be that international delegate Christopher Ross, through his use of new mechanisms in order to support the choice of negotiations, has aimed at using the logic of persuasion in order to exhaust the negotiators. Indeed, he adopted the formula of unofficial negotiations, in order to prevent the repercussions of failure. Meanwhile, he pulled the negotiations towards the humanitarian dimensions and the issues of the ill use of the region’s wealth, and the demining process. All these are secondary issues that aim at pushing the negotiations towards a promising start. This means that the idea of expanding the representativeness of the population falls in the same context; however, this is a more important issue considering that the problem of the desert consists of the issue of representativeness before anything else.

Morocco was considerate enough to allow the participation of figures with desert origins in the negotiations rounds. This was an indicator to the fact that the dialogue taking place between the members of the same tribe becomes a useful one under the same tent. At the end of the day, some desert people are loyal to Morocco, while their brothers and cousins are not. Thus, this dialogue might lead to an agreement.
If the desert people from both sides are able to reach a final conviction concerning the usefulness of the negotiations sponsored by Ross, then this will constitute the biggest breakthrough. It will be able to remove the most difficult obstacles, namely the ongoing differences between Morocco and Algeria, which started in the desert and extended all over the place.

No one but Ross knows to where he is leading the ship of the negotiations. However, he did make an evocative sign on the early days of his appointment when the point of view of the Maghreb Union was mixed with the project of settlement. This sign was sufficient to understand the long-term strategy.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 12/06/2011

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