Monday, July 18, 2011

Christopher Ross And The “Step-by-Step” Policy In The Sahara Dispute

By Mohammad el-Ashab
 Christopher Ross has not tired of his calls for additional unofficial negotiations between the feuding parties of the Sahara dispute. Perhaps he has concluded that wearing the negotiators off with endless rounds [of negotiations] is better than letting them catch their breath following each clash. He is almost touching on the experience of his fellow national, Henry Kissinger, in the “step-by-step” policy that led to ending the dispute in the no peace, no war era.
Perhaps the difference is that Ross thinks that proceeding with the negotiations is in itself a major accomplishment; and that nothing is impossible at the end of the day even if more than one round is required – as long as there is a preliminary agreement on that the current and future negotiations should lead to consolidating a final political solution for a long standing conflict.
He is like a fisherman, throwing the bait in and waiting for either luring or exhaustion. And since the negotiators are linked to international resolutions that must be complied with and implemented, he is allowing the factor of time to make its mark. At the end, the political solution will impose itself on the negotiators. It is unlikely that the Sahara dispute will backslide. The efforts might stumble, and there might be contradictory interpretations, but the essence of this issue is a crisis of regional tension that has used up all its ideological, and even strategic objectives.
The hundreds of hours taken up by the former rounds will not be vain because there is a sponsor who is counting the minutes. And every time he achieves a small breakthrough, he becomes even more insistent on that there is no alternative for the tiresome negotiations. Although Christopher Ross was not a Marxist, and does not have a tendency towards tiresome ideological speeches, he does work according to the rule of wearing the negotiators off until they lose patience. He also leans towards the “step-by-step” politics and pushes the negotiators to throw themselves at sea, as they might try to swim and save themselves from drowning.
Nothing much has changed with respect to the stances. However, the maneuvers ceiling shrinks every time the negotiators face each other. The contradicting interpretations around the concept of the political solution have concluded that this solution should rather lead to cloning a new nature for the concept of self determination. This is moving a little bit away from the multi-optional referendum and at the same time moving closer to the reality that there is no better option than the one that is currently in place – all the while minding the different forms of balance that allow one choice for all the Sahara people. This choice is one that does not modify maps but rather decorates them with all the possible and achievable mosaics.
Morocco is no longer the same and Polisario is no longer the same either. On top of that, the regional conflict is no longer required and is no longer of the same importance as the calculations that initiated it. However, it is not possible to cancel out the historical and legal truths according to these calculations. Thus, the Sahara will undoubtedly return to its previous state, i.e. the state that preceded the Spanish occupation. In light of the reformative approach, the Moroccans might have realized that fixing the course of history must be accompanied with a larger openness on the level of grasping the specifications of the social components.
Perhaps the most important indicator to this development is the fact that the new constitution that was adopted by the Moroccan population has restored the importance of the Husania dialect of the Sahara people. It is not important if this falls in the context of a wider openness to the Amazigh dialect – the dialect of the indigenous population – and in the context of acknowledging the pluralism of the country’s cultural streams. What matters is that the acknowledgement of the Husania dialect cannot be separated from acknowledging the rights of the Sahara people in preserving their identity and their culture.
The issue of the language here extends beyond its cultural dimensions as it undoubtedly completes the suggestion of the autonomous rule with the legal and political reference. The role of the negotiators consists perhaps of offering tangible measures that would aid in finding a solution and that would not complicate the issue any further. Who knows? Indeed, Christopher Ross once worked in Morocco as the director of the American cultural center. There, he was convinced of the idea that holding a dialogue with the people requires knowing and mastering their language. Could he be on his way to learning the Husania language?
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 17/07/2011

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