US-brokered Morocco-Israel normalization could spark war

2020-12-23 11:02:23
US-brokered Morocco-Israel normalization could spark war

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that the US-brokered normalization deal between Morocco and Israel will bring peace to the region and calls it an achievement for US foreign policy.

But as is so often the case with Trump, his characterization bears little relationship with reality. In fact, this supposed peace deal sets the stage for more violence and conflict in North Africa and the Middle East.

That's because Trump agreed to officially recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara despite decades of international consensus that the status of the disputed territory had to be peacefully resolved by a referendum.

“It is yet another example of the Trump administration's running roughshod over people and norms it doesn't care about in the pursuit of its own fleeting glory,” Sébastien Roblin, a New York-based military expert, wrote in an op-ed for NBC News.

“As is so often the case with Trump, his characterization bears little relationship with reality,” he added.

Western Sahara is an arid, sparsely populated territory running along the coast of northwest Africa south of Morocco and north and west of Mauritania. Until recently, the harsh desert expanse was inhabited primarily by the Sahrawis, a nomadic people of mixed Berber-Arabic and Black African descent.

Western Sahara lacked a central government when Spain occupied it in 1884. In the 1970s, the Sahrawi people led a successful revolt that led to independence from Spain in 1975. But neighboring Morocco and Mauritania occupied the region after Spain’s retreat. Each considered the territory to have been arbitrarily split away from them by European colonialism.

However, the International Court of Justice determined that neither Mauritania nor Morocco had sovereignty over the region. The Sahrawis themselves expressed "overwhelming consensus" for independence, according to the United Nations.

The US decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara has drawn criticism from the UN, as well as American allies in Africa and beyond.

African observers have said it could destabilize the broader region, already struggling against insurgencies and migrant trafficking.

The loss of hope for a referendum could spark a renewed war, as the Sahrawis may come to see an armed conflict as the only way to reach their goals. This is especially worrying given skirmishes that broke out between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan military in November, weeks before Trump's announcement.

Continued fighting risks drawing in Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, and conflict and instability could cause flows of weapons and refugees to ripple outward across Africa, as has already happened in the Libyan civil war.

The Morocco-Israel deal makes this even more likely, because the US promised a $1 billion arms package for Morocco that includes long-endurance surveillance drones and precision-guided missiles and bombs that the Moroccan military could use in Western Sahara.

Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will lead a US delegation to Israel and Morocco next week for discussions about the normalization deal reached last week. Kushner led the diplomatic push that saw the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco normalize relations with Israel.

Trump has shamefully betrayed both democracy and human rights by seeking to improve his damaged reputation and those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Morocco's King Mohammed VI.

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