Will Biden Admin Reverse Trump’s “Dangerous” Recognition of Morocco’s Occupation of Western Sahara?

Feb. 5, 2021: DemocracyNow! full transcript and video link

President Donald Trump broke with decades of U.S. foreign policy in the waning days of his administration and recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a territory the country has occupied since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. U.S. recognition came as Morocco agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, becoming the fourth Arab nation to do so in recent months as part of a regional push by the Trump administration to strengthen Israel without addressing the Palestinian conflict. Now the Biden administration must weigh whether to reverse Trump’s decision on Western Sahara. “It’ll be very dangerous if Biden does not reverse Trump’s unprecedented recognition of Morocco’s takeover of Western Sahara,” says Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco. “The United Nations Charter is very clear that the expansion of territory by military force is illegitimate.”
See reviews of his book, “Western Sahara,”related articles, audio and video.

Interview: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Wins Nobel Peace Prize as U.S. Opposes Calls for WMD-Free Middle East (Video)

Democracy Now October 11, 2013
Video & Transcript
As the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons wins the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, we look at international efforts to rid Syria and other countries — including the United States — of chemical weapons. While Syria recently pledged to sign the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, four other countries have not: Egypt, North Korea, Angola and South Sudan. Israel and Burma have signed the treaty, but not ratified it. Both Egypt and Syria say they maintained chemical weapon arsenals to counter Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia, both signatories of the treaty, missed a 2012 deadline to destroy their remaining chemical weapons arsenals — which is some 95 percent of the global stockpile. We speak to 2013 Right Livelihood Award winner Paul Walker of Green Cross International and Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, where he chairs the program in Middle East studies. Transcript

Interview: Zunes on Western Sahara

From the Democracy Now! site:

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, I want to thank you for being with us, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, speaking to us from Laâyoune in Western Sahara.

We’re also joined by Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, co-author of a new book called Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.

Professor Zunes, thank you for being with us. Start off by putting this all in a context. Again, as I asked Peter Bouckaert, most people don’t even know this is taking place, that there is this conflict and occupation.

STEPHEN ZUNES: Well, we’re looking at a situation that bears striking parallels to East Timor: on the verge of decolonization from a minor colonial power, the large neighbor came and gobbled up the country, with the United Nations Security Council, along with the International Court of Justice, ruled that this takeover was illegal, called for Morocco’s withdrawal, but Morocco, like Indonesia, had some powerful friends on the UN Security Council, including the United States, which has blocked the world bodies from enforcing their mandates. And so, in fact, the invasion took place just six weeks prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, in November of 1975. So, for more than 35 years, the people of Western Sahara have been suffering under a foreign military occupation.

For the first 15 years, there was an armed struggle led by the Polisario Front, and a ceasefire came to pass in 1991 in return for a United Nations-supervised referendum on the fate of the territory. But the Moroccans, recognizing they would lose such a referendum, have prevented it from taking place. And again, with the backing of the United States and France and the Security Council, the UN has been powerless to enforce its mandate.

Just a few years ago, the people of Western Sahara started what they refer to as “Intifada Istiqlal,” Intifada for Independence, an overwhelmingly nonviolent struggle using the classic techniques of strategic nonviolent actions—strikes, boycotts, protests and the like—only to be met by increased Moroccan repression. And so, you have an irony of here you have a movement, which incidentally is—the most prominent leader of which is a woman, Aminatou Haidar. Here we have an Arab Muslim country engaged in nonviolent struggle to build a democracy and women’s rights, a very kind of a nation that Western countries say they want to see in the Arab and Islamic world, and yet we’re supporting this autocratic monarchy and crushing this nonviolent resistance.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what’s happening at the United Nations right now, the talks that are taking place and who the Polisario are.

STEPHEN ZUNES: Well, the Polisario is recognized as the government of Western Sahara. In fact, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was declared upon—not long after the withdrawal of Spanish colonialist forces, has been recognized by more than 70 nations. They’re a full-member state of the African Union. They have been engaged in these peace talks with Morocco. The Polisario is pushing for the Moroccans to allow for a free and fair referendum, choosing between independence or to become integrated in Morocco, as the United Nations and the World Court have mandated. However, the Moroccans, backed by the French and formerly by the Bush administration—the Obama administration has been a little more ambivalent on this—have instead pushed for a so-called autonomy agreement, where a certain—a very limited degree of autonomy would be granted to the people of Western Sahara, but Morocco would essentially stay in power. It would not grant them the option independence, which is legally necessary for a true act of self-determination.

AMY GOODMAN: And how this occupation has been able to go on for as long as it has?

STEPHEN ZUNES: Well, again, to use the East Timor analogy, it’s legally and morally, and almost in any other way you want to look at it, the people of Western Sahara do have the right to self-determination. But Morocco has the guns, has the occupation forces. Indeed, you know, I’ve been to 60 countries around the world, including Indonesia under Suharto and Iraq under Saddam, and I’ve never seen a worse police state than I have seen in the occupied Western Sahara. But the main reason is the continued support by France and the United States of Morocco. And I think, frankly, the only real hope for Western Sahara is what we saw in East Timor, that an international solidarity movement, that global civil society will come together and essentially shame the Western governments that are continuing to back Morocco into ending this kind of unconditional support and allow for a true act of self-determination to take place.

AMY GOODMAN: The military relationship the U.S. has with Morocco and what exactly it could do?

STEPHEN ZUNES: Well, there have been very close ties between the United States and Morocco for quite a few years. During the Cold War, the monarchy was seen as a bulwark against communism and against left-leaning Arab nationalism. In more recent years, they’re seen as an ally in the so-called war on terrorism. It was massive U.S. military aid during the Reagan administration, including the use of U.S. Special Forces on the ground, that reversed the war that had been almost won by the Polisario. They liberated 85 percent of the country by 1981, but the Moroccans, with U.S. and French support, were able to beat back the Polisario, so now the Moroccans occupy 80 percent of the country.

And subsequently, the financial and diplomatic and military assistance of Morocco has enabled the occupying forces to keep a tight lid on the territory and suppress even nonviolent protest. I mean, there was hope that the protest camps, knowing if they’d said anything about independence, would be subjected to severe repression, limited their demands to pressing social and economic issues. But apparently even that was too much for the Moroccans, and we have seen the savage repression over the past week that has unfolded.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Zunes, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of politics and international studies and chair of the Middle Eastern Studies at University of San Francisco. He’s co-author of a new book called Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.