Saturday, May 24, 2008

Van Walsum: Nobody's fool

If you thought things couldn't get much worse for the peace process in Western Sahara, then you haven't read the latest interview with Peter van Walsum, the lead UN negotiator to the conflict.

What's refreshing is that Van Walsum finally calls a spade a spade. The much hyped face-to-face talks in 2007 and 2008 -- the first since 2000 -- have been 'a mockery, a farce, a false game', he says, explaining that nobody believes in them, neither Morocco nor Polisario.

'If I continue to sit here as a good boy and do what is expected of me then I will mediate in not four rounds, but eight, twelve or sixteen rounds. There is no solution, because the two main points of view of the parties are irreconcilable on the point about a referendum concerning independence. For Polisario that is essential and for Morocco it is unthinkable. You will never resolve that problem.'


Last month, Van Walsum jumped into some hot water when he pointed out the banal yet uncouth reality that unless France and the United States will it, a referendum on independence in Western Sahara is unrealistic. Morocco and its allies quickly affirmed the consequent, arguing that if independence is unrealistic, then autonomy must be realistic.

Polisario's response was to claim that Van Walsum should not longer play a role; yet the liberation front has not yet said whether or not it will attend the unscheduled next round of negotiations.

In the interview, Van Walsum seems unsure as to whether his tenure in Western Sahara is over, noting the deep displeasure of Polisario and Algeria. More interestingly, he also noted some tensions in the UN Secretariat

Perhaps the most interesting observation to come from Van Walsum's new intereview is his belief that the UN Security Council should have used Chapter VII powers (ie, coercion) to stop Morocco's 1975 invasion of what was then the Spanish Sahara. Indeed, he notes that the Security Council treats the Chapter VI (ie, non-coercive) nature of its intervention in Western Sahara since 1988 as 'holy'. In other words, it's not just Morocco and Polisario who have 'red lines' in this conflict, but also Paris and Washington.

In the NRC interview, he further clarified his position, which is clearly empathetic towards Western Sahara's right to independence: 'The moral dilemma is that Polisario is more on the right side than Morocco. But because the Security Council will never force Morocco into a referendum on independence, they actually choose for the status quo'. He then criticizes Polisario for choosing exile over autonomy.

Though he could have just as easily redirected his frustration at France and the United States, who are not only blocking a solution in accordance with international law, they are also providing diplomatic cover to Morocco's forceful expansion of territory. Are not they as guilty, if not more, of prolonging the refugees misery as Polisario?

Indeed, at the end of the article, he endorses the idea of the Security Council asking the parties to 'experiment' with autonomy. Such an approach, which clearly favors Morocco, would require the Security Council to use Chapter VII powers to make sure his autonomy experiment doesn't end up like West Papua or Eritrea.

So this is the world we live in: In the same interview, a lead UN negotiator simultaneously acknowledges Western Sahara's right to independence and the illegality of Morocco's annexationist move. Only to conclude by suggesting that the Security Council -- in the name of realism! -- should force Western Sahara to accept, for a brief trial period, an illegal occupation.

Well, such audacity is clearly Van Walsum's swan song. Before the UN Secretariat unceremoniously snatches the Western Sahara dossier from Van Walsum, our little-known Dutch diplomat is letting the world know that he's nobody's fool -- neither Morocco's, nor Polisario's, nor the United Nations'.

It was a good 3 years, as long as you weren't a Sahrawi.

1 comment:

Van Kaas said...

Two more things I would like to add about the position of van Walsum as a dutch diplomat.

The dutch naval shipyard De Schelde signed a deal for three warships with Morocco. They can't export military stuff without an export permit. This export permit can't be granted by the government for goods delivered in a zone of conflict. Now mr. van Walsum still has excellent contacts in the dutch government, and if I'm not mistaken he still has an office at the dutch ministry of foreign affairs. This is a deal for about 800.000.000 euro ... it is hard to believe Schelde has not consulted some expert on the Sahara issue.

Another thing is the report of the Liberal International made up by a dutchman called van Baalen. It was presented at a session of the LI in Morocco and is very favourable for the autonomy-option. (See also One hump or two.)

These two things from van Walsum-land don't make the picture look any better for this dutchman, or does it?