We continue to examine the U.S.-brokered deal between Morocco and Israel to normalize relations. As part of the deal, the U.S. will become the first country in the world to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, which Morocco has occupied since 1975 in defiance of the international community. We convene a roundtable to discuss developments: Mouloud Said, a representative of the Polisario Front in Washington; Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco; and Sahrawi journalist and activist Nazha El-Khalidi.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Morocco and Israel have agreed to establish diplomatic relations has part of a U.S.-brokered deal, Morocco the fourth Arab nation to establish ties with Israel since August. As part of the deal, the United States agreed to become the first country in the world to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over occupied Western Sahara — what many consider to be Africa’s last colony. It’s due to open a consulate in the occupied city of Dakhla, where there are few, if any, U.S. citizens. Morocco has occupied much of the resource-rich territory since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. Thousands of Sahrawis have been tortured, imprisoned, killed and disappeared while resisting the Moroccan occupation. Following Morocco’s invasion in 1975, about half the Sahrawi population fled to neighboring Algeria, where they’ve lived for the past 45 years in refugee camps in the middle of the desert. The deal comes less than a month after a nearly three-decade-old ceasefire ended in Western Sahara.
Joining us from Spain is Mouloud Said, a representative in Washington of the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi liberation movement seeking independence. Also with us, in the United States, Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, the co-author of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Stephen Zunes, if you can make that link between Morocco recognizing Israel and the U.S., in exchange, it seems, officially accepting Morocco’s annexation of the occupied Western Sahara?
STEPHEN ZUNES: It was clearly a quid pro quo. Though the United States has been, in effect, supporting Morocco’s occupation for many years, just as it has been supporting Israel’s occupation for many years, Trump, in both cases, has gone well beyond what previous administrations of both parties have done, and violated long-standing international legal norms — in the case of Palestine, recognizing Jerusalem as solely Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy there, and recognizing Israel’s illegal annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights.
In the case of Morocco, it’s even worse, because it’s not just talking about recognizing an illegal annexation of a portion of a country, but an annexation of an entire country. And in the case of Western Sahara, remember, Western Sahara, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, has been recognized by over 80 nations around the world and is a full member of the African Union. In a sense, Trump is now recognizing the takeover of one African nation by another. Again, this is unprecedented, since the signing of the United Nations Charter, for the United States — or any nation, really — to recognize such a brazen violation of international legal norms.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Madrid, Spain, to get the response of Mouloud Said. You represent the Polisario Front in Washington, D.C., though you’re in Spain right now. Can you talk about what this means, the Trump administration doing something that has not been done by any country in the world, recognizing the annexation of Western Sahara? What does this mean for the Sahrawi people?
MOULOUD SAID: Good morning, Amy, and thank you for having me.
The Sahrawi government condemns and regrets this decision taken by President Trump, which breaks away from all the previous administration policies. But this decision is not going to change the facts that the Sahrawi Republic is a full member of the African Union, that Morocco occupies part of this territory. And it’s not going to change the nature of the conflict. This decision, it was done without advancing any legal argument, because they will not find it anywhere. And Western Sahara is not just a piece of real estate that President Trump can give; it’s a territory that belongs to its people and a full-fledged member of a continental organization. Like was very well said by Professor Zunes, this is the first time that a country is trying to ignore another member state, as if the African Union did not exist, as if the Sahrawi Republic was not a member of the African Union. And so, this is really something that we condemn this position, but it’s not going to change on anything the situation, because the Sahrawi people are going to continue with their struggle. We are not going to stop. And this is — you said this is the first power that recognizes; it’s the first power that violates international law, bluntly, in the Western Sahara. And since it’s a violation of international law, it is not going to have any effect on the issue.
By the way, already the European Union came up with a statement disassociating itself from this decision, and the United Nations. And I want to take this opportunity to thank the senators that acted so promptly, and members of Congress, in particular Senator Jim Inhofe; Senator Patrick Leahy; and Eliot — Congressman Eliot Engel, the chairman of the international relations committee; Congresswoman Betty McCollum; and others, that disassociated themselves, and some of them even condemned this kind of decision.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go right now inside occupied Western Sahara to Laayoune to speak with Nazha El-Khalidi, who is inside her home, where many are in their homes, but police have laid siege to the area. And, Nazha, I wanted to welcome you to Democracy Now! You’re a journalist, as well, with Équipe Média. You’ve been arrested by the Moroccans. Can you respond to the Trump administration recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over your territory and what this means for you? What is the situation inside?
NAZHA EL-KHALIDI: Thank you very much, Amy Goodman. And thanks to Democracy Now! for talking to us and give to the Sahrawi activists from the occupied territory of Western Sahara the opportunity to share their stories and to share testimonies of victims.
Regarding the situation in the occupied territory, there is a major crackdown on the Sahrawi rights, on the Sahrawi — on the freedom of speech, on the freedom of movement, on the freedom of assembly. Especially after Morocco violated the ceasefire and the wars start again, Morocco started a wave of arrests against Sahrawi activists in the occupied territory, the oppression and the repression against the Sahrawi peaceful movements raising day by day, and Morocco keep arresting people. Now there are dozens of Sahrawi activists who are behind bars in Moroccan prisons. The people in Western Sahara are not allowed to express themselves. There are no press agencies on the ground that can document the violations against Sahrawi human beings in here. Morocco is continue closing the territory on front of the international observers, international activists and international journalists. So, we determine and we describe Western Sahara as a black hole, as it was described by RSF reports two years ago and by international organizations. It’s completely closed, and we are suffering in silence.
Regarding the Donald Trump recognition, we believe that this will not erase our legitimate right to freedom and independence. Sahrawi people is continue struggling. And we are not surprised, since we have been betrayed by the international community for over 30 years, where we were waiting for a peaceful solution from the United Nations, that we have been promised by the United Nations. There is a mission to organize a fair referendum and to offer the opportunity to Sahrawi people to vote and to determine their own future by themselves. So we are not surprised by, like, the recognition from Trump. And I think the status of Western Sahara is already determined by international law, so not by a tweet of a president who is already on his way out. So, the international law is clear and is set out in successive United Nations Security Council resolutions that were authored by the U.S. itself, and that Western Sahara’s status will be determined by a referendum.
We hope the incoming Biden administration will return the U.S. to a nation that respects long-standing international law and that will use its influence to encourage the meaningful — the United Nations-led peace talks on Western Sahara that have been neglected. We hope that the new U.S. administration will resolve the long-standing conflict in Western Sahara and help deliver what the Sahrawi people have long been promised by the United Nations, which is a promise to give them a simple right, which is the vote for our freedom. So, the Donald Trump recognition will not stop the Sahrawi struggle and will not end the Sahrawi beliefs in achieving legal rights and fighting for legal rights, which is independence and establish their state on their land.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask Steve Zunes about this latest report in Reuters that talks about the U.S. planning to sell — negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated large aerial drones to Morocco — not clear whether it is related to this, though it’s coming at the same time. And you have the longtime supporter of Israel, the outgoing congressman, head of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Eliot Engel, while applauding the relationship between Jerusalem and Rabat, warned the Trump administration against casting aside legitimate, multilateral avenues of conflict resolution, doing something no other country in the world has done. Professor Zunes, you have 30 seconds.
STEPHEN ZUNES: The drone sale was of concern, because it’s illegal for the United States to support — to provide invading armies with this kind of sophisticated equipment. But now that Western Sahara is recognized as part of Morocco, suddenly it’s an internal conflict. And so, this paves the way for this kind of equipment, which could be used in counterinsurgency situations.
In terms of Engel, it’s important that someone who is so strongly for Israel is willing to break with the administration on this point. The question is what Biden is going to do, because Biden could reverse the annexation — recognition of the annexation with a stroke of a pen. But he’d be under a lot of pressure because then Morocco could use this as an excuse to nullify their recognition of Israel. So, Biden is going to be in a lot of pressure by pro-Israel groups not to rescind Trump’s order. So, it’s good that you have somebody like Engel who is challenging Trump’s decision.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Mouloud Said, the status of the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario?
MOULOUD SAID: Since the Moroccans invaded — I mean, crossed the buffer zone — and this was stated by the president of the Sahrawi Republic, Mr. Brahim Ghali — we’d say that the ceasefire was over, and therefore we are back to square one, to the situation in which we found ourselves in 1991. So right now there is the war going on from the south of Western Sahara to the north, from Guerguerat to Mahbes. So, the ceasefire is not anymore. It’s over. Now it’s just a war that will continue until the final liberation of the remaining part of the territory. And it’s sad that this decision by Mr. Trump comes on the day of the international — the day that everybody was celebrating the human rights, the anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration.
AMY GOODMAN: Mouloud Said, I want to thank you for being with us, representative of the Polisario Front in Washington, D.C. Professor Stephen Zunes from the University of San Francisco. And, Sahrawi journalist Nazha El-Khalidi, thank you so much for being with us from occupied Laayoune.
Coming up, we look at Joe Biden’s pick to head the Pentagon, a retired general. What does this mean? Stay with us.