An upcoming European court case involving a trade deal between Moroccan fisheries and the European Union highlights the conflict between national sovereignty and the right to self-determination, often co-opted by state and non-state actors adversarial to sovereign entities to delegitimize them and to embroil them in damaging conflicts.
The court case, originating in a complaint by a UK-based pro-Polisario non-profit, is to be decided on February 27; should the court rule against Morocco, it may have legal implications for Israel. The European Union considers disputed Judea and Samaria territories “occupied”; the theory in the fisheries case is that the Polisario, like Palestinians, are a subjugated nation with a right to self-determination, and that the two cities, formerly occupied by Spain but ceded to Morocco in the 1970s, where the Polisario Front is largely based, are likewise “occupied” rather than disputed.
On the surface, the two issues are different. Palestinians claim to be a distinct nation, which was forced out or expelled from the territories which later became Israel, Judea and Samaria, and the now Hamas-controlled Gaza, whereas the Polisario Front, which represents formerly nomadic tribes which resided in what is now Morocco and Western Sahara, claims that Moroccan statehood was forced upon the Polisario, and that they have a right to full sovereignty in the two cities. Despite the differing historical factors in the origin of these ongoing disputes, in which the European human rights organizations tend to side with the seeming underdogs, the underlying issue is largely the same.
First, the groups’ claims to sovereignty are historically dubious. Second, in both cases, those claims originated from Soviet-backed liberation movements, aimed at destabilizing and delegitimizing pro-Western countries, as part and parcel of multiple such movements.
Third, in both instances, the revolutionary approach adopted from the Soviets delegitimized peaceful separatism through terrorist attacks which resulted in civilian deaths. Fourth, in both instances, there has been no attempt by the governing bodies of either group to develop the self-sustaining mechanisms central to self-determination.
Fifth, in the absence of distinct cultures, these groups are making novel claims to statehood, that differ sharply from those of many other nations with unique languages, traditions, histories and other characteristics of nationhood that have made such claims over time (compare, for example, to the Baluchis, Kurds and Catalans – all of which have all of the above).
Sixth, unilateral adoption of their positions disregards decades of peace process with good-will humanitarian efforts by the respective sovereign states to resolve these issues to mutual satisfaction. Seventh, by allowing legal boycotts as a response to claims made by agenda-driven human rights organizations inspired by communist and Islamist revolutionaries, the European Union risks undermining its own credibility, disrupting growing relations with Morocco and Israel on economic, trade, security and human rights issues, creating unsustainable security risks resulting from the infringement on the sovereignty of these countries, and finally, setting a dangerous precedent in allowing baseless splintering and fragmentation of stable societies through indiscriminate and punitive measures.
THE CASE of the fisheries dispute is particularly disturbing.
It follows a precedent set by a judge known for radical rulings, who likewise attempted to invalidate a major agriculture deal between Morocco and the EU on the basis of a complaint by a pro-Polisario human rights organization, in what appears to be a pattern of pressure to boycott any goods which originated in disputed territories.
That case arose in 2016, and finally was resolved in Morocco’s favor, as it was determined that invalidating free trade deals was in violation of international and European law. The fisheries case is remarkably similar. It carries all signs of abuse of power by the activist judge, as well as political, rather than legal, pressure from a lobby group.
Fisheries comprise the bulk of Morocco’s economy, including in fact in the territories disputed by the Polisario Front (also known as SADR ). Just as boycotting products made over the “green line” in Judea and Samaria would harm the many hard-working Palestinians who depend on these industries for their livelihood, European disruption of the fisheries deal in the name of human rights would actually cause tremendous human rights damage. The human rights group in question lacks credibility. One of its leaders, residing in North Africa, Mohammed Ouali Akeik, was recently linked to terrorism.
The Polisario Front, as with many such organizations formerly financed and trained by the Soviet Union (in SADR ’s case in Cuba) and later backed by another former Soviet client state (Algeria), engaged in the exchange of weapons and best practices with other terrorism- driven separatist groups and liberation movements. The effects of some of its terrorist attacks are ongoing.
Recently, Spanish King Felipe VI heard the victims of Polisario terrorist attacks which had targeted the workers of a phosphates extraction company, Fosboucraa. Polisario terrorist attacks in the 1970s killed approximately 300 people, mostly fishermen, and the group is now being sued for human rights abuses. The response to allegedly colonialist practices by the Moroccan government served less to achieve independence, for the organization lacked any structure that would favor self-governance, and more for propaganda purposes and attracting international attention. Viewed as an underdog, the group succeeded in gaining sympathy from the international community.
Algeria, the state backer of this radical tactic masquerading as human rights movement, which virtually hijacked thousands of well-meaning people who were promised a dignified and prosperous life, is far from an innocent party here. The Sahrawis who have chosen not to reintegrate into Morocco, but rather to reside in Algeria, while the dispute is being resolved, like the descendants of Palestinian refugees have not been granted citizenship, but rather largely remain in refugee camps, in the area of Tindouf.
These camps have a horrific reputation for sex trafficking, slavery and assorted criminal activities, where the manipulative leaders and assorted hangers-on take advantage of the largely helpless and trapped population. None of that receives wide coverage in the media, nor is this deplorable state of affairs sanctioned or even questioned by the EU or the human rights organizations, just as the Arab states’ failure to integrate Palestinians into their countries while keeping them in dangerous refugee camps, in terrible conditions, has not resulted in any penalties or boycotts of these states.
However unfair practices Morocco may have once engaged in, no civilian deserved to die for the sake of exposing them. Today, King Mohammed VI has been investing heavily in integrating the Sahrawi tribes from Western Sahara into Morocco, giving them a great deal of autonomy, stimulating the local economy and addressing humanitarian concerns which arose throughout the 25-year peace process. The Polisario, on the other hand, rather than engaging in peaceful negotiations toward settling the remnant dispute, has not fully rid itself of terrorist connections to drug cartels and other terrorist groups; furthermore, it is attempting to sabotage trade deals that would benefit its supposed people, for the sake of scoring political points against Morocco.
The result of allowing such a precedent to stand would be disastrous, as a decision against the fisheries deal would go against international and European laws.
However, this attack is not about demanding justice or resolving dispute; it is about delegitimizing Morocco in the eyes of the international community, at the expense of denying a livelihood to the Sahrawis, and the national sovereignty of Morocco.
The European Union, which already labels products made in Judea and Samaria, making them easier to boycott, under the faulty premise that such boycotts will pressure Israel to cede these territories to Palestinians, would likely interpret a ruling against Morocco as an argument to use the same tactics to help Palestinians.
The effect would play right into the hands of radical leftist and Islamist forces behind the BDS movement, which seek not to help Palestinians, but to delegitimize Israel, damage its economy and weaken its relations with the international community.
Thanks to the efforts of the so-called human rights organizations in Europe, the Soviet Union rules from beyond the grave. Through leftists and Islamists it seeks to sow discord, disrupt business relationships between sovereign states and Europe, and prevent its “clients” from ever achieving real independence through self-sufficiency and prosperity. Boycott movements seek to perpetuate indignity, dependency and enslavement for the many innocent Sahrawis, Palestinians and others who would much rather move on, make money, and live well – to say nothing of Moroccans, Israelis and Europeans, who will suffer economically for no reason other than the agenda of long-dead revolutionaries.
The author is a human rights and national security attorney and analyst, who has written extensively about Morocco and related sovereignty, human rights and geopolitical issues.