The major question facing Ross is the Western Saharans’ right of self-determination, which vexed the previous mediators, James Baker, the former US secretary of state. Morocco officially rejected the 2003 Baker plan because it contained the option of independence after the 5 year autonomy period, saying that its « territorial integrity » will not be put to a vote. The Polisario reject anything that doesn’t contain an independence option, which they claim is a part of self-determination. Under the 2003 Baker plan, the majority Moroccan settlers (120,000 versus 110,000 indigenous Saharans) would be allowed to vote, which should have resolved the « voter eligibility » issues for Morocco. So Morocco’s real problem is that it doesn’t even trust its own settlers to vote for integration. In a country where at least 75% of the population wants to emigrate, Rabat’s fears are probably well founded.
Even if the MINURSO can not carry out its mandate, some UN presence in the territory is nencessary. But from Polisario perspective, MINURSO’s peacekeepers now acts as a kind of buffer between them and Morocco. The presence of the UN also creates a false impression that there is at least something going on diplomatically, when, in reality, the negociations, since, 2000, gave nothing. With that kinf political cover, Morocco is able to fortify its occupation, right under the nose of the UN. This is why Morocco supports MINURSO and Polisario doesn’t. The UN hasn’t been able to anything for Polisario in 18 years, and diplomatic progress has been negative since 2004, year of departure of James Baker.
Minurso is far from perfect from Rabat’s point of view, since it keeps the Settlement Plan (and the prospect of a referendum) on the table, but for years it has done little more than provide cover for Morocco’s continued occupation, exploitation, fortification, demographic Moroccanization, and generally helping out in its facts-on-the-ground strategy. Also, the frozen no war/no peace situation is seriously wearing down the Polisario morally (among members), politically (no war = no media attention) and militarily.
That is indeed a very comfortable place to be in for Morocco, and only two things could really change Morocco’s interest in keeping Minurso: either Morocco deciding to go for the kill and finalize the issue legally, or Polisario causing enough fuss in the occupied territories to make the status quo so unpleasant for Morocco that it no longer brings the stability that France and European Union wants.
Moroccans and their supporters, mainly France and Spain, think MINURSO acts as a kind of deterrent keeping Polisario from fighting. The common refrain from Paris, Washington and Madrid is that MINURSO is a « stabilizing force » in the region. Morocco doesn’t want to be the one who appears to be kicking MINURSO out.
So, MINURSO helps justify the status quo through its cease-fire monitoring. Morocco thinks the status quo is in its favor. While Polisario sits and rots in Tindouf, Morocco is busy looking for oil, plundering the fish, and constantly investing in the territory.
Since morocco has spent 18 years systematically breaking one clause of the cease-fire agreement after another (right on from not redeploying its troops, to refusing opening the wall for population, to turning away from two separate UN-ordered peace plans, and finally refusing even the concept of a referendum), there’s no need to look for a casus belli: Morocco has consciously and openly destroyed the cease-fire terms in what was always a formal state of war.
Polisario Front needs war, and would gain tremendously from it. The cease-fire has been gutted of the referendum, foreign aid is decreasing due to lack of media attention, and what’s left for the refugees is no homeland, but death from malnutrition.
Polisario still constantly training out there in the liberated zones, teaching a whole new generations how to fight and they still have the will to fight, which is the most important thing for guerilla warfare.