Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara is a serious blow to diplomacy and international law

Ever since 1975, when Morocco took control of Western Sahara by force following Spain’s withdrawal, the United States and most of the international community have refused to recognize this claim as legitimate. This began to change more than a year ago, when Israel and the Trump administration first approached Morocco to propose a trade-off of Moroccan resumption of formal relations with Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. At that time, Morocco refused, wisely calculating that bilateral recognition of its sovereignty, even by the United States, would not bring it any closer to its desired goal of international legitimacy. Nothing has changed since then.

The Trump administration’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara is a major and unfortunate change in long-standing U.S. policy under both Democrat and Republican administrations. That policy has always taken a more or less neutral stance in support of the efforts by the United Nations to determine the future of that territory and its people, in a way that supports the principle of self-determination. Mixing the Abraham Accords with the Western Sahara conflict, clearly and unequivocally an issue of self-determination, will not strengthen or expand the accords.

The proponents of this move may not have thought through the possible repercussions of their reversal of that policy. But they could be very serious and far-reaching.