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Between Morocco and Spain: Interests that Prevail over Conflicts.

Byline: Mohammad el-Ashab

The Moroccan-Spanish relations have seen many ups and downs. Madrid, which never envisaged a visit by a Moroccan prime minister from the conservative Independence Party, whose historic leader, Allal El Fassi, it has long accused of carrying maps of his country's historical rights, has reserved a warm welcome for the Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi even though his party is the most stringent in facing Spain's ongoing occupation of Sebta and Melilla, north of the country.

For his part, Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero has seized this opportunity to confirm Madrid's stance. Spain sees in Morocco's initiative to grant the Western Sahara autonomy a serious and positive attempt to resolve the conflict. Such a stance constitutes a critical turning point in the endeavors to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict. In other words, it will impact the outlines of the final solution, even if Madrid is not a permanent Security Council member state.

When the former international envoy James Baker sanctioned a European-American partnership to the solution in his first draft proposal on autonomy brokered by France and the US, Madrid believed that this issue concerns it more than its northern neighbor, Paris; hence its attempts to open up to the North African countries concerned with such a settlement.

Even though Spain does support the Western Sahara's autonomy, many problems are still pending between Madrid and Rabat. Nevertheless, the two countries have opted for dialogue as a means to resolve the outstanding problems. At time, they diverge over a few bones of contention and at others they converge, particularly when it comes to bilateral cooperation and European-Moroccan relations - allowing time to settle the pending problems at the right moment.

Contrary to this vertical reinforcement of the Moroccan-Spanish relations and hence the Moroccan-European relations, the normal horizontal axis in the Moroccan-Algerian relations seems far from a dE[umlaut]tente. The fact of the matter is that the culture of rupture and caution has long dominated the relations between the two neighbors to the extent that exceptions have become out of the question.

The disputes between Rabat and Algeria are not as tense as those between Morocco and Spain. The historical ties and common denominators - language, religion, and affiliation - dwarf any contingent disputes. Unfortunately, the Moroccan-Algerian relations have not followed the suit of the improved Spanish-Moroccan relations. Here lies the core conflicts that leave no room for a renewed dialogue and understanding.

The Spanish have managed to promote a momentous tripartite cooperation. When harmony dominated relations between Algeria and Morocco, Madrid pushed forward a huge project to export Algerian natural gas into Spain via the Arab Maghreb pipeline that passes through Morocco. Expected to transport Algerian gas to Spain then to Europe at a later stage, this project laid the unshakable foundations of an economic and trade cooperation that resisted all political conflicts, as it rested on mutual interests among the three countries. For this reason, this project cemented the culture of cooperation, a culture that prevailed over conflicts.

When it comes to the Moroccan-Spanish as well as Algerian-Spanish relations, it is easy to find common grounds that would tip the balance in favor of cooperation. It would have been better for the two neighbors to promote this inevitable choice that not only strengthens their negotiating power with Spain and the EU, but also sets the bases for peace, stability, and security in the southern basin of the Mediterranean. As they prepare for even relations with their northern European neighbors, they'd better turn towards each other. This will certainly help them find their way - even if at some point they will have to look backwards.

2008 Media Communications Group

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Publication:Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Dec 19, 2008
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