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Trump's insane decision about Western Sahara shows he still has time to wreak more havoc

Women carrying Saharan flags and dressed in Malahfas take part in a demonstration to demand the end of Morocco's occupation in Western Sahara, in support of the Polisario Front and to demand solutions from the Spanish government on 16 November 2020 in San Sebastian, Spain. [Gari Garaialde/Getty Images]
Women carrying Saharan flags and dressed in Malahfas take part in a demonstration to demand the end of Morocco's occupation in Western Sahara, in support of the Polisario Front and to demand solutions from the Spanish government on 16 November 2020 in San Sebastian, Spain. [Gari Garaialde/Getty Images]

The words and wisdom of the late, great South African leader Nelson Mandela are often invoked to illustrate a point when confronted by injustice and how to deal with it. Although his heart and soul were anchored in South Africa, Mandela's outlook was global, and there seemed to be no case of injustice that bypassed him, especially when it came to the freedom of other people. He made this clear when he was released from prison in February 1990 and addressed the UN General Assembly.

"We also take this opportunity to extend warm greetings to all others who fight for their liberation and their human rights, including the peoples of Palestine and Western Sahara," he told delegates. "We commend their struggles to you, convinced that we are all moved by the fact that freedom is indivisible; convinced that the denial of the rights of one diminishes the freedom of others."

Quite what the late President Mandela would have made of Donald Trump's decision on Thursday to recognise Morocco's claim over the disputed Western Sahara is anyone's guess. The outgoing US President is acting like a wrecking ball swinging out of control in the Middle East as he bullies, cajoles and pressurises leaders into normalising relations with Israel, for that is the price that Morocco has paid for this deal.

Trump is determined to make his mark before he leaves the White House, but he really doesn't need to try that hard. I doubt many will forget his four disastrous years in Washington because he has wreaked havoc across one of the most volatile regions on the planet. While Mandela is revered globally for his legacy of compassion, forgiveness, diplomacy and determination, at the other end of the statesman scale we have the insanity that is Donald Trump.

READ: Morocco builds ties with Israel in return for recognition of its authority over Western Sahara

America stands as virtually the only country to recognise Morocco's illegal annexation of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony forcibly seized by Morocco in 1975. Trump has yet again trampled over a raft of UN Security Council resolutions in addition to a landmark World Court ruling calling for self-determination for the Western Saharawi people.

Once again the reality TV show host-turned-US-President has steamrollered longstanding international legal principles and treaties by recognising Morocco's illegal land grab of the territory. This virtually gives a green light to any madman or dictator to charge into neighbouring countries and territories as long as they're prepared to normalise relations with Tel Aviv. He may be leaving office next month, but Trump has established dangerous precedents, and we have no idea how President-elect Joe Biden will respond to them.

A Saharawi man holds up a Polisario Front flag in the Al-Mahbes area near Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall separating the Polisario controlled Western Sahara from Morocco on 3 February 2017. [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]

A Saharawi man holds up a Polisario Front flag in the Al-Mahbes area near Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall separating the Polisario controlled Western Sahara from Morocco on 3 February 2017. [STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images]

We shouldn't be too surprised by this latest example of Trumpism, because he has previous form for flouting and ignoring international law. He has, for example, declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, which illegally occupied and annexed decades ago; he has recognised Israeli sovereignty over the illegally occupied Syrian Golan Heights; and he has looked on approvingly as Israel has stolen much of the occupied West Bank in one of the world's most infamous land grabs, and threatens to steal even more of the Palestinian territory.

Nevertheless, Trump was clearly gleeful on Thursday when he tweeted in characteristic style: "Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco have agreed to full diplomatic relations – a massive breakthrough for peace in the Middle East!"

Sovereignty over the Western Sahara has been a long-running dispute which has seen Morocco's claim to the territory go largely unrecognised by the international community. A White House statement proclaiming US recognition of the claim added that "[An] independent Sahrawi state is not a realistic option for resolving the conflict and that genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution."

Morocco now becomes the sixth member of the Arab League to normalise relations, after Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. King Mohammed VI insists that this move "does not in any manner affect Morocco's ongoing and sustained commitment to the just Palestinian cause." We have seen from Egypt and Jordan what that means in practice; very little, in fact, as the Palestinians know all too well.

READ: Bahrain to open consulate in Western Sahara, Morocco says

It's hard to fathom what Trump's next move will be as each edict coming out of the White House appears more insane than the last. Perhaps he will give Britain's Falkland Islands to Argentina, or maybe he will invade and annex Greenland after he failed to buy the world's largest island for the US last year.

Closer to home, he has still not forgiven Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for removing his business ambassador status and giving him the cold shoulder on a private visit to the country after his derogatory comments about Muslims. Payback might come Sturgeon's way by Trump granting Norwegian sovereignty over the much-loved Shetland Islands which the King of Norway pawned as a dowry for his daughters' wedding to the King of Scotland in 1468. It sounds crazy, but so does Trump.

His team has promised a "very professional transition" to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden even though Trump continues to claim that he, and not his Democrat challenger, actually won the election. The inauguration on 20 January cannot come soon enough, but there is still time for US President Donald Trump to wreak even more havoc on the world stage. Just ask the Palestinians and the people of Western Sahara what that means.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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