Moroccans delighted that Senator Black’s bill lets them off the hook

Despite its title, Senator Black's "occupied territories" bill actually only targets Israel.

Once upon a time or – as they say in the language of Cervantes and García Lorca, érase una vez, Spanish “possessions” stretched across the globe. From California in the west to the Philippine Islands in the east, from the Netherlands in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the far south, the sun shone for 24 hours every day on the Spanish Empire – in a way that not even the British could dream of.

The 19th century was to change everything with massive losses of territory in the Americas as territory after territory broke free. And that was before the Spanish-American War of 1898 (referred to by Spaniards as El Desastre) when – in a brief war – the rising imperial power that was the United States drove the Spanish from Cuba and the Philippines.

By the 1970s – and with further territorial losses in Africa throughout the 20th century – the last Spanish overseas “possession” was the territory of Spanish (or Western) Sahara, on the west coast of Africa, directly south of Morocco and north-west of Mauritania, which is inhabited by the Sahrawi people. The Spanish relinquished control in February 1976 but the Moroccans already had designs on the territory. By 1979 – despite the World Court having rejected the legitimacy of such designs – the Moroccans had annexed the entire area. These designs were no doubt driven by the vast phosphate deposits in the Sahrawi lands, comprising more than 72% of all phosphate rock reserves in the world.

The territory of Western Sahara (Source: Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation)

Since then, the Sahrawi people have been trying to attain independence with the indigenous Polisario Front waging a decades-long guerilla war against Moroccan forces. In turn, the Moroccans have been intensely sensitive about their occupied territories and have wasted no opportunity in distracting attention onto other issues, such as the Israel-Palestine question.

So, it should be no surprise that when international newswires started reporting stories about an Irish senator introducing in her parliament a new bill proposing to ban imports from occupied territories, that Moroccan authorities would sit up and pay attention. This could lead anywhere! What if other European countries were to do likewise?

They need not have worried. Senator Frances Black’s bill is worded so carefully that it can only apply to the Israel-Palestine issue and the Moroccan Foreign Ministry recognised this very quickly after the text was published, declaring – according to this source – that “according to the same the [sic] draft law, the prohibition is only limited to the import and sale of goods and services coming from the occupied Palestinian territories [and] some other areas which do not comprise the Kingdom of Morocco and its [Sahrawi] southern provinces at all“.

So far, so unsurprising. However, there is more. The above article goes on to state that one or more pro-Sahrawi groups visited Ireland in January 2018 “to campaign for the inclusion of the southern [Sahrawi] provinces in this bill“. Would Senator Frances Black confirm whether she or her staff met with these groups? If not, why not? If so, what was discussed during these meetings?

Senator Frances Black has campaigned for greater openness in Irish politics. We’re sure she will not have any issues in responding to these questions.
by Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh
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