The American government has tried to solve Syria’s crisis by proposing negotiations in Geneva on three occasions. The negotiations were based on a balanced political proposal. But the Damascus regime-Iran-Russia axis ruined all three conferences. And now the Russians along with their allies have come up with two conferences, one in Astana and the other, which is currently being held in Geneva. The beginnings simply confirm how the conferences will end: repeated failure.
Although almost everyone - including Turkey, Gulf countries and Donald Trump’s new administration - cooperated with the Russian project, this was not enough. In order to satisfy the Russians, and in cooperation with the UN, providing arms to the opposition was suspended. Moderate opposition factions were pressured to accept solutions that were less than their expectations and some of them were prevented from participating in the talks. Washington supported that and UN mediator Steffan De Mistura became a lawyer for the Russian stance. The Geneva 4 conference hasn’t ended yet but so far, it seems the final result will be failure.
This situation first shows there’s no victor or one powerful party to impose on everyone through international support. Iran and Russia had tried to impose the crumbling Syrian regime before. Second of all, it exposes failure because the proposed solution does not meet the minimum expectations of millions of displaced and fearful Syrians. The project’s pillar is to keep the regime in governance. This means imposing the regime’s policies, which range from displacement to cancelling the remaining majority of residents in Syria.
The practical solution
The idea itself cannot stand even if all factions agree to it. It’s a formula that enables the regime to govern most of Syria by force, like how the West Bank is under Israeli occupation except that Israel has a massive power and system that enabled it from maintaining this anomalous situation. Although the Russians tried to convince a number of opposition factions to join the regime and be rewarded with seats in the government in exchange, the entire situation, to them and to everyone else, seems like legislating rape. No one of any value will accept the solution.
Although the Russians tried to convince a number of opposition factions to join the regime and be rewarded with seats in the government in exchange, the entire situation, to them and to everyone else, seems like legislating rape. No one of any value will accept the solutionAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The political solution which was previously proposed and rejected by both, the Syrian regime and the opposition, is still the practical solution and the reasonable alternative. The solution stipulates a joint regime and not dependence on it. It can now be developed by keeping the president but giving the security and finance authorities to the opposition or by having the president depart and keeping sovereign posts in the regime’s hands but within a framework of cooperation that’s protected by regional and international powers. Sharing can be based on a reasonable balance formula that both parties have an interest in maintaining: either the presidency or the presidency’s jurisdictions but not both. We have a standing model which is the Taif Agreement which ended the Lebanese dispute and which is more complicated than the Syrian solution. It’s based on creating a solution in which all parties made concessions.
There were calls to cancel the Christians’ right to presidency and the presidency’s jurisdictions and demands to equally distribute them. They ended redistributing jurisdictions, and the president thus stayed and a part of his jurisdictions went to other parties. Without the Taif Agreement, the war may have resumed and the Christians would have lost their shares. If the Sunnis and Shiites had refused to make concessions, the war would have resulted in more foreign interventions that would prolong the war as the Lebanese arena had begun to witness more divisions within sects.
The Lebanese approach
The current political situation in Lebanon is not perfect or complete, but at least the country is stable. Syria’s dispute is more complicated, the civil opposition accepts to share power and accepts a constitution that protects all minorities. Its system includes a good experience as it allowed the participation of Syrians regardless of their religious and ethnic differences. But there is one exception - most of the armed Islamic opposition is rejected by everyone because it has a religious and internationalist project that is not relevant to the core of the Syrian people’s demands.
The failure of the Astana and Geneva conferences will result in fighting again, even though the moderate opposition has been deprived of weapons. Some of the opposition groups had to ally with some terrorist groups to protect themselves after they ran out of ammunition. The repeated failure may lead intransigent parties to reasonably and rationally think. Iran must realize that it will not be allowed to take over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Iran achieved its incursion by benefiting from the weakness of the former American administration. Its dominance over this major crescent threatens the rest of the region’s countries and the world, either because it uses its agents as a weapon against its rivals, including the Americans and Europeans, everywhere or because unrest will continue and attract extremists thus threatening everyone.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on February 28 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed