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Syria’s opposition must unite before Geneva II

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

He who listens to some of the Syrian opposition leaders’ conditions for attending the Geneva II conference can tell how distant they are from the difficult political reality. One of them announced a list of demands and said those organizing the Geneva II conference must fulfill these demands if they want the opposition to participate. One of these conditions is that the regime must admit its crimes and mistakes and that the international community must commit to punishing it.

If the regime accepts that and if the world desires to fight it, the conference would not be held in the first place. The situation would have thus required no more than a tent to meet in. Like the Safwan tent in which Saddam Hussein’s leaders met with the alliance forces’ leaders to sign on the dotted line of surrender. The Geneva II conference is, however, a conference where superpower and regional countries, the Syrian regime and the opposition will meet to search for a formula to end the war.

Bargaining chips and the lack thereof

The opposition can ask for whatever it wants when its forces are standing at the doors of the presidential palace. In this case, the Russians, the West and the Arabs will have no other choice but to accede to their demands. However, as long as the battles are still ongoing on the borders with Jordan, in the neighborhoods of Aleppo and in some neighborhoods in Damascus, it stands to reason that the war is still ongoing and that negotiations will not alter much on the ground.

The truth is, ever since Ahmad al-Jarba was elected head of the coalition, we’ve witnessed a decrease in political disputes among this rather splintered front

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

When the opposition leaders fail to understand the sway they hold with regards to what is happening inside and outside Syria, they engage in marginal disputes and complicate the situation for themselves.

The truth is, ever since Ahmad al-Jarba was elected head of the coalition, we’ve witnessed a decrease in political disputes among this rather splintered front. It’s probably because they got tired of Don Quixotian battles over the course of two years. Or probably because Jarba’s desire to establish internal, intra-opposition, alliances is not at the forefront of his progress plan. If the opposition manages to overcome whatever disputes are left, it may politically defeat the regime. Especially since the Russians’ excuse against forcing Assad’s departure is that there is no united opposition ready to take over governance and therefore the international community cannot leave Syria in a state of vacuum that terrorist groups - meaning al-Qaeda - can exploit. Therefore, disputes among the opposition outside Syria harm the credibility of the coalition and the revolution’s ability to push for a political transformation.

The opposition, whether the armed force or the political arm, is not the only party to be blamed. Its allies, who are as eager as the former to end the Syrian war with victory and not with negotiations, are to be blamed too. The opposition can only increase its demand of shares in Geneva II if it presents tangible evidence that it is winning the war and progressing towards President Bashar al-Assad’s palace. Without significant progress on the ground, I think the conference is doomed to fail. Furthermore, I believe the opposition’s fate will be tragic if it fails to unite under one party to represent it at Geneva II. The conference is its chance to present evidence that it is a united entity that will be capable of returning and negotiating over the future of the new state of Syria.

While the second Geneva conference isn’t worth fighting to attend, it would be a grave mistake if the opposition does not attend it. The latter must do so to maintain the Syrian people’s rights and thus avoid the approval of something it rejects. Political speeches will resemble everything we heard during the past two months. Each party will thus hold on to its stance and the meeting will end with a failure similar to that of the Geneva I conference.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 2, 2013.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the 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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.