Politics is the art of the possible and the possible is the essence of the initiative by the new United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. What’s good is that the moderate Syrian opposition recognizes this and hasn’t engaged in upping its demands or taking an all or nothing approach for it finds itself besieged by friend and foe alike, humanity itself – even the harsh winters of the past three years that affected millions of Syrian refugees failed to prompt the world into action and this year’s will be no different. All Syria’s neighbors, except Lebanon, have begun integrating Syrian refugees in their national economies and this means they are ready to get used to the Syrian situation for more years to come.
So what is this “possible?” It’s an initiative which de Mistura announced a few days ago that says “the solution in the short term is not a transitional phase or a political quota but a freeze to the war and admitting that Syria has become decentralized” because the country is awash with “many rebel groups with contradictory international and local agendas who cannot reach one grand agreement” at a time when Assad knows that “he cannot restore control over the entire country and turn back the clock.”
What is presently required therefore is a halt to the massacre in Syria and an increase in the number local cease-fires on the basis of three priorities linked to “decreasing violence, delivering humanitarian aid and planting the seeds of a political solution.”
What I previously mentioned is what colleague Ibrahim Hamidi quoted de Mistura as saying in this very newspaper. Many observers considered the initiative a “coup” against the formulas arrived at the Geneva 1 and Geneva 2 conferences which are based on Assad stepping down and the establishment of a transitional government that is supposed to be responsible for the entire republic of Syria.
However, this no longer seems to be the case for de Mistura and the international community which is backing his plan. This may terrify the moderate Syrian opposition and countries in the region for the fact that his plan would ultimately lead to negotiations between the opposition and the regime in order to establish a new republic.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition is heading toward accepting this “possible,” a senior opposition member told me on condition of anonymity because the issue was still under discussion, even “though it’s painful and worrisome to all Syrians.”
The Syrian opposition thinks this is the best of worse options so it is dealing with it on the basis of compromises in order to reach a better offer.
However, the Syrian opposition thinks this is the best of worse options so it is dealing with it on the basis of compromises in order to reach a better offer and is resorting to its friends’ help and particularly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
They are willing to accept the suggestion of “freezing the struggle” as well as the motives of the parties pushing for this: the international community, guided by any solution to justify its inability to intervene; the Arabs and the Arab League, whose stances changed following the change in Egypt in particular and their shift from the revolution camp and its aims; the Turks, who do not want the Syrian and Iraqi problems to find their way into their fragile south where ethnic clashes between Turks and Kurds surfaced last month due to the Kobane crisis (if these problems do find their way into the Turkish south, they would destroy all the gains of the Justice and Development party and threaten Turkey’s economic growth cycle, which seems to have reached a zenith) and Obama, who wants the Syrians to free themselves to help him face the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and then later look into the issue of Assad using an approach that does not harm the U.S. leader’s foreign policy achievements, which he hopes will be marked in American history with a historical reconciliation with Iran.
The opposition hopes to succeed at turning de Mistura’s initiative to freeze the struggle into a U.N. Security Council Resolution issued under Chapter 7.
This latter desire has gone as far as promising Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei that he will not militarily target Assad’s regime, as revealed by secret leaked letters between the two that have been a cause of concern and disappointment to the Syrian opposition.
The opposition hopes to succeed at turning de Mistura’s initiative to freeze the struggle into a U.N. Security Council Resolution issued under Chapter 7 that would impose an obligatory cease-fire on all parties. This is what the Syrian regime and its military who have voiced reservations on the initiative cannot stand. Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Moallem and Assad advisor Bouthaina Shaaban promised to study the plan and are invoking a similar cease-fire decision used in Kosovo in 1999 that ended with NATO’s interference against Serbian forces who violated the cease-fire decision and NATO thus ended the battle in favor of the region’s independence from Serbia.
The second hope is to issue another U.N. decision imposing a no-fly zone north of the “36th parallel” and its countryside from the regime’s barrel bombs and a no-fly zone south of the “32nd parallel” to protect areas in Hawran. Turkey is pushing for this request to be met and if it is, it might encourage Ankara to conduct a ground intervention in Syria with U.N. cover and hundreds of thousands of refugees would thus return to Aleppo. They would return to Aleppo and particularly from Lebanon, where they are being pressured by the government and where they are also pressuring the country’s fragile stability. Saudi Arabia, France and even Iran are trying to protect Lebanon from collapsing. The refugee influx into Turkey would also stop and many refugees who haven’t found jobs there and who still live in camps would also return to Aleppo and the same applies to the south, thus relieving Jordan of its refugee burden.
At the same time, the opposition is hoping that this will lead to protecting its liberated zones from the predominance of the ISIS and the Nusra Front which have become the strongest in the north. Different factions and civilians will pay the price of any war between or unity among them and this would be at the expense of the Syrians who have not revolted against Assad’s tyranny ,with the regime’s truancy replace by the tyranny of ISIS or even the Nusra Front, which although not as cruel as ISIS still holds a narrow-minded Salafist vision and an authoritarian tendency. The Nusra Front has in the past weeks revealed an open appetite to expanding at the expense of other factions. It’s as if it’s preparing for an upcoming confrontation with ISIS or to Turkish forces on their way to them. The image is not clear but there’s noticeable activity.
In the end, after one year, two years or more, events, pressures, foreign interventions and everyone’s fatigue will produce two camps in Syria – camps who are not Islamist or secular and who are not Sunni or Alawite but there will be one camp “willing to negotiate and participate” and another rejecting the latter. Logic says that the second camp is who must lose.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.