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The inevitable failure of Geneva II

Feb 04,2014 - Last updated at Feb 04,2014

Despite massive diplomatic mobilisation, the conference that was intended to end the Syrian crisis ended with no single accomplishment. That was not a great surprise.

Both the Syrian government and the so-called opposition were dragged to Geneva by much coercion, or persuasion, in the hope that once there, their appetite for reconciliation would improve.

That was not the case. Actually the exact opposite happened.

The guarantees offered in advance to the Syrian government, by its foreign supporters, and the leaders of the opposition, also by their foreign backers, just to tempt them to attend, had to be so unrealistically generous that they preempted any possible positive outcome.

The breadth of the gulf separating the two positions inevitably determined the contradictory nature of the given promises.

For months before the Geneva II meeting was confirmed, and after it became clear that the collapse of the Syrian state would open the country to terrorist chaos, the message President Bashar Assad was receiving was that his regime, as a better alternative to what may prove unavoidable, should stay.

Geneva II, the Syrian government believed, was the needed framework for formalising an already reached understanding between the United States and Russia for a political settlement in Assad’s favour.

Clearly aware of all that, the opposition leaders resisted persistent pressure to attend a meeting predestined to determine their defeat until they were offered assurances that the starting point of Geneva II would be the content of the Geneva I document, which implied the phasing out of the future role of President Assad, as well as the creation of a transitional authority in Syria in which the opposition would be adequately represented.

The first Geneva conference on Syria, which convened in June 2012, did in fact reach reasonable understandings and set adequate principles for a possible political settlement.

The Geneva I plan provided for the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, to be composed of members of the government and the opposition and formed on the basis of mutual consent, with full participation of women in all aspects of the transition.

It also demanded the participation of all groups and segments of the Syrian society in a serious national dialogue; in reviewing the constitutional order and the legal system and in organising free and fair multi-party elections for the envisaged government structure.

In Geneva I the parties agreed on a ceasefire and the dispatch of UN monitors to ensure its implementation. But that was two-and-a-half years ago, when the situation on the ground was radically different.

The Geneva I outcome, however, was totally ignored and there was no ceasefire.

The Syrian forces continued to battle the armed opposition, claiming their national duty to defend the country against aggression perpetrated by foreign intruders armed and supported by Syria’s enemies.

Out of frustration and near despair, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who was dealing with the Syrian crisis on behalf of the UN and Arab League at the time, tendered his resignation. Soon after, he blamed Washington, and indeed others, for either not doing enough to support the Geneva I formula or even for hindering its execution.

Annan, who believed that the Geneva I terms were conducive to a reasonable settlement, may have been right, but what was reasonable in mid-2012 is not any more possible in 2014, with mounting deaths, destruction and unforeseen atrocities committed by all sides.

It became clear right from the beginning that the promise given to the opposition, that Geneva II would be a resumption of Geneva I, could not be fulfilled.

The representatives of the Syrian government did not go to Geneva this time, neither did they the first time, to concede any amount of their authority to the opposition, under any thinkable political equation.

Armed with the belief that the main powers’ final conclusion was in favour of regime continuation, they headed to the conference to obtain endorsement for continuing the war against the “terrorists” and to restore the status quo ante. They did not offer any single hint otherwise.

The Syrian government representatives were equally adamant about showing any kind of flexibility on the many pressing humanitarian issues, lest any relaxation of siege benefit the foreign fighters.

The situation seemed to be so tightly blocked that one could not see how any sort of compromise could be reached with each side heavily wounded by the other and with the entire country in ruins.

Both sides’ expectations in Geneva last week were impossible to reconcile.

Neither for the Assad regime nor for its various opponents was it possible to meet half way. Apparently, the official Syrian delegation was fully aware of the fact that any reduction of Assad’s powers would mark the start of the collapse of the regime.

The opposition, on the other hand, must have been equally cognisant of the fact that if Assad stays, the opposition groupings would have no place in post-war Syria no matter what terms could eventually be approved.

Will that change when the parties resume their discussions in a week’s time?

That is hard to say.

Fighting in Syria has been raging fiercely for nearly three years without any of the fighting sides showing apparent signs of weakening.

No amount of external diplomatic and material support — money, fighters and military gear — was sufficient to tip the balance in favour of either the regime or the opposition.

The conclusion of many so far is that this war would never be settled militarily. Apparently, it does not seem to be possible to settle this savage war politically either.

Fighting is currently escalating, with the level of destruction and the numbers of civilian casualties rising by the hour.

The humanitarian situation is deteriorating beyond belief. Each side seems to be desperately trying to support its negotiating power at the next meeting in Geneva by achieving additional battle gains.

This only means that the war will rage endlessly and the Syrian population will continue to pay for it.

For the outside world, the Arab world included, to continue to watch the destruction of Syria and its great people silently and indifferently is shameful enough, but to continue to feed the killing machine of both sides with arms, money, men and political support is beyond outrage.

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