What are the chances of a political solution for Syria?

A political solution in Syria seems far-fetched for some who consider that it depends on the overlapping interests of the parties at stake, while others consider that the rules of the game have changed, paving the way for a settlement.

al-monitor UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (L) shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting in Moscow, Oct. 21, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov.

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staffan de mistura, syrian crisis, syrian civil war, syria civil war, syria, russia’s syria policy, russia in middle east, iran

Nov 25, 2014

UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura made a proposal to reach local truces in the country, starting with freezing the fighting in Aleppo, paving the way for negotiations and lifting the siege on regions that have lost the most basic necessities of life. The controversial visit of Moaz al-Khatib, former president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, to Moscow yielded a variety of reactions.

While some denounced and rejected it, others saw in it a new hope in the way of salvation and the return of Russia’s role to the forefront. There is also talk about Geneva III or Moscow I meetings, as leaked information suggest that effort and initiatives are being made on the part of the Egyptian regime to make a breakthrough in the chronic Syrian deadlock.

All this indicate that the world and the Arab nation have once again turned their attention to the conflict raging in Syria for over three years. Thus, the pertinent question is: Is there actually a genuine opportunity for a political solution that would put an end to the ongoing violence and would save the state and society from the hazards of disintegration and loss?

Some would answer yes.

They argue that there have been changes in the Syrian scene, making it more susceptible to political settlement than it was during the Geneva II conference.

The first change that took place on the Syrian landscape is the international and Arab coalition to fight the Islamic State (IS), which highlights the increasing influential political role of the coalition’s states in determining the fate of Syria. At the same time, there is a great deal of pressure on warring parties to tone down their positions.

Second, the Syrian regime’s allies have now been seeking a political solution that would save them from this state of attrition. Moscow bears the greatest responsibility in the Syrian issue. It seems today that it is not willing to carry further burdens of the ongoing conflict, and is inclining toward a political solution. This is especially true since Russia is now preoccupied with the Ukrainian crisis, finding ways to mitigate the damages caused by the economic sanctions it faces. It fears that things would get out of its hands, given that the entire world has agreed to a military intervention to fight against IS on the Syrian territories.

Tehran, on the other hand, is suffering from economic hardships; with oil revenues declining as oil prices continue to decrease. This is not to mention the high costs it has been paying under different aspects in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The progress made by the [Iran-backed] Houthi group in Yemen does not fool anyone, as it is well known that the Houthis would inherit a disintegrated state with collapsed economy, which would have further adverse and burdensome consequences on their ally, Iran.

Third, there has been mounting regional pressure to put out the flames of tension in Syria, as concerns have reached their peak, as to the social and economic perils on neighboring countries, given the continuous increase of Syrian refugees and the potential dangers of sectarian and ethnic tension.

Fourth, the internal parties in Syria seem to be willing to accept a political solution, as the people have grown extremely weary of the terrible deterioration of the conditions of their lives and security, while the conflicting forces have become exhausted and drained. They are now convinced that none of them could reach a decision, and that it had become, on several levels, subject to the will of their supporters and beyond the refusal of any political settlement they might decide on.

On the other hand, there are those whose answer is no.

They believe that what is being said about the political initiatives is nothing more than throwing dust in their eyes. They do not see the international interest in general, and the US interest in particular, in ending the Syrian conflict as long as it [aids in the] detection and [killing] of the most prominent [terrorist] leaders, and as long as it remains valid to invest in the exhaustion of their opponents. This reality is not changed but rather confirmed by the United States' insistence on remotely managing the battles through air strikes, while being careful not throw in ground forces, then putting a semi-open time frame that could last years, to eliminate the “state of the Islamic caliphate.”

They also believe that the international community, even if it were willing to put an end to what is happening in Syria, is unable to do so because of the specificity of the conflict and its regional overlaps. Foreign countries recognize Russia and Iran’s tendency to rush into the political solution, but they will not accept a settlement that does not guarantee them the continuation of the essence of power and the Levantine influence. The situation is more complicated by the fact that they put the Syrian situation in a game of barter and blackmail, so that it becomes one of the cards that can be employed by Moscow to fight the West and ease the economic sanctions, or waved by Tehran to strengthen its bargaining position over its nuclear program.

Internally, proponents of this view believe that the [regime] is not willing to make political concessions, especially since it succeeded in restoring some areas of Damascus and Homs. Consequently, it's unwilling to back away from the military takeover and the escalation of violence in order to crush what it considers conspiring armed groups and to restore the community to the house of obedience. Meanwhile, it is difficult for the political opposition to accept any solution or initiative that does not answer its demands for a radical change, especially as it is governed by a refusal that is most likely coming from military groups present on the ground — which have the most impact on the conflict.

It seems that the opportunity to walk in the path of the political solution for the Syrian conflict is no longer owned by one party. It is subject to links and overlapping interests, made worse by the prolonged conflict and its painful repercussions, which are difficult to overcome today. The aggravation of these results could lead to a dangerous path, reaching up to the elimination of the most basic human rights and the destruction of the elements of collective life and the all-embracing national standards.

Mystery prevails over the fate of the Syrians despite their different affiliations and suffering. They feel that they are lost and that they have lost a lot, perhaps because of the seriousness of the continuing violence and the devastation and destruction it resulted in. In addition, the number of casualties, prisoners and displaced persons is increasing, while their country is turned into an arena for a power struggle between the regional and international parties.

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