Commentary

Syrian Truce Proposal Debated

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has proposed a plan for a temporary truce between the Syrian government and opposition forces. The leaked plan foresees the cessation of violence for a period of up to two years, but leaves the question of Bashar al-Assad still unresolved. For many Syrians exhausted by the ongoing violence and insecurity in the country, the proposed plan is a piece of good news, but not everyone is convinced. Some fear that, regardless of what the final resolution of the Syrian situation looks like, considering the country’s violent past and present, the future is likely to be a bleak one.

The UN Envoy’s plan has received a generally positive appraisal by regional commentators, who believe a halfway peace is better than no peace. For example, Al Arabiya’s Jamal Khashoggi recognizes that the most immediate need for the Syrian people is the general cessation of conflict: “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.... 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.’...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.”

Al Monitor’s staff writers exhibit an equally positive disposition toward the plan, urging other countries to make the much needed peace possible: “The long stalemated northern front, which has seen little change since a rebel offensive took over half the city of Aleppo and almost the entirety of its countryside over two years ago, seems now to be entering a new phase, one which may either solidify the status quo via a UN-proposed ‘conflict freeze’ or see the regime push on with its increasingly successful campaign to take Aleppo back from the rebels. Although opinion in the city is divided over the ambiguous ‘freeze’ proposal, there is overwhelming support for a respite — brief or permanent — from the real hardships and dangers of war.... A respite can’t come soon enough for Aleppo, and a conflict freeze is desperately needed and welcomed by the people here. It is now up to the powers that be to fulfill that responsibility.”

But Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is not convinced and believes the proposed plan will only lead to the further entrenchment of the Assad regime: “The leaked plan suggests there are two contradictory projects being considered as part of one package: a regime ruled by Bashar Al-Assad and areas ruled by armed opposition groups; all of whom would agree to stop fighting for two years.... De Mistura’s suggestion in the latter case is similar to the Israeli solution for the Palestinian territories: a local administration submissive to the enemy! Just like the first interpretation, most open-minded and moderate opposition parties would reject it, and anyone who agreed to such a plan and signed up to it would be killed on his doorstep.... If de Mistura insists on promoting the idea of a truce without concessions, this will mean extending the regime’s rule for two more years. We smell an Iranian-like scheme here. Since the beginning, playing for time has always been the scheme of Assad and his Iranian ally.”

Even if the warring parties agree to a temporary truce, the general consensus is that Assad’s current policies, as well as Syria’s coup-ridden past, will make the building of a democratic society impossible. Building on this theme, Amir Taheri points out the deleterious effects that Assad’s implementation of discarded colonial tactics will have on the country: “Today, the Assad regime is trying to walk in the footsteps of the French colonialists. It has retreated from large chunks of territory to concentrate its resources on ‘the useful Syria’.... Today, the Assad regime is using a similar stratagem by trying to promote a ‘coalition of minorities’ by using the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Daesh in Arabic, as a bogeyman…. Thus, we witness a bizarre spectacle in which ISIS and Assad are partners in a deadly pas-de-deux.... However, by playing the sinister game of setting different communities against one another, they could produce a new framework of suspicion and hatred that a future Syria, hopefully one free of Assad at last, might find hard to ignore, at least in the early phases of its national rebirth.”

Reliving the past is not a pleasant thought for Syria’s long-suffering citizens, either. As Hall Diyab is keen to remind us, Syria “has a long history of coups – or ‘inqilabat’ - which have defined and shaped its current policy and therefore raises the question of whether Syria is the state of ‘coups’ rather than the state of ‘revolutions’? Over the decades, history has proven that there is no place for people’s revolt and no forms of democratic political reform in Syria and the only feasible form of political and regime change is a military coup. This is due to the overwhelming influence and role the Syrian military institutions have had in the Syrian political sphere throughout its modern history.”

Not all news coming from Syria is bad, however. According to an article by The National’s Phil Sands and Suha Maayeh, Al Nusra — an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Syria — has begun to lose some of its influence in the south of the country: “After a meteoric rise in its fortunes in southern Syria this year, Jabhat Al Nusra is now struggling to maintain its influence and frontline role, according to rebels, opposition activists, analysts and supporters of the Al Qaeda-affiliated group....It remains powerful and has a real, if difficult to measure, level of popular support in the south, with up to 1,500 hard-core fighters. But it no longer seems to wield the same influence it used to. Various factors are at play, including cuts in the group’s funding from private sources in the Gulf, serious internal rivalries, battlefield losses and a deepening rift with moderate factions that have fought alongside it.”


Click here to read previous installments of Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.