x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A missed opportunity in Syria

The Arab ministerial committee's presence in Damascus was a missed opportunity to build bridges between the parties in the Syrian conflict, one Arabic editorialist writes. Other topics in today's round-up: Tunisia's Islamists, Israeli security and chaos in Yemen.

Arab mission to Syria doomed from the start

The Arab ministerial committee's presence in Damascus could have been an opportunity to build bridges between the parties in the Syrian conflict. Instead, it became an excuse for further mobilisation and an occasion to gauge the balances of power, columnist Satea Noureddin suggested in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

The regime felt compelled to organise a support rally in Damascus to prove its own popularity. For its part, the opposition decided to call for a general strike and to threaten civil mutiny, as proof of its reach and ability to disable life in Syria.

By the end of the day, the showdown between regime and opposition managed to bring about additional polarisation that crippled the committee's mission in advance with express rejection of the dialogue proposed by the Arab League.

"But a rejection of the new Arab initiative isn't a viable option at this point," opined the writer. "And a return to use Syrian crowds as tools of confrontation is momentary, much like the initiative that, at this stage, serves only to clear the Arab conscience in the future as it appears that the regime and the opposition have no other option but to resolve the situation once and for all."

The Arab initiative is doomed for lack of trust. The Syrian scene on Wednesday was far from reassuring; the gap it revealed can in no way be bridged by dialogue or any form of political solution.

Bin Ali years came back to haunt the PDP

The surprise of the Tunisian elections this week was not just the victory of the Islamist party Ennahda, but also the terrible defeat of the secularist Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) that had been expected to be a strong contender to win the most seats in the new National Assembly, wrote Abdallah Iskandar, managing editor of the London-based daily Al Hayat.

For years, the PDP was unrelenting in defending political and public liberties, including Islamists' right to pursue political activities. Its history under the dictator's rule was clear of any mistakes. However, and in spite of its campaign that promoted openness and moderation, it failed to attract sufficient votes to be in the lead.

"All of the party's struggles against [former President Zine El Abidine] Bin Ali didn't help it with the Tunisian people. It had operated under the former dictatorship and had its name tied to it, which was to the benefit of Ennahda, which endured the worst of the former regime's persecution," he said.

In other words, Tunisians expressed their aversion to anything that tied to the dictatorship that crushed them for two decades. This is the most important lesson that Ennahda should learn from the recent elections.

The question now is will the Islamist party repeat the disastrous Algerian and Sudanese experiences, or will it present a new model of rule.

Israel has options besides Hannibal

Israel is reportedly considering reactivating the "Hannibal Procedure" by which soldiers do whatever is necessary to stop their comrades from being captured, including shooting them dead. If so, a new way of handling issues such as prisoner swaps between Israel and Hamas should be considered, one involving peace and mercy rather than more death, columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari paper Al Watan.

The deal that saw one Israeli soldier swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners pumped up Hamas's popularity in the West Bank and Gaza at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas. But now the Israelis fear the Palestinians capturing another soldier to swap for thousands more jailed militants.

The Hannibal Procedure can be averted. Many ideas under review in the West Bank and Tel Aviv could give Mr Abbas the chance to offer tangible accomplishments to his people, such as the handing over of the remains of deceased Palestinian militants to the PA, as well as of some land.

"Israel does not want its neglect of the Palestinian command in Ramallah to result in Mr Abbas stepping down and the West Bank falling into radical hands." If President Benjamin Netanyahu really cares about the security of Israeli citizens and wants to protect them against attacks and abductions, he has to deal with Abu Mazen as an effective and serious partner in the peace process.

Yemen still stands on the precipice of war

Tensions are running high on the political scene in Yemen. The crisis is quickly evolving into a sharp political and social schism that threatens to escalate into civil strife, said the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan in its editorial.

A civil war in Yemen would bring down the state. The truce between the Yemeni government and the dissident major general Ali Mohsen didn't last for more than two hours.

The situation in Yemen has never been more acute, not even during the 1994 war. The country's fragile unity is at stake, especially now that Al Qaeda has become a player in the confrontation.

"Those who wager on bloodshed as a potent remedy to subdue the people are mistaken. Bloodshed only begets more bloodshed," said the editorial. "Implementing the GCC initiative is the best way to go for the regime officials, since aggressive options wouldn't be in their interest."

The revolution in Yemen isn't represented by any one entity that can simply be wiped out. It is made up of numerous layers, popular, military, partisan and tribal.

The Gulf initiative offered President Ali Abdullah Saleh and regime officials unique guarantees that many other leaders would have wished for.



* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem