x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Assad will win Geneva 2 if opposition boycotts

Whether Geneva 2 is held or not, only the Syrian regime can gain by the meeting if the armed opposition stays away, Lebanese cabinet minister Ghazi Aridi writes. Other opinion topics today: Al Maliki in Washington and Saeb Erekat resigns.

It is clear that the armed anti-regime factions in Syria refuse to participate in the upcoming Geneva 2 conference, and don’t even want it to be held, Ghazi Aridi, Lebanon’s minister of public works and transportation, wrote in the UAE-based newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday.

As the sequel to a previous international conference held as a platform to negotiate a peace settlement in Syria, Geneva 2 – for which a date has not yet been specified – is a matter of disagreement of a sort among anti-regime factions in Syria.

Some armed opposition groups consider participation in the conference to be plain treason. Others reject it without presenting justifications, while a third camp just dismiss it as a waste of time, Mr Aridi said.

“The common denominator among these groups is their determination to bring down the regime,” he wrote. “But, to questions like ‘How?’ ‘When?’ and ‘What would happen afterwards?’, they have no answers. Each camp sings its own tune, defends its own projects, ties, allies and interests. There is no unified vision for Syria after Bashar Al Assad.”

The armed opposition forgets that the Assad regime might achieve important diplomatic gains by agreeing to participate in the peace conference while the opposition stays away, Mr Aridi argued.

“There are two possible scenarios. The first is that Geneva 2 is, indeed, convened and the head of the Syrian regime attends (or is represented by an official delegation) and is accompanied by the domestic opposition, which some like to call ‘his own chosen opposition’. The real opposition, with all its factions, sticks to its guns and does not attend, and so will have to carry the blame for the failure to reach any results – a situation that will make the regime stronger politically and psychologically …

“The second possibility is that Geneva 2 doesn’t happen. In that case too the armed opposition gets the blame, because it has rejected the conference all along. The regime can brag that it did everything it could to facilitate the process, that it honoured its part of the deal and responded positively to the United Nations’ call. But, it could argue, the so-called opposition stood in the way.”

The Russians and the Iranians will also weigh in, the author went on. They will say that their Syrian ally has committed to the peace effort but that the opposition is too scattered to make sense as a peace partner.

“Either way, the war in Syria will continue and become even fiercer; the opposition will not receive any form of effective, game-changing support, while the regime will gain more power and edge, and all that will place an even higher probability on the disintegration of the opposition,” the Lebanese minister wrote.

A cold welcome for Maliki in Washington

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, took a whole range of files with him to Washington last week, but was greeted with almost as many rejections from Congress and the White House, the columnist Mostafa Al Zein wrote in yesterday’s edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

In fact, he went on, Mr Al Maliki was told in Washington that his performance was leaving much to be desired.

Mr Al Maliki’s appearance before Congress last week, ahead of his talks with President Barack Obama, left him frustrated and feeling forsaken, the columnist said.

“He was made to realise that both Republicans and Democrats, were dissatisfied with the way he is managing his country’s affairs, and that he must expect no weapons aid until after he initiates ‘domestic reforms’ to guarantee greater Sunni and Kurdish participation,” the writer went on to say.

Mr Al Maliki was also told that his government must stop any form of collaboration with the Syrian regime and do more to intercept Iranian arms shipments crossing into Syria via Iraq.

“In other words, Congressional leaders drew red lines for Mr Al Maliki … instead of offering him arms, which would have been the support and the seal of approval that he was looking forward to receiving in the US capital,” the writer said.

Israel’s stalling drives out top negotiator

Saeb Erekat has been handling peace talks with the Israelis for years, but now the top Palestinian negotiator has tendered his resignation, after determining that Israel is, once again, not serious about peace, columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

Under the headline A legless negotiating table, the columnist wrote this: “Israel’s attitude to the peace talks – which consists of destroying every chance for peace and nullifying prospects for a two-state solution – is also a personal blow to the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and to Washington’s efforts to revive the peace process.”

Israel’s continued settlement building and Judaisation measures that seek to alter the history of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque have left Palestinian diplomats with no choice but to give up on negotiations, the author noted.

Another Palestinian negotiator, Mohammed Shtayyeh, is also reported to have tendered his resignation to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Abbas will convene an emergency meeting of Palestinian Liberation Organisation leaders.

Palestinians were also upset by Israel’s demolition of 20 Palestinian houses in Jerusalem and a decision to build 1,500 housing units in eastern Jerusalem.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi