MIDEAST MIRROR 30.10.18, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-Questions 'Abbas should ask himself
2-The rush to normalization
3-Weaving the carpet of a Syrian political solution
1-Questions 'Abbas should ask himself
The Palestinian president is angry at the absentees from this week's Central Council sessions, but he should ask himself why anyone would want to attend such impotent bodies' meetings, says 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in today's Jordanian ad-Dustour
Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas has expressed his anger at the absence of the main PLO factions' representatives from the current 30th session of the PLO's Central Council, its second highest body, notes a leading Jordanian commentator. But he should ask himself why anyone would bother to attend such a meeting when only a narrow circle will take the decisions, and when the PLO bodies' previous decisions have not been implemented.
REASONS TO BE ANGRY: "President Mahmoud 'Abbas seemed to be angry during the opening session of the 30th PLO Central Council meeting," notes 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Tuesday's Jordanian daily ad-Dustour.
There are many reasons for him to be angry, and most of them anger us as well. But his anger was focused on the representatives of the factions and the independent members who decided to boycott this session. And we are not speaking of Hamas and Islamic Jihad here, as they are not represented in the PLO's institutions anyway. We are speaking of factions that were founding members of the PLO, such as the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and the PDF (Popular Democratic Front).
The president said this boycott was 'shameful.' How can a faction or a PLO member boycott such an important meeting and at such a delicate and dangerous moment: one of unbounded settlement activities and the imminent date for revealing the 'Second Balfour Declaration', or what has come to be known as the [U.S.-sponsored] ' deal of the century'? The president reminded everyone that democracy in Palestine is among 'the best' in the world, and that anyone who has an opinion is free to express it under the Central Council's roof and not outside it.
We too are annoyed by the images of the empty seats at the meeting, which seemed akin to a Fatah convention. In fact, it would have been closer to a version of Fatah's Revolutionary Council had it not been for the presence of a few factions that were small even at the height of their unity and power.
But unlike the president perhaps we were also unhappy at the images of some representatives and delegates to the meeting when no one knows how they became members, who chose them, and for how long they will remain in their post. In fact, had it not been for the fear of creating a leadership 'vacuum', we would have responded with a resounding 'No!' to the question of whether this Council represents the Palestinian people.
The most prominent absence from the Central Council's meeting, Mr. President, is not confined to the PLO factions or those that have remained outside the PLO. Most of the Palestinian people's vanguard, creative elements, and genuine sectors from two successive generations of Palestinians are now outside the PLO's frameworks and institutions. I propose that you scrutinize the names of the new the Central Council members at least and ask those who have promoted and chosen them about the true reasons and motives for their choice. And what is true of the Central Council is even truer of the PNC (Palestine National Council) that met a few months ago.
Be that as it may, why should the factions and those who are characterized by even the least degree of seriousness go to the trouble of taking part in a meeting such as this, when the resolutions adopted by previous meetings have remained mere ink on paper? What guarantees are there that this round of meetings will end up adopting truly 'momentous' and 'exceptional' resolutions? And even if adopted, who can ensure that they would be respected, or that they will find their way to implementation?
Consequently, what is the point of attending this meeting where anyone can say whatever he or she likes, while the very narrow elite that is charge of taking decisions and drafting policies has the total freedom to do whatever they like, including placing the PNC and Central Council's resolutions on the highest of shelves or at the back of the lowest drawers where they will meet with their fate of being abandoned and forgotten?
Is it enough to fire the arrows of criticism at the boycotters, while leaving the attendees' 'spokespersons' to attack them viciously, accuse them of going along with the 'deal of the century', 'back-stabbing,' 'conspiracy,' and every other term in the readymade lexicon of accusatory words? Is this the sort of national dialogue that the Palestinians need in these times of anarchy, bleak horizons, confusion, loss of direction, and frustration that haunts Palestinian circles, while [Palestinian] lands, rights, and gains are ceaselessly and successively draining away with each passing day?
I recall a time when intensive 'workshops' used to precede the PLO's PNC or Central Council meetings, and when the leaders of the various factions used to travel to Aden, Algiers, and elsewhere in an attempt to reach concord and agreement. It is true that the late Yasser Arafat did not abide by or adhere to these resolutions. But leaders such as Georges Habash (PFLP), Nayef Hawatmeh (DFLP), Abu-Ali Mustafa (PFLP), and others felt they were partners. This is not the scene today. Everyone feel that they are members of a 'chorus' that must sing the same tune, or part of an extended audience whose sole function is to applaud.
Where is the partnership in leadership and taking decisions? Where is the rule of institutions in drafting policies and adopting resolutions? Where is the collective leadership? Where are the consultations and preparations? Where is the unified leadership framework?
Is it fair to blame everyone without exception and forget our own [i.e. Abbas's] responsibility? Are they being invited to an extraordinary meeting or a prearranged 'wedding party'? Does it even make sense to expect fateful resolutions without even bothering to coordinate, consult, overcome obstacles, and build accords and understandings?
"Is this how in the Palestinian national movement's 'camels' are being brought to water these days?" asks Rintawi in conclusion.
2-The rush to normalization
The mere occurrence of Israeli visits to Arab countries represents an Israeli gain, especially since they send a message to the Israeli leadership and the Israeli public that they are not isolated, as well as to the world to the effect that if the Arabs are opening up to us [Israelis], then why do you want to use the boycott tools or means of pressure against us? What is happening also makes it clear that many things are taking place behind closed doors. These developments may be a means of 'testing the waters' to see how far Israel is ready to go. And they may be occurring within the context of political requirements that have nothing to do with the Palestinian cause. But what is beyond doubt is that there is very little time left to come up with a clear Arab and Palestinian vision regarding these developments and in a manner that blocks the way before free-of-charge Israeli gains--Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Jordanian al-Ghad
What is hard to understand or accept is the extent of Arab concessions to Israel. It is as if they were rewarding it for declaring Jerusalem as its eternal capital; for passing the nation-state law that strips the Palestinians in the diaspora and inside Palestine of their national rights; and for its settlement expansion, its blockade on Gaza, and its starvation of the Strip's people. Moreover, the Gulf states have not explained why Israel should return East Jerusalem to the Arabs, or grant the Palestinians their rights, especially that of establishing their independent state – which is the most basic requirement of what the official Arabs describe as a just and comprehensive peace – after Israel has already secured more than it has ever dreamt of, free-of-charge and before offering anything in return... But there are other explanations of this Arab rush towards Israel, foremost among which stem from the demands and slogans raised by the Arab Spring revolutions that threatened the stability of the ruling Arab regimes--Mohammad 'Ismat in Egyptian Ashurouq
There are two aspects to Israeli PM Netanyahu's visit to Oman last Friday, maintains a leading Palestinian commentator. In light of Muscat's relations with Iran, the visit is likely to part of its efforts to calm down regional tensions; and Oman may also be trying to mediate between the Palestinians and Israel. But the Arabs and Palestinians are in urgent need of coming up with a clear strategy regarding such normalization. The Arab Gulf states' rush towards normalization with Israel seems to be motivated by the desire to secure Washington's support for undemocratic regimes in the aftermath of the Arab Spring's revolutions, maintains an Egyptian commentator. But these states are deluding themselves, since another wave of this spring is certain to arrive, sooner or later.
TWO ASPECTS: "There are at least two aspects to the Israeli PM's visit to the Omani capital Muscat last Friday October 26th," writes Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Tuesday's Jordanian daily al-Ghad.
The first has to do with Iran, and the second has to do with the Palestinians. But, naturally, it is not possible to separate the two aspects and their significance for the future of the Arab/Israeli conflict and the Palestinian cause.
- The Iranian issue highlights the special nature of the Iranian/Omani relationship. There is a calm and known alliance between Tehran and Muscat that began in the days of the Shah of Iran and did not end under the Islamic Republic regime since the 1980s. The Sultanate adopted a different position towards the Iraq/Iran war in the 1980s, preferring to remain neutral. Among other reasons, this was because of the geopolitical factor – namely, Iran's proximity to it.
But the Omani role has seemed clearer since 2013 when it emerged that Muscat had played a role in reaching the nuclear agreement between the U.S. and the West and Iran that upset some other Arab Gulf states. The Sultanate also sought to initiate a process that leads to a resolution of the conflict over the Emirati islands that Iran has been occupying since the 1970s.
In light of this, it is difficult to view Netanyahu's visit as part of the U.S./Israeli efforts to establish 'an Arab/Israeli alliance' against Iran. On the contrary; the visit may have occurred within the traditional context of Omani policy that seeks to calm the situation down in a manner that includes normalizing Iran's relations with the region and the world. Moreover, the visit takes on additional importance against the background of the attempt to agree on the map of understandings and relations regarding Iran's presence in Syria and Israel's demands in this regard.
- The second aspect naturally has to do with the Palestinian cause. The visit comes less than a year after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision on Jerusalem, and against the background of the faltering political process and the severing of U.S./Palestinian political contacts. It is also taking place parallel to Israeli sporting visits to Qatar and the UAE. And it comes two days after Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas's visit to Muscat.
The official Palestinian and Arab positions are based on the assumption that the [2002/2007] Arab Peace Initiative calls for a resolution of the Palestinian issue before any normalization of Arab relations with Israel. They are also based on concern and opposition to Israel's attempts to use the Iranian card so as to promote the notion of 'normalization before a solution.' For the Israelis would then have achieved their goal of being accepted regionally and would therefore offer nothing on the Palestinian issue in return.
But the Palestinians are not adopting a clear position against such visits – not only against the visit to Oman. In this, the PLO's leadership position is almost the same as Hamas's for two reasons: As far as the PLO's leadership is concerned, the Palestinian/Israeli peace agreements have bypassed the 'taboo' on relations with Israel. On the other hand, fear of the economic and political repercussion of any sharp hostile position on such issues may be part of the Palestinians' calculations.
For example, Hamas's leader in Gaza Yahiya as-Sinwar, has made demands and issued threats should Israel fail to facilitate the arrival of a monthly grant of $15 million to Gaza, without even considering the implicit implications of the Qatari/Israeli understandings in this regard. In other words, there are details and 'necessities' (from this perspective) that allow for breaking the 'taboos' and making room for 'realism' when it comes to Arab/Israeli contacts.
There is also a third aspect, namely the fact that the Palestinians do not unequivocally reject Arab mediation with Israel. This is clear, for example, in the Egyptian and Qatari mediation between Hamas and the Israelis. Nor does this conflict with the official Palestinian demand for an international/Arab mechanism to sponsor the negotiations – without this in any way meaning that the Palestinians accept or are happy at the normalization of Arab/Israeli relations, especially not before the establishment of the Palestinian state along the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
The mere occurrence of Israeli visits to Arab countries represents an Israeli gain, especially since they send a message to the Israeli leadership and the Israeli public that they are not isolated, as well as to the world to the effect that if the Arabs are opening up to us [Israelis], then why do you want to use the boycott tools or means of pressure against us? What is happening also makes it clear that many things are taking place behind closed doors. These developments may be a means of 'testing the waters' to see how far Israel is ready to go. And they may be occurring within the context of political requirements that have nothing to do with the Palestinian cause.
"But what is beyond doubt is that there is very little time left to come up with a clear Arab and Palestinian vision regarding these developments and in a manner that blocks the way before free-of-charge Israeli gains," concludes 'Azm.
NOT BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: "The normalization of Israeli/Gulf relations is no longer taking place inside dark basements or behind closed doors as it did in the past," writes Mohammad 'Ismat in Tuesday's left-of-center Egyptian daily Ashurouq.
Nor is it confined to these countries second-tier figures or covert relations having to do with the exchange of intelligence, or political, economic, and security discussions. Nor, for that matter, are such meetings intended to test the Arab peoples' reactions by announcing the mutual visits between Gulf and Zionist officials. It seems that the time has come for playing openly, so that the region can prepare for the next major step, which is that of the official recognition of Israel and exchanging diplomatic representation with it.
The Arab Peace Initiative launched by the late Saudi monarch King 'Abdullah bin 'Abdelaziz at the 2002 Beirut Arab summit represented a qualitative turning-point in the Gulf states' relations with Israel. True, the initiative made normalization conditional on Israel's withdrawal to the June 5th 1967 borders, in return for full recognition and the establishment of trade and economic relations – even though it was said at the time that the initiative's true aim was to alleviate U.S. pressures on the Kingdom after the 9/11 attacks. But this initiative – that Israel has rejected by the way – flung the doors open to raising the level of unpublicized trade relations between the Gulf and Israel.
This continued until Israel established public trade offices in many Gulf capitals, a step that was crowned by many visits by Israeli officials to Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman. It also coincided with announcement of a visit to Israel by Saudi General Anwar Eshki, who is close to the Saudi royal family. And this went on until we arrived at the moment when Israeli PM Netanyahu paid an official visit to the Sultanate of Oman; a step that took everyone by surprise and raised many questions regarding the visit's reasons and its potential results.
It is impossible to understand these developments without taking the so-called 'deal of the century' into consideration, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump's demand to establish a so-called 'Arab NATO' that includes the Gulf states, together with Egypt, Jordan and Israel, to confront what is referred to as 'terrorism' and the 'Shiite threat' from Iran.
But what is hard to understand or accept is the extent of Arab concessions to Israel. It is as if they were rewarding it for declaring Jerusalem as its eternal capital; for passing the nation-state law that strips the Palestinians in the diaspora and inside Palestine of their national rights; and for its settlement expansion, its blockade on Gaza, and its starvation of the Strip's people. Moreover, the Gulf states have not explained why Israel should return East Jerusalem to the Arabs, or grant the Palestinians their rights, especially that of establishing their independent state – which is the most basic requirement of what the official Arabs describe as a just and comprehensive peace – after Israel has already secured more than it has ever dreamt of, free-of-charge and before offering anything in return.
There may be violent American pressures on the Arab governments to normalize relations with Israel under the delusional pretext of confronting the threat posed by Iran and terrorism. But there are other explanations of this Arab rush towards Israel, foremost among which stem from the demands and slogans raised by the Arab Spring revolutions that threatened the stability of the ruling Arab regimes. This has driven these regimes towards Israel in an attempt to secure the American backing they need in order to tighten their control over their peoples' active search of freedom and social justice. They need such backing so as to ensure that the nondemocratic conditions in the Arab world would remain as they are!
But what the Arab governments are ignoring is that the rush towards Israel will have no effect other than buying them time until a new Arab Spring arrives. They are ignoring the fact that, no matter how intense the disagreements and disputes with Iran may get, they will be no more than a drop in the ocean of the Zionist threat to the Arab nation. And they are ignoring the fact that extremism and terrorism cannot be dealt with via security solutions alone but by spreading a climate of freedom and democratic practice.
"All of the Arab governments' strategies in dealing with our issues are doomed to failure. Even worse, they carry within their folds all the factors that will inevitably lead to large-scale social and political explosions that we are certain to witness sooner or later," concludes 'Ismat.
3-Weaving the carpet of a Syrian political solution
The area East of the Euphrates, where the oil and gas reserves are located, is Syrian land. It must return to the Syrian state's sovereignty like the other cities and areas. Moreover, these resources remain fundamental for financing the reconstruction process or at least a major part of it, reducing the financial burdens on both the Syrian government and people in light of the refusal of the U.S. and its Arab allies that receive their orders from it to provide such financing, except on the basis of impossible preconditions. A four-way [Istanbul] summit in which the internationally recognized Syrian government does not take part cannot be successful in restoring security and stability to Syria and its people. Moreover, a constitutional committee that is not formed in agreement with this government will find it difficult to come up with the required reforms; or so we believe --'Abdelbari 'Atwan on pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
Weaving the carpet of a Syrian political solution will not be easy. It is not enough to achieve cohabitation between the Sochi and Geneva tracks. The Syrian regime did not offer concessions when it was weak, so why should we expect it to offer any concessions after the changes in its favor on the ground? And what about the position of Iran, which is preparing for an extraordinary round of U.S. pressures? Moreover, can Putin secure enough from Iran to justify including the American and European threads in the solution's carpet? We are now facing an extremely complicated crisis with domestic, regional, and international dimensions. The solution calls for pressure, patience, arranging the deck of cards, and reaching serious understandings. And it almost needs a miracle--Ghassan Charbel in pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat
Saturday's four-way Turkish/Russian/French/German Istanbul summit issued a communiqué with a contradictory call for both eradicating the terrorist groups and a permanent ceasefire in Idlib, notes the editor-in-chief of an online pan-Arab daily. It also spoke of forming a committee charged with drafting a Syrian constitution, something that Damascus, which was not invited to the summit, views as a sovereign matter. A political solution in Syria is akin to a multi-threaded carpet that requires the cooperation of various conflicting parties, argues the Lebanese editor-in-chief of a Saudi daily. Even though Russia represents the main thread, the U.S., the EU, Iran, Turkey, and Israel, as well as the Arab world must all be included in weaving it; but reconciling their different interests will all but require a miracle.
INCOMPLETE ISTANBUL: "We do not know how Saturday's four-way Istanbul summit between the leaders of Russia, France, Britain and Turkey will contribute to a political solution for the Syrian crisis, reduce the growing tension, and prepare the climate for the refugees' return," writes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
We also do not know how the summit will lead to establishing a committee charged with drafting a constitution before the end of the year without the participation of two main parties: Syria, which is the country for which a constitution is supposed to be drafted, and Iran, the main partner in the Astana track that played a major role in paving the way for the current military achievements on the ground. In addition, the Arab members of the 'Small Group on Syria' – which includes seven countries, three of which are Arab, namely, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – were also excluded.
True, the summit's final communiqué stressed the unity of Syrian territories, backed a political solution, stressed the need to destroy all terrorist groups and organizations such as ISIS and the Tahrir ash-Sham Organization (the former Nusra Front) and rejected all separatist agendas. But this entire position is marred by a major contradiction in the text that calls for a permanent ceasefire in Idlib without offering any explanation as to how that is to be achieved.
The aforementioned two groups have refused to lay down their arms, abide by the Russian/Turkish agreement to establish a 20 kilometers-deep buffer zone, or hand over their heavy weaponry. So, does this mean that the status quo in Idlib – which contains four million citizens and over 100,000 armed elements – will remain the same? Or does this paragraph in the final communiqué mean that a green light has been given to liquidate the two groups? Moreover, who will carry out this mission and when will they do so?
The other point has to do with the formation of a constitutional committee before the end of this year. The committee's main mission will be to draft a new Syrian constitution that will provide the bases for constitutional reforms as well as the presidential and parliamentary elections that are supposed to take place by the year 2020 at the latest.
This may be the first time in history in which a constitution is drafted for a sovereign state such as Syria, whose army has won the fight on the ground. This is why we were not surprised to hear from resigned UN Syria Envoy, Staffan de Mistura that Syrian Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Mr. Walid al-Mu'allem has refused the very notion of forming such a committee. After a quick visit to Damascus, de Mistura said that Mr. Mu'allem had stressed that the formation of a constitutional committee is a sovereign issue; and he refused any role for the UN in the formation or designation of the names of the members of the abovementioned constitutional committee at the same time.
The Kremlin's spokesman, Mr. Dmitry Peskov, said that Moscow would inform Damascus of the results of the four-way summit in Istanbul. But he did not explain how this would be done. For example, will it be done via a Russian envoy to the Syrian capital, who may be Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov? Or will it be done by inviting Mr. Mu'allem, 'the doyen of Syrian diplomacy,' to the Russian capital?
The Syrian government's opposition and suspicion of this constitutional committee are justified especially since the draft constitution that a Russian delegation distributed to the delegations taking part in one of the rounds of the Astana conference more than a year ago spoke of partitioning Syria into federal units along sectarian and ethnic lines, marginalizing the central authority, bestowing absolute powers on the regional parliaments, and reducing the central authorities' military capabilities.
The bombing by Turkish warplanes of positions belonging to the largely Kurdish SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) East of the Euphrates two days ago in tandem with an unexpected ISIS offensive that succeeded in recapturing many of the areas that the SDF had previously taken, gives the impression of secret 'understandings' between Russia and Turkey. We do not know if the Syrian authorities have been informed of the details of these 'understandings.' After all, giving priority to the area East of the Euphrates again means that the Idlib ceasefire will remain in its present state, transforming it into a semi-permanent agreement – or so many observers believe.
The area East of the Euphrates, where the oil and gas reserves are located, is Syrian land. It must return to the Syrian state's sovereignty like the other cities and areas. Moreover, these resources remain fundamental for financing the reconstruction process or at least a major part of it, reducing the financial burdens on both the Syrian government and people in light of the refusal of the U.S. and its Arab allies that receive their orders from it to provide such financing, except on the basis of impossible preconditions.
A four-way summit in which the internationally recognized Syrian government does not take part cannot be successful in restoring security and stability to Syria and its people. Moreover, a constitutional committee that is not formed in agreement with this government will find it difficult to come up with the required reforms; or so we believe. The only thing we can do is to wait for to see the Syrian leadership's attitude and for the clarifications that the Russian envoy to Damascus will bring.
"For the moment, we have no other option," concludes 'Atwan.
REQUIRING A MIRACLE: "Weaving the carpet of a political solution for Syria calls for exhausting and creative efforts that will need a miracle if they are to succeed," writes Editor-in-Chief Ghassan Charbel in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
They will require hard negotiations, enormous pressures, and tough compromises. The complex intermeshing of conflicting roles and the old and new obstacles demonstrate that we are dealing with the most complicated crises that the world has faced in recent times.
The situation would have definitely been different had one side been able to declare its victory via a knockout blow and its ability to impose a solution. And if it is possible to identify the Russian side as the main actor on this complicated stage, it is not the sole actor. Russia has partners on the ground whose interests it has to take into account. Moreover, the Syrian issue is just one of the many pending files in its relations with the West, and especially with the U.S.
Syria is an important stage in the coup that Vladimir Putin has led against the world's only superpower. But it would be hasty to believe that the Kremlin is interested in achieving full victory in Syria even if that leads to losing its relations with Israel, Turkey, and the West. Putin's calculations are more complicated than to be restricted to the Syrian stage.
There is no doubt that the Russian thread will be the most prominent in the solution's carpet. Moscow is an obligatory gateway to any permanent solution in Syria, and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton knows this, as does UN Syrian Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is preparing to leave the stage. But the Russian thread is not enough to weave a carpet. Moscow will not take the burden of reconstructing Syria upon itself; nor is it able to do so. Moreover, it is difficult to believe that the Western states will want to take part in Syria's reconstruction if their role is confined to polishing the Russian victory and merely normalizing the situation in a Syria that lives under Moscow's umbrella, without restraining the influence of Iran, which has participated in preventing the fall of the Syrian regime via its militias.
The Russian thread is inevitable, but so is the American thread. And the U.S. is militarily present in Eastern Syria. It recently chose to escalate its pressures to force the Iranian militias to withdraw from Syria. Furthermore, and starting from the first week of November, American pressures will enter a new phase of escalation when Washington will move towards imposing 'the harshest possible sanctions' on Tehran, which is no longer hiding the difficulties facing its economy.
The carpet of a political solution in Syria also requires a European, Turkish, Iranian, Arab, and Israeli thread – at least when it comes to security arrangements.
It is in the context of the journey in search for the carpet's threads that we can place the four-way Istanbul summit that included the heads of Russia, France, and Germany, as well as the host country's president. The summit called for the establishment of a committee for drafting the Syrian constitution, provided that it meets by the end of the year. And the participants stressed the need to prepare Syria's various parts for a safe and voluntary return of refugees, and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to this country, the need for a permanent ceasefire, and the need to continue fighting the extremists.
There is no doubt that the mere fact that the summit was held has exposed the need for the presence of partners, albeit to various degrees. Putin needs Europe's participation to provide an umbrella for the solution because Europe can serve as a gateway for the U.S. to join this umbrella. Turkey also needs European partners to strengthen its role and achieve some balance with the Iranian role on the one hand, and the Russian role on the other. And France and Germany also want to participate so as to give the impression that Europe has not lost its role because Britain decided to leave the EU and because Italy and other countries are threatening to rebel against the EU's spirit and constraints.
But a brief meeting in Istanbul is not enough to resolve the differences between the various parties' calculations. The post summit press conference exposed these differences: Angela Merkel stressed that there can be no military solution for the Syrian crisis. She stressed that, 'at the end of this political process, free elections must be held in which all Syrians take part, including those living outside the country.' And President Emmanuel Macron hastened to support the German Chancellor and urged Russia to 'exert very clear pressure on the Syrian regime.' Putin emphasized the fight against terrorism and expressed his hope that Turkey would soon complete the establishment of a de-militarized zone in Idlib. And for his part, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that it is up to 'the Syrian people inside and outside Syria' to decide President Bashar al-Assad's fate, while at the same time stressing the need to fight the 'terrorists' in Northern Syria –i.e. the Kurdish organizations.
The Istanbul summit's result should be present at the table of the Small Group on Syria's meeting in London on Monday. This group includes the U.S., France, the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt; and it is only natural to assume that de Mistura will also be there. Also present will be the need to arrange the situation so as to ensure coexistence between the various necessary threads at other venues including the expected summit between Putin and Donald Trump on the margins of France's World War I celebrations. And the Syrian dossier is likely to occupy a major position in light of the results of Bolton's visit to Moscow. After all, the Russian/U.S. dialogue is ongoing and has been confirmed by Trump's invitation to Putin to visit Washington, even if the Chinese dimension seems to lie at the background of that invitation. And this same dossier will be present when de Mistura presents his final report to the UN Security Council on November 19th regarding the results of his effort to reach a political solution and his failure to convince Damascus to facilitate the establishment of the committee charged with drafting the constitution.
Weaving the carpet of a Syrian political solution will not be easy. It is not enough to achieve cohabitation between the Sochi and Geneva tracks. The Syrian regime did not offer concessions when it was weak; so why should we expect it to offer any concessions after the changes in its favor on the ground? And what about the position of Iran, which is preparing for an extraordinary round of U.S. pressures? Moreover, can Putin secure enough from Iran to justify including the American and European threads in the solution's carpet?
We are now facing an extremely complicated crisis with domestic, regional, and international dimensions. The solution calls for pressure, patience, arranging the deck of cards, and reaching serious understandings.
"And it almost needs a miracle," concludes Charbel.