By Johan Galtung
This is not the way to do it. A major party to the conflicts cannot be at the same time the conference manager; to the point of making the UN Secretary General disinvite a major invited party. Whether this is due to AIPAC-American Israel Public Affairs Committee buying US Senators, or whatever process internal to the USA-Israel system, or it comes out of Secretary Kerry’s genuine conviction, is immaterial.
This looks like a court where the prosecutor is also the judge, having decided who the major culprit is and instructed the judge to proceed accordingly from Court I to II, with only those agreeing to Court I being in the jury of Court II.
Had Ban Ki-moon been a man honoring UN authority he would have disinvited himself instead, claiming undue pressure. Disinvite a major party and two things are guaranteed: a lost chance to find a solution to what is also a sunni-shia conflict, and a major spoiler of whatever conclusions may be arrived at. There was a promising point: they will first talk with the parties separately to identify their positions–but, leaving out the major carrier of shia, no chance.
This foretold failure–barring a miracle–will probably not last long. The photo-card will be played out at an early stage. It looks ominous; but is an authoritarian regime like Assad’s compatible with its army taking so many potentially incriminating photos that could fall into the hands of a “self-styled defector”? Why make photos anyhow?
Let us say, brutally simplified, that there are seven conflicts, not only one, all directly or indirectly violent, unfolding in Syria.
First, over minority vs majority rule, dictatorship vs democracy, Assad vs not Assad. The opposition inside Syria has good points. But that does not imply that the removal of Assad, also by outside dictate, is a solution. A referendum is needed and the outcome is uncertain given the complexity of all the conflicts. How much of the total violence is linked to this as a civil, internal war is unclear.
Second, what the US calls “sectarian” conflict, sunni vs shia; certainly not an internal war with active jihadist participation of many countries, including Saudi-Arabia, Qatar, Libya, using terrorist tactics for such goals as a sunni Islamic State of Iraq-Syria, ISIS.
Third, between Syrians in position or opposition and minorities from other nations and faiths, like Turks and Kurds, Maronites and Christians in general, and others.
Fourth, between any Syria with its present borders and those who, like Israel and the USA, prefer Syria fragmented into smaller parts.
Fifth, between any Syria and Turkey changing from “zero problems with neighbors” to neo-Ottoman expansionist policies.
Sixth, among the UN Security Council-UNSC 5 (+1?) over the construction, management and possible outcome of the Syrian crisis; one aspect being Russia-China determined to avoid another Libya against the other three.
Seventh, the major one, between the victims–killed or bereaved–and potential victims, and the violence perpetrators of all kinds.
To handle a complexity at this level – more complex than Vietnam – a long-lasting UN-managed conference with all parties, and only those involved, no spectators, and no conditions, is needed. Instead, the Geneva II focus is on the first conflict with built-in outcome against the Assad regime, ignoring the second and third, favoring USA and its allies in conflicts four and five with US management and UN abdication, but with a focus on No. 7 suffering of which they are all guilty, more or less.
Geneva II has neither political will nor intellectual capacity to come to grips with this complexity. The focus will be on condemning Assad and helping the victims. There may be ceasefire for the first conflict; but not for the second, thus, the jihadist party Al Qaeda is not even invited and cannot be identified with some sunni states.
An aid corridor might be negotiated for some limited space and time even with no solution in sight, and hence no genuine ceasefire. What might work? A Geneva III UN-managed conference, of course with Iran and Israel participating and without spectators, exploring:
• a federation for the former colony Syria – one of four from Sykes-Picot given not to the Arabs for fighting Ottomans, to themselves – with democracy within each territorial part/province;
• a two-chamber assembly, for parties and national-religious groups with veto rights in their own affairs; the Ottoman millet system;
• all parties cooperating in fighting terrorist jihadist outsiders;
• agreement to respect Syria as one and united – not unitarian – within its borders – with the sovereignty over demilitarized Golan Heights;
• agreement to respect the autonomy of Syria as independent country;
• a reopening of the Libya case to explore and learn from what went wrong, avoiding the same errors in the Syrian case;
• inviting all parties to assist the victims medically, the bereaved and displaced economically, and promoting their early return.
Thus, seven conflicts, seven perspectives, seven working commissions with frequent plenaries for coordination; learning from the conferences leading to the Treaty of Rome in 1958 and the Final Act of Helsinki in 1975.
However, there is a major problem. Geneva I-II is based on the state system that represses non-dominant nations inside and periphery states outside. Is the state system able to repair itself? Many states desperately need federal structures to accommodate democracy; some states finance jihadism; fragmenting hostile states is a policy used by many; so is hanging on to conquests however illegal; there are many neo-imperialisms; key Geneva I-II participants caused the Libyan catastrophe and many have caused human suffering beyond Syrian levels.
At any point et tu quoque – how about you? – can be said or thought; fears of decisions as precedents against own interests are paralyzing.
So, as a minimum have a parallel conference of non-states, with women and peace organizations and others, for fresh, constructive views.
First published at Transcend Media Service.