September 11, 2011

Arab League’s Bogus “Plan” For Syria

The disjointed convergence of war and negotiations has been on display throughout history. At the end of daily combat, ancient Greeks would allow each side to recover their dead if the situation permitted. An American dialogue with the Japanese yielded two atomic bombs before an eventual breakthrough. After halfheartedly negotiating with the Taliban before 9/11, the White House is pursuing a surface level dialogue with its inner shura, anticipating indecisive results from President Barack Obama’s surge.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mired in a perpetual state of war and “negotiations.”

Nine months of Arab revolutions have given new meaning to the word “dialogue.” Granted by an authoritarian regime and sponsored by international parties, this “dialogue of death” aims to prevent regime change rather than address historic grievances. This scheme has been forced onto Egyptians, Libyans, Bahrainis, Yemenis and Syrians through a variety of parties: the U.S., EU, UN, Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). All seek to control the revolutions through political, security and economic leverage, generating mixed results and ongoing instability.

Last week the Council of Arab foreign ministers decided inject their influence into Syria’s revolution. After holding an emergency meeting to request an urgent mission to Damascus and introduce an Arab initiative to Bashar al-Assad, the Arab League issued a statement calling for “an end to the bloodshed before it is too late." Syria’s regime responded with immediate hostility, accusing the Arab League of "unacceptable and biased language” and violating a pledge to avoid issuing a statement.”

Nabil al-Arabi, the Arab League’s secretary general, then landed in Damascus with an extremely generous proposal.

Details of the Arab League’s 13-point plan have yet to be made public, but initial reports reveal a counterproductive offer destined for al-Assad’s exploitation. The Arab League called for withdrawal of troops and tanks from restive urban areas - a demand al-Assad has repeatedly defaulted on - and the release of an estimated 12,000 political prisoners. A three-year transition to a multiparty system would follow, culminating in a 2014 presidential election. El-Araby told reporters that he urged Assad to "speed up reform plans through a timetable that will make every Syrian citizen feel that he has moved to a new stage.”

"I focused on the importance of an open national dialogue that encompasses all personalities on the basis of national reconciliation, in which the Arab League plays a main role," he added after meeting with al-Assad.

Many Syrians protesters are unlikely to feel an upwelling in their confidence of the League. The UN’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, already ran into al-Assad’s wall and was forced to criticize him for ignoring the UN’s warnings. Syrian forces continued to apply force to street demonstrations as el-Araby met with al-Assad on Saturday, resulting in the deaths of at least 12 people. Security forces also opened fire on the funeral of a local activist recently tortured to death. al-Assad has given no indication of ceasing his massive crackdown or fulfilling meaningful reforms - and many protesters demand his execution for these reasons.

Syria’s political and information spheres were hit equally hard. Manipulating the Arab League as a legitimizing presence, the state-run SANA news agency said that el-Araby had "affirmed the Arab League's rejection of all forms of foreign interference in Syrian internal affairs. al-Assad cautioned anyone willing to listen to “not get caught in campaigns of disinformation against Syria,” words and actions that point to an eventual rejection of the Arab League’s favorable terms.

While direct solutions are hard to come by in any of the revolutions, “dialogue” can be reliably discounted as an effective, positive instrument. Pressuring too hard leads to the same outcome as going too soft. Those dictators under fire have responded to international proposals with the same methods applied to protesters: procrastination, duplicity and outright resistance. Few Syrians will accept the Arab League’s terms, just as Libyan's revolutionaries reject negotiations with Gaddafi's regime, the majority of Yemeni protesters oppose the GCC’s initiative and Bahrain’s opposition walked out of a U.S.-sponsored “National Dialogue.”

The primarily flaw of a “dialogue” is how easily both the government and international community can manipulate it. Neither can accept the fact that revolutionaries don’t want negotiate with dying, murderous regimes.

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