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Sam Hamad

The poisonous 'peace process' is an insult to Syrians

Astana is Russia's direct attempt to completely circumvent the UN, writes Hamad [AFP]

Date of publication: 17 May, 2017

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Comment: Geneva is irrelevant because it presupposes that Assad wants peace, while the rebels know that every aspect of his regime is geared towards extermination, writes Sam Hamad.

When peace negotiations begin with the main warring parties declaring them to be a waste of time and the host party forced to defend himself from accusations of bias towards an entity carrying out murder and destruction on a near-genocidal scale, it doesn't exactly fill you with hope. 

This is precisely what happened in the current round of the "peace talks" in Geneva, overseen by the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, whose tenure in this role has been plagued with accusations of bias towards Assad. 

Since the war began in 2011, the chance for a peaceful resolution in Syria has been less elusive, and more entirely absent, namely because one side - the Assad regime - is driving a war of extermination and submission against those who rose up in resistance. 

The Syrian revolution was, as has been documented and lamented so many times, a peaceful uprising with civil demands for political reform. The war was started and escalated at every turn by Bashar al-Assad. It was he who necessitated his own overthrow through his willingness to let an entire country burn rather than relinquish any power to the Syrian people, preferring instead to let Iranian theocrats and Russian imperialists, to impose their hegemony on the country. 

It's he who cultivated the Islamic State group (IS), while ensuring their logic spread through his large-scale targeting of mostly Sunni civilians and through his unleashing of sectarian, often foreign, Shia jihadi militias. It's he who did not merely cross so-called "red lines", but blurred them with rivers of blood and the death haze of sarin gas, burying any hope of a peaceful transition under the rubble of destroyed schools, hospitals and homes.

And the world expects, nay demands, that Syrians sue for peace with such an entity?

To call for "peace" with Assad is itself an indication of failure – not the military or moral failure of embattled rebels who are mostly made up of civilian volunteers, but the collective failure of the world, particularly those with the means to have acted, to stop Assad from carrying out genocide.

It has been so easy for the world to bury the inconvenient truths of the Syrian catastrophe under the realpolitik of western 'security' concerns

It has been so easy for the world to bury the inconvenient truths of the Syrian catastrophe under the realpolitik of western "security" concerns, namely fighting IS. But this is not the case for Syrians who have lived with and fought against the main author of the brutal chaos that has eclipsed their lives. 

To demand that Syrians somehow come to "peaceful" terms with a rump state, backed by the cruel imperialism of Iran and Russia, that has for the past six years re-shaped itself from a tyrannical governing entity to one concerned only with active extermination of any Syrian that dares to claim autonomy, is an obscenity. 

This is the poison that the so-called "peace process" in Geneva is spiked with. It's why both the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime can openly say that neither have any faith in Geneva. The opposition know that de Mistura won't demand the removal of Assad as a precondition for any potential peace, while the Assad regime has absolutely no incentive to negotiate a lasting peace – if Assad remains militarily superior with the unconditional backing of Russia and Iran, the "diplomacy" will reflect such imbalanced power relations.

  Read more: 'Assad's not 'using a crematorium', he's executing a holocaust'

This is precisely why Russia initially reacted to Geneva with enthusiasm. Putin knew that there was never any chance of the Syrian opposition succeeding or even merely gaining anything through the talks, given the US had materially abandoned the rebels it once vowed to support. 

Russia could then, through raw power, determine the conditions of the negotiations and thus use the process as a smokescreen for its participation in and overseeing of the war against the rebellion. 

De Mistura, wittingly or unwittingly, has played along with this absurd simulation of a 'peace process'

And de Mistura, wittingly or unwittingly, has played along with this absurd simulation of a "peace process" concocted by Russia. It was he who suggested to the rebel-supported High Negotiating Council (HNC) that the Syrian opposition accept Assad remaining head of state, as well as justifying the Assad regime, and Russia and Iran's pretext in besieging and bombarding rebel-held Aleppo by calling for "terrorists" to leave the city. 

UN Resolution 2254 supposedly paved the way for a political transition in Syria. It was de Mistura who shunted into one of the three areas of development (known as "baskets") that emerged from this, the idea that Russia - the entity that savagely murdered thousands of Syrians on behalf of Assad - ought to author a new "non-sectarian" constitution for Syria.

In fact, de Mistura even acceded to Assad and Russia's blatantly sinister and cynical demand to add a fourth "basket" to the agenda, namely "fighting terrorism". This is how it characterises its war against the Syrian rebels or any free Syrian, while it uses the spectre of "terrorism" to deflect away from any talk of a political transition and justify its mass criminality. 

De Mistura has, to some extent acquiesced to Russian imperialism

It's quite clear that de Mistura has, to some extent acquiesced to Russian imperialism - not through conspiracy or malfeasance, but rather due to the tendency of UN bureaucrats to side and sympathise with those who have the most power. 

This is the context in which de Mistura, rather confusingly, accepted the Russian-determined programme laid out in separate "peace talks" in Astana, ones which emphasised "fighting terrorism" and called for the creation of a national unity government. 

While de Mistura seems to think that his Geneva process is working in tandem with Astana, one European diplomat was reported to have said that Russia's demand for a "national unity government" at Astana paved the way for "bringing in a few dissidents to run the ministry of sports and leaving Assad's power unchecked". 

Even among diplomatic circles, Russia's intentions are obvious - the fact de Mistura seems to accept them rightfully disturbs the rebels. 

If Geneva represents a smokescreen, Astana represents a battering ram

If Geneva represents a smokescreen, Astana represents a battering ram - Russia's direct attempt to completely circumvent the UN and bring about any kind of just "peace", but rather to disarm the revolution. 

This is precisely why Assad can so easily now disparage the Geneva process while talking up "de-escalation" zones that were agreed to by Russia, Iran and Turkey at Astana and that would see rebel-held areas disarmed under the auspices of "rebuilding" the country. 

Assad's dream is to force the rebels to disarm. And it's precisely why the rebels strenuously rejected these "de-escalation" zones, citing the fact that Iran and Russia demonstrably can't be trusted to contribute to peace in any area of Syria and that their rhetoric of peace was completely undermined by their actions on the ground.

Even one of de Mistura's own colleagues called these zones "Orwellian", contrasting them with the idea of safe zones mediated by neutral actors, which is of course rejected by Russia, Iran and Assad.

When the regime's chief negotiator turned up in Geneva, he immediately had to deny the regime's mass cremation of rebel and opposition prisoners that they've industrially murdered

And this gets to the heart of why the "peace process" in Syria has failed. When the regime's chief negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari turned up in Geneva, he immediately had to deny the regime's mass cremation of rebel and opposition prisoners that they've industrially murdered. Just as they've denied their use of chemical weapons and every other atrocity - big or small - they've committed. 

Geneva is irrelevant because it presupposes that Assad wants peace, while the rebels know that every aspect of his regime is geared towards extermination. It continues to so absurdly view the rebels and Assad as equal players, both materially and morally, which allows Assad and his allies to use it to their own advantage, and depict the rebels as warmongers.

This is why every supporter of Assad around the globe emphasises the "peace process" - precisely because they know that it heavily favours Assad, in the same way the Israel-Palestine "peace process" reflects Israeli dominance.

It was behind the smokescreen of Geneva in 2016 that Russia intervened and free Aleppo fell to Assad and Iran's forces. This year it could very well pave the way for the fall of liberated Idlib. 

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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