How Geneva 2 Can Help Syrians

A Geneva 2 that will benefit Syrians will be a Geneva 2 that puts in place ceasefires, opens humanitarian corridors, and lifts sieges off of besieged areas such as Homs and Yarmouk camp. It is time to let Syrians breathe again. Those issues—and not the imposition of a political solution—should be the first priority.

A political solution should not be decided at such a venue. The regime is obviously only interested in preserving its power and prolonging the rule of Bashar al-Assad. The National Coalition has no legitimacy on the ground. State-backers of each side only differ on whether they want Assadism with Assad or Assadism without Assad. A real political solution should reflect the interests of Syrians on the ground, and any agreement reached at Geneva 2 on a transitional government will certainly not reflect them.

But even in practice, the formation of a transitional government would be totally unsuccessful without first creating conditions on the ground amenable to the return of politics. What is needed then is good-faith measures that allow Syrians to decide their future for themselves. As it stands now, most Syrians in conflict areas are focused on survival. Before forming a transitional government, the focus should be placed on allowing those Syrians to return to a normal life. And Geneva 2 does have the power to do this. The question is, do the parties and their backers have the will to do so? Russia can—if it wants to—restrain the regime by threatening to cut off aid and support should it not abide by ceasefires. The various state backers of the opposition can also do this. Even militias not taking part in the negotiations would be scorned by local residents for not abiding by ceasefires and jeopardizing a return to normalcy.

Many have said that Geneva 2 is an attempt to derail the Syrian revolution and, thus, have written it off completely. I agree that an arbitrary political solution from above would be a move against Syrian self-determination, and thus, not achieve the original goals of the Syrian revolution. But that is no excuse to write it off completely when it could possibly lead to measures that will make residents’ lives better, at least in the short run. Let politics be decided in the streets of Damascus, the quarters of Homs, and the shores of Lattakia, but first, let politics return to Syria. The vast majority of Syrians want freedom, dignity, and social justice. They will not attain those things in the midst of a brutal civil war that has empowered the enemies of those things. Thus, enough dealing absolutes and refusing to compromise. If anything, it is our responsibility as Syrians outside of Syria to insist upon and support any initiative that will make the lives of Syrians inside Syria better. We can reject the imposition of a political solution while still calling for the implementation of measures that reduce suffering inside Syria and require negotiation between the regime and the opposition. We can insist on attaining justice for past crimes, but first, we need to stop future ones from being committed.

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