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Success of Geneva II Depends on Commitment to Geneva I

Veteran opposition figure outlines how to avoid the risks at Geneva
Success of Geneva II Depends on Commitment to Geneva I

The Syrian people and the political and the military opposition are right to question the intentions of the countries calling for negotiations in Geneva.


We have many reasons not to trust all the parties, either those claiming to be friends, or those supporting the crimes of and fighting alongside the regime.


If the decision is to go to Geneva, we must be prepared not to follow those stronger than us or be driven to decisions we do not want.


The launch of negotiations may present an opportunity to evaluate and develop a strategy to take advantage of everything we can arm ourselves with, including any texts and guarantees that can help us avoid the risks we face.


In principle, refusing the negotiations path is not in the interest of the opposition. The Syrian people have tried the impossible for many years, and, now a peaceful revolution is out of reach.


When the Syrian people were killed, they lost hope in any peaceful path and bore arms –  but they have never wanted to get into a war in which Syrians fight each other to maintin their rights and dignity. Any patriotic Syrian wishes to stop the fighting which the regime led people towards.


Today, after the catastrophe our people have suffered in all the rebellious areas, voices are being raised from cities from Douma and Daraya, Homs and Aleppo, saying they will continue to fight, but that they believe in negotiations as a new and additional (but not alternative) way to confront the regime.


How can we avoid the risks?


Firstly, by insisting that there is a clear reference for Geneva II; that is Geneva I, otherwise there is no need to label the conference Geneva II.


As for going in to talks without any reference, the opposition has a right to fear a repeat of the Palestinian experience, when the Palestinian and Israeli parties went to Oslo in 1992 and when the PLO accepted to enter unconditional negotiations, without reference, to find 20 years later that only the first phase enshrined in the Declaration of Principles, which did not include any guarantees for the remaining stages, was implemented.


Secondly, we can avoid the risk of any political process by sticking to the text of Geneva I literally. The document clearly says that it is the right of the opposition to reject the names suggested by the regime in its negotiating team at Geneva I. The same applies to opposition's delegation. So, the Chairman of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba did not violate the text of Geneva I when he said that he reaffirms his "absolute commitment to the rule that the transitional governing body cannot be shared by Assad or any of the criminals responsible for the killing of the Syrian people".


Thirdly, the diplomats who drafted the document of Geneva I chose the vocabulary carefully and pointed to the formation of a transitional governing body. They deliberately avoided the word "government" to avoid any confusion about determining who has the actual authority. This is because the government in the political, presidential system is part of the executive branch, operating under the command of the President, who has overeaching executive powers. Since the Syrian system is a presidential system according to the Syrian constitution (and this of course is only on paper), it is expected that the regime will interpret the text of Geneva I  as a sharing of executive power between the president and the government, and therefore that Bashar Assad can remain in his office and enjoy the broad constitutional powers he is allotted, while the government will be an executive arm used to apply his policies.


Fourthly, we must insist on the abolition of the presidential elections in the spring of 2014. The formation of a transitional executive body with full powers in reality means creating a political reality and a new constitutional system of which Assad's regime becomes part of from the past. The governing body will be independent and will not be subject to any party. It will develop the legal framework and the timetable for the various stages of the transitional period and its bodies, including changes in the security and military system in Syria and the date and mechanisms for the departure of Assad. It will identify the new dates for the legislative elections (a constituent body of the constitution, then a parliament) and the presidential elections, which cannot be organized before one or two years after the formation of the transitional governing body. Once the transitional body is formed, there will be no justification for talk about the date of the presidential elections and whether Assad would run for them or not, because there will be no justification for either the regime or the opposition to talk about who can run.
Some officials from countries supportive of the people and the revolution are saying, in good faith, that we can use the date of the elections to play out a scenario acceptable to the countries supporting Assad, by excluding him in the spring of 2014 without making his departure a result of internal or external pressures.


But that may be where negotiations stumble and the regime, of course, will make excuses that the negotiations are in trouble and therefore it is necessary to hold the elections or extend the presidential term for two years as stipulated in the current constitution.


The opposition has to abort this dangerous scenario now, through immediately asking sponsors of the negotiation process to announce that the presidential elections are canceled, because the course of negotiations itself aims at charting a new course through the formation of a transitional governing body with full powers.


Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer


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