Diplomacy, Not Bullets Will Bring Syrian Peace

Those agreeing to peace – the various Syrian parties – must be properly informed of the stakes and penalties for failure to their own people and to all Syrians.

August’s vote in the United Kingdom Parliament which declined to authorize the use of force against Syria was one of the most important and affirming things I have seen for a long time.

Elected representatives voting according to a combination of their constituents, their conscience, or intuition for the wisest outcome possible is the state of the art. That’s the best we can ask of democracy. It was a brave decision, with ramifications felt around the world. The American Congress followed suit.

Detractors who thought that this was the West appeasing dictators have had their imaginations fed by Hollywood, not tempered by reality. Why should Western violence work when ours doesn’t? Because your bombs are bigger?

My region has been torn for several years now with no obvious path to stability, and Syria is at the apex of this. Geneva 2 is much needed, if only to throw down a marker and show us all where we are.

Following the Friends of Syria meeting in London on October 22, 2013, Ahmad Jarba of the Syrian National Coalition gave a clear indication where he and his organization are – and that is refusing to negotiate without the precondition of President Assad’s removal.

To be able to come up with the solution, we need a proper understanding of the baseline: what Syria and all its contradictions and caveats look like today.

There is no unified or credible opposition to meet with anyone in Geneva

The self-appointed Western strategy of choosing a successor is looking vain and futile. All the while, the humanitarian situation for Syrians is grave, worse than current estimates given. Hundreds of thousands have died, including 200,000 women and children.

There are 10 million Syrians scattered across the world, both displaced internally and seeking refuge in different countries. There are up to 1 million with permanent injuries, including 300,000 from injuries sustained during chemical weapons attacks last year.

When I traveled recently among the refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, it was the scale of the needs and the depth of the desperation struck me the most.

But we don’t hear these figures on the major news channels, and so we don’t quite comprehend the scale or desperation of the problem. We hear stories about Egypt one week and then Libya the next, and perhaps Tunisia the week after, and so we don’t quite comprehend how inter-connected the conflicts of the region are.

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But the connectivity goes beyond the region. Domestic security, economics, and humanitarianism are some of the dimensions in which this is a most pressing problem to Europe and the US, and the rest of the world.

Winter is here, and hard times make people seek the comforts of sectarianism. This is the lever which leads to the kinds of polarizing, stigmatizing and radicalizing positions which take generations to fade, and there are no shortage of manipulators, given the rich prize that Syria is in the imaginations of many of its coveters.

In the same way that the revolutions began to spread from country to country, so can stability. But it will take more than one conference. It will take a series of individual meetings which will build up to generate a mind map of interests and grievances, allowing us to pitch solutions at areas of high disposition to agreement among the stakeholders. We need to know where the spoilers are.

We, as those who are intending to facilitate peace talks and use leverage where necessary, need to be properly informed about players and the stakes. Those agreeing to peace – the various Syrian parties – must be properly informed of the stakes and penalties for failure to their own people and to all Syrians – the responsibilities of leadership, in other words.

No bomb or bullet can bring about what we need, but perhaps the lesson from Parliament holds a clue about what we should aim for: agreement of the majority, which may involve unpalatable compromises for some, but which is held in place and kept incorruptible not by coercion but by a political system based on consensus and the will of most of the people.

I know Syria and my region overall would be desperately grateful for that.

Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdel Aziz is a London-based writer, journalist, humanitarian and businesswoman. Follow her on Twitter @princessbasmah. Read other articles by Princess Basmah.