Holiday dreams

The United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has put forward his first explicit public stance on how to move toward a solution to the war in Syria: a temporary cease-fire, to go into effect during the Eid al-Adha holiday later this month.

The veteran diplomat made his case to Iranian officials during his visit there Sunday, saying that a halt in the bloodshed in Syria was absolutely necessary. Brahimi said that such a cessation of hostilities could create the kind of climate that would allow a “political process” to develop.

Once again, the Syrian people, and the rest of the world, are facing the spectacle of a peace envoy who travels from capital to capital expressing hopes and ideas, instead of laying the groundwork for a durable political solution.

Brahimi is, after all, backed by the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League. If the overwhelming majority of those countries actually support his efforts, he would be announcing that a cease-fire will begin, and not that it should begin. There is a big difference between the two.

The news had the potential to become even worse – a member of the opposition Syrian National Council said that Brahimi was entertaining the idea of establishing a peacekeeping force. Brahimi quickly denied the news, since it is obvious there is little hope that such an initiative is politically or logistically feasible at the moment.

At the outset of his mission, Brahimi set the tone by playing down expectations, and talking about the intractability of the Syrian conflict.

Then, during his first visit to the region, where he is seeing all of the key players, Brahimi talks about his hope for a cease-fire. Halting the bloodshed is a noble cause, but there are two problems with this week’s news. One is that Brahimi wields no stick to induce a commitment to a cessation of hostilities. The second is that his hosts in Tehran put out their own version of how things should go in Syria: a transition overseen by President Bashar Assad.

There are no indications that anyone in the ranks of the Syrian opposition – despite the hugely fragmented nature of it – would even dream of accepting a role for Assad. Activists and others, both inside and outside the country, are busy detailing nearly every act of violence and destruction in Syria’s uprising. They have documented a rate of killing of around 1,000 people a week.

When Brahimi officially took up his duties at the beginning of September, the figure of more than 20,000 deaths in the war in Syria was regularly cited. Today, the figure has climbed steadily to more than 33,000.

Brahimi is six weeks into his mission, and 13,000 people in Syria have been added to the horrific death tally. Six weeks in, and the only thing the U.N. and the international community have to show for Brahimi’s peace efforts is the faint hope of a holiday cease-fire. It’s no wonder that Syrians have lost hope in the U.N.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 16, 2012, on page 7.




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