Delaying peace is a bad idea

Friday 01/01/2016

In the study of conflict resolution there is an exercise I found extremely helpful in understanding certain elements of a given conflict that are not imme­diately apparent. It is called the helicopter perspective.
You imagine hovering over the problem from far above to view it at some distance, thus allowing a better understanding of all the actors and all ingredients of the problem at hand.
Some years ago I decided to use the helicopter hovering principle to look at the long-running Mid­dle East conflict but instead of hovering over space I opted to hover over time. I was not trying to emulate an H.G. Wells protagonist and invent a time machine; instead I imagined looking at the same problem in different time frames.
I focused on the Arab-Israeli dispute, a conflict some historians claim has its origins in biblical days. Space in the magazine I was writing for being a concern, I avoided stories connected to the Old Testament and instead looked at the modern-day state of Israel.
In Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 with the gathering of the First Zionist Congress under the leadership of Theodor Herzl, the decision was reached to create a homeland for the Jewish people. The choices were Argentina, Mad­agascar, Uganda and Palestine.
Buenos Aires was desperately trying to entice white Europeans to settle the vast but sparsely pop­ulated territory in South America. Madagascar was a French terri­tory. Uganda was British. As the co-signers of the Sykes-Picot agreement that divvied up the spoils of the Ottoman empire at the close of World War I, Paris and London were concerned about the situation in their former colonies. And Palestine was an obvious choice given the historic ties the Jews have to the Holy Land.
As has become all too apparent, the introduction of God into any dispute renders the debate far more volatile.
Let’s now view the Syrian conflict from the helicopter. The civil war began with protesters demanding a say in the running of their country.
One cannot ignore the fact that Syria’s Sunni majority popula­tion has always resented being autocratically ruled by a religious minority clique.
If one was to grade the different sorts of autocratic, religion-based regimes on how bad they are for those they govern, it would quickly appear that a religious minority-based regime is the worst of autocratic regimes.
But now that a radical inter­pretation of Islam is what drives many of the Syrian rebels, there are lots of questions about the future regime in Syria. It is dan­gerous enough when religion per­meates politics. It is worse when it drives war alliances. And even more so when it stands to define the future of any nation.
Looking back over the years and the conflicts, and, as we know, there has been no shortage of vio­lence in the region. At the end of every war there followed a cycle of terrorism-based violence that surpassed the violence produced by the previous war. Indeed, the Fedayeen came into the limelight after the June 1967 Middle East war. By comparison to the jihadist Islamic State (ISIS) yesteryear’s terrorists seemed tame. As the level of violence has increased, so has the calibre of weaponry used.
Negotiating peace between Pal­estinians and Israelis as complex and complicated as it may be has become more complicated with the arrival of the Russians on the battlefield in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Now that the Russians have got­ten their feet wet in the Mediter­ranean, there’s no going back for them. This is what the Russians have been aiming for since the days of the czars. They gambled and they won.
Today’s Syrian civil war is the dirtiest, bloodiest and fiercest conflict the Middle East has ever seen and, if the current trend continues, there will be no telling where it will end or how it will end.