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Moaz Khatib is Dancing with Wolves | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Moaz Alkhatib talks to the press following his meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil ElAraby (not seen) in the League headquarters in Cairo on February 11, 2013. (AFP)

Everyone I’ve met has tried to make excuses for Sheikh Moaz Al-Khatib, leader of the Syrian National Coalition, ever since he attempted to swim against the opposition tide by calling for negotiations with the regime, on favorable terms. However, as was to be expected, the regime has responded by manipulating both Khatib and his initiative.

Some have claimed Khatib simply wanted to satisfy the countries insisting on pursuing a peaceful solution, while others believed Khatib actually wanted to embarrass the regime. Some thought Khatib, as the newly appointed leader of the coalition, wanted to present a different image of the opposition away from the killing and fighting, in order to reinforce its multi-dimensional nature. Others suspected that Khatib only launched his negotiations initiative due to pressure from certain funding countries; countries that in turn were under pressure themselves because of their silence and hesitance.

So what is actually wrong with going down the political path and seeking to engage in peaceful negotiations? In theory, nothing, but this approach can only be adopted in one of the following two cases: The first is that the rebels have become convinced that their project for change has failed, and that the revolution has reached a dead end, and thus they will try to cut their losses as much as possible in exchange for surrendering their weapons. However, this is not true. Although the conflict has been ongoing for many months and although the regime is still standing, the opposition fighters are still making progress. The second case is that fighters on the ground have actually made great strides in the process of overthrowing the regime, and now they believe the bloodshed can come to an end as the regime is ready to leave power under reasonable conditions. But this is also not true because the regime is still fighting, and it still controls several important areas.

I believe, as do many of his sympathizers, that Khatib’s intention was to embarrass the Syrian regime by presenting a political initiative that he knew Assad would turn down. This would also embarrass the Russians in particular, who have been calling for dialogue for over a year. Of course, it was a maneuver and not a frank proposal. But it was a maneuver against a regime that has mastered the art over the past 40 years. We must also not forget that Iran, the regime’s main ally, has been maneuvering against the West with regards to negotiations on its nuclear program by procrastinating and making empty promises. Furthermore, Assad manipulated the Lebanese for years and has betrayed almost all countries in the region. So what experience does the opposition leader have to enter such as wrestling ring?
And just look how Assad responded! He waited for Khatib’s specified deadline to pass and then responded a day later. This was the beginning of Assad’s maneuvers. He wanted to turn the tables on the opposition and so he presented a proposal that was even better: The Syrian minister of information addressed the opposition asking them to return to Damascus, guaranteeing their safety. He called on them to negotiate with the regime in any manner they wished, and if they disliked the outcomes they could leave at any time without the threat of judicial or security pursuit.

Assad was clearly trying to call Khatib’s bluff and embarrass the opposition in front of the world. In this regard, he has many more cards to play. For example, he could release thousands of detainees in exchange for nothing, just to show he has good intentions, or he could issue passports to some opposition figures. What would Sheikh Moaz do then? Would he go to negotiate? If he did, he would divide the opposition and disrupt any revolutionary momentum. The rebels would immediately think that their coalition had abandoned them and that countries supporting them had sold them out. However, if Khatib rejected the offer to negotiate, he would look like an amateur bluffer in front of the world’s superpowers.

There are currently more questions than answers, but let us consider the following: Is there any factor within the opposition or on the battlefield at present to imply that Assad is really ready to commit to a peaceful solution and end his rule?

This is inconceivable. Therefore, everyone must realize that it is not yet time for a peaceful solution. The revolution has not been defeated and the regime will not fall within a matter of days. The opposition must redouble their efforts to support the rebels on the ground and unite their leaderships. They must also insist on a military solution because despite the bloodshed, this is the only way to limit further suffering. Whatever Moaz Khatib and his supporters think, it is no longer possible for the Syrian regime to remain in power in any form, given the deep hatred entrenched among millions of Syrians.