How Syria Waited Out Its Crisis and Lost Its Pariah Status

After slaughtering nearly half a million of his own people, driving untold numbers from their homes, and leaving much of his country impoverished, Bashar al-Assad still faces pockets of resistance—but, more importantly to him, he has begun the process of mending bridges with Arab rulers who have shunned him for most of the past decade. Recently his regime has had diplomatic breakthroughs with Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. And the West seems to have acquiesced to letting him remain in power. Bente Scheller tries to explain:

The regime’s success has been in convincing international actors that it is interested only in ruling the country and that its violence is a necessary if heavy-handed way to preserve the state. If it can present itself as a rational actor willing to engage in strategic dialogue, it can wait out the tide of negative attention.

This of course only works because of the wishful thinking and will to believe of some international actors. They assume that Assad will engage constructively at some point without credible external pressure; that the choice is between Assad and instability, or Assad and Islamic State; and that political transition can occur only through Assad’s cooperation.

But none of this is the case. Scheller continues:

To be taken seriously on the regional level, the Assads have developed different tools. Hafez al-Assad, [Bashar’s father], for many years cultivated relationships with Palestinian nonstate actors, [along with others from] Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan, which he could activate to gain leverage in diplomacy. This continued with his son, Bashar. The transfer of jihadists to Iraq in 2003 and subsequent years, and the political assassinations in Lebanon from 2005 until today, are the best-documented examples.

Due to its wish to be accepted as a legitimate power crucial for regional stability, the regime paradoxically engages in destabilizing strategies—and it pays off. The strategy has worked in Lebanon, and even successive U.S. administrations have been willing to overlook the regime’s infiltration of jihadists into Iraq to target U.S. troops. Of Syria’s neighboring states, only Israel and, to a limited extent, Turkey have been able to defend themselves against these methods.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Middle East, Syria, Terrorism

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood