New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. (Screengrab)
Updated 15 January 2019

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

  • Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011
  • The seasoned Norwegian diplomat replaces previous UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura

DAMASCUS: The new special UN envoy to Syria began his first trip to Damascus on Tuesday, facing the daunting task of rekindling moribund peace talks and succeeding where his three predecessors failed.

Norway’s Geir Pedersen, who replaces Staffan de Mistura, is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

The seasoned diplomat, 63, was seen entering a Damascus hotel and is expected to hold talks with senior officials, although no official program for his visit was published.

Pedersen simply said on social media that he was “looking forward to productive meetings here.”

Officials in the government of Bashar Assad set the tone for the new envoy’s tenure shortly after news of his appointment in October last year.

“Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper.

Assad opponents have said the change in UN envoy would have little impact on the fate of the country as international will and consensus were lacking.

Pedersen has not yet spoken publicly about his mission and it remains unclear what his approach will be.

De Mistura, who announced in October he was resigning for “purely personal reasons,” ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push for the formation of a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution for Syria.

In December, he acknowledged that the committee would not be formed by year’s end as was hoped.

“I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry more was not possible,” said the Swedish-Italian diplomat.

A track of peace talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition delegations is clinically dead and observers argue Assad will see little need to revive it.

Three years into the conflict that erupted when the government repressed anti-regime demonstrations, Assad was clinging to barely a third of Syrian territory and his days at the helm looked numbered.

Assad, who has been in power for more than 18 years, has now reclaimed much of the territory he lost at the beginning of the war, largely thanks to the military backing of veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member Russia.

Non-jihadist opposition groups across Syria have little or no clout on the ground and negligible bargaining power in negotiations with Damascus.

De Mistura had been appointed in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following two years in the position.

Brahimi stepped in after late UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role, which he described as “mission impossible.”

Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians.


Fatah and Hamas blame each other for reconciliation failure

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Updated 18 February 2020

Fatah and Hamas blame each other for reconciliation failure

  • Sources said Fatah wanted to exclude three factions — the Liberation Movement, the Mujahideen Movement and the Popular Resistance Committees — whereas Hamas wanted them to participate because of their loyalty

GAZA CITY: Fatah and Hamas have blamed each other for their lack of reconciliation following the release of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
The Trump peace plan, supported by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that excludes Jewish settlements built in occupied territory and is under near-total Israeli security control. It also proposes US recognition of Israeli settlements on occupied West Bank land and of Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital, along with Israeli annexation of the Jordan valley.
It has been trashed by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on all factions to unite and develop a common strategy to counter the peace deal and there were hopes he would send a PLO team to Gaza to reconcile with his political rivals at Hamas, ending 13 years of internal division. But the meeting has yet to materialize, with each side accusing the other of obstruction and exclusion.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip by force from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in 2007, with the takeover leaving Palestinians divided between two governments. Hamas controls Gaza and the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority governs autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The two sides remain bitter enemies.
The PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is executive committee secretary, said the organization’s factions were ready to go to the Gaza Strip. “It is Hamas that is delaying the visit, by refusing to invite the factions to hold a meeting that includes all the factions in Gaza,” he told Arab News. “We do not see any reason for Hamas to delay issuing invitations to the Palestinian factions to respond to what was agreed upon in holding a factional meeting in Gaza, until a reconciliation agreement is reached and ending
the division.”
Azzam Al-Ahmad, a member of the Fatah central committee, said the group was not waiting for the approval of any party to go. It was waiting for an official date from Hamas in order to hold the factional meeting in Gaza.
In 2017 Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing.

The deal was brokered by Egypt and helped bridge the gulf between the two Palestinian parties — the Western-backed Fatah and Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist organization by several countries including the US.

HIGHLIGHT

Mahmoud Abbas called on all factions to unite and develop a common strategy to counter the peace deal and there were hopes he would send a PLO team to Gaza to reconcile with his political rivals at Hamas, ending 13 years of internal division. But the meeting has yet to materialize.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said there was no need for hiding or “evasion” as the group’s stance was clear about representation and delegations. “It (Hamas) has repeatedly welcomed the visit of the delegation to achieve reconciliation, the brothers in Islamic Jihad and the popular and democratic fronts approved that,” he told Arab News. Fatah, he said, opposed the inclusion of “resistance forces.”
“The problem lies in the political thought of Abbas and his team, who do not believe in real partnership on the ground, and they like to exclude the resistance factions that have presented hundreds of martyrs,” he added.
Sources said Fatah wanted to exclude three factions — the Liberation Movement, the Mujahideen Movement and the Popular Resistance Committees — whereas Hamas wanted them to participate because of their loyalty.
A Fatah delegation visited Gaza last week without meeting Hamas. Radwan said there was no meeting because the delegation insisted on holding a “bilateral meeting” with Hamas only.
“We welcomed the arrival of the delegation of the Palestinian Authority in the hope that it would be a prelude to a meeting at the level of general secretaries or a scheduled national meeting, but unfortunately Fatah started with obstacles, the first of which was the refusal of the national and factional presence at this meeting,” he said.
Ibrahim Abrash, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said there was no reconciliation agreement in sight. “What happened after the announcement of the deal of the century is an emotional state without real intentions on both sides of the division,” he told Arab News. Mutual accusations and the justifications for the visit’s failure were “trivial,” he added.