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On Monday February 29th, Arab Center Washington DC hosted a panel discussion on the Syrian peace talks titled “Syria Peace Talks Resume in Geneva amid More Concerns & Uncertainties.” As the fifth anniversary of the Syrian uprising approaches, three prominent panelists discussed the regional and international ramifications of the UN-led talks and their implications for a potential future resolution. In light of the recently adopted UN Security Council agreement 2268 on the cessation of hostilities, and the larger UN Security Council agreement 2254 endorsing a road map for a peace process and setting a timetable for talks, the discussion focused on the roles of the US and Russia.

Dr. Joseph Bahout, Visiting Scholar in the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, kicked off the discussion with a macro political perspective, noting that the recent agreement has for the first time “clearly and without ambiguity” transformed the Syrian crisis from the international format into a bilateral format between the US and Russia. In this US-Russian duopoly, Bahout warned, “we have America subcontracting the Syrian crisis to Russia” where the diplomatic process is determined according to Russian terms leading to the consolidation of the fragmentation of Syria. Even Turkey and Saudi Arabia are moving towards finding common grounds with Russia. Internal US politics certainly play into this development; in its last months the Obama administration is either satisfied with its overall legacy in the Middle East and will not engage in Syria, or Obama is seeking a last minute success which is only possible in cooperation with Russia. The end result in either case is Russian control over creating the lasting outcome on the ground.

Mohammed Ghanem, Director of Government Relations & Strategist at Syrian American Council, focused on the US position in the last months of the Obama administration. Ghanem explained that the US focus on ceasefire or “violence reduction measures” leaves the US with no leverage to shape the situation in Syria. With the US overestimating the extent to which Russia will engage in a diplomatic process, “the Russians are good at paying lip service to the talks” while pursuing military measures on the ground. “The ceasefire has loopholes big enough to get Russian military jets through them” Ghanem said. From the perspective of the Syrian opposition, according to Ghanem, what is needed is a serious commitment from the US to counter the Russian military intervention in Syria, stand by the moderate opposition, and establish safe zones to protect civilians from regime and Russian attacks, “then and only then will a diplomatic solution hold.”

Dr. Radwan Ziadeh, Senior Middle East Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC, emphasized the importance of the 2011 Geneva communiqué that was considered by the opposition as the best resolution because of its focus on human rights, however in June 2012 the Security Council refused to include it as a resolution. Ziadeh was pessimistic about the talks as de Mistura’s conception of a resolution through a top-down approach, due to regional and international involvement, is unlikely to work. In addition, breaches and violations of the agreements by Russia and the Assad regime are myriad. Most importantly, the Assad regime refuses to call this process “negotiations” referring to it as mere talks, which is problematic according to Ziadeh because talks don’t lead to outcomes. Overall, in Ziadeh’s assessment, “the resumption of the negotiations is very difficult as the gap between the different groups is huge, and there is little interest internationally to protect Syrians and make the transition happen.”

The panelists disputed the common dichotomous perception in Washington that a resolution involves either invading Syria or doing nothing. Bahout pointed to several diplomatic leverages not yet utilized, such as demanding that Moscow comply with its signature on the Geneva platform. Ziadeh proposed humanitarian air drops by the US (which Russia has been doing for a year, though only to regime supporters) and the recognition of the Syrian opposition. Ghanem added that establishing safe zones is another option, noting that the problem with regard to US policy is “not a lack of options, but a lack of political will.”

Ziadeh warned that the international abandonment of the Syrian suffering gives a legitimate argument for ISIS recruitment. Ghanem concluded that US policy with regard to Syria has failed for several years; unless the US changes its policy, we will see continued extremism, continued violence, and continued suffering by the opposition and civilians due to Russian and regime attacks.

For additional information, please contact:
Ms. Priscilla Philippi, Director of Communications
pphilippi@arabcenterdc.org |  +1-202-820-7770

Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) is a nonpartisan, non-profit 501 (c)(3) research organization founded in 2014 in Washington, DC. Its research activities focus on the Arab World and US foreign policy in the Middle East.

 

Press Advisory

Doha and Washington DC – The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies 2015 Arab Opinion Index (AOI) was based on 18,311 face-to-face interviews conducted in 12different Arab countries including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine,Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Together, they represent 90% of the population of the Arab League. Each of the country-specific samples were conducted using a randomized,self-weighted, multi-stage cluster method, providing margins of error of between 2% and 3%.

The Arab Opinion Index, is the largest public opinion poll of its kind in the Arab region. The latest survey, conducted between May and September 2015, affords scholars and policy makers the opportunity to understand how the Arab citizenry views the most pressing issues which face it today, including the growth of radical extremism and, in particular, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and potential solutions to the Syrian crisis. This year’s Arab Opinion Index marks the fourth consecutive year that The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has conducted its yearly survey of Arab public opinion, allowing comparisons between current results and those obtained in earlier AOI polls since its launch in 2011.

Responses to the 2015 questions show that the Arab world as a whole is overwhelmingly opposed to ISIL, with 89% of respondents offering that they have negative views of the group, compared to only 7% of Arabs who view the extremist organization positively. Equally, the results of the survey show no significant correlation between support for ISIL and religiosity: favorable views of ISIL are equally prevalent among respondents who are “very religious” and those who are “not religious”, and also equally prevalent amongst opponents and supporters of the separation of religion and state. In other words, support for radical extremist organizations in the Arab world, where it exists, is rooted in political grievances within the Arab region and its conflicts, and not in religious ideology.

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One of the over-arching political grievances in the Arab world over the past five years has been the continued suffering of the Syrian people. In fact, “sectarian tensions in Iraq and Syria” were cited by more than one fifth of respondents as a main factor which contributed to the rise of ISIL.

Results show that no consensus exists among the Arab people over the best measures by which to combat ISIL and armed terrorist groups in general. This reflects both the complexity of the issue and the sophisticated attitudes of the Arab public towards it. Respondents cited different measures as the most important in combatting ISIL, including: supporting democratic transition in the region (28%); resolving the Palestinian cause (18%); ending foreign intervention (14%); intensifying the military campaign against ISIL (14%); and solving the Syrian crisis in line with the aspirations of the Syrian people (12%) would effectively end the threat of terrorism.

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In line with previous polls within the Arab Opinion Index, this year’s results show that a majority (62%) of the Arab public views a change in the Syrian regime as the ideal means by which to end the Syrian crisis. In other words, and comparing these findings to previous opinion polls, the Arab public at large remains sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the Syrian revolution.

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To view the Arabic version of the Arab Opinion Index Click Here

To download a PDF of the Arab Opinion Index Results in Brief Press Advisory Click Here

For additional information, please contact:
media@arabcenterdc.org |  +1-202-820-7770

Press Advisory

Washington, DC – In an attempt to appease his critics in Washington and back in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu embarked on a three-day fence-mending visit to the US. Three crucial items were on his agenda: First and foremost, increase US military aid up to $50 billion for the next 10 years; second, get US political support for his government’s handling of the situation in Palestine, and; third, reconciliation with the Democrats in Congress.

On November 10, 2015, the Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) hosted a briefing for members of the Arab press to address the political implications of this trip. ACW’s Executive Director, Khalil Jahshan, and Yousef Munayyer, Middle East Analyst at the Center conducted the briefing.

Jahshan pointed out that “Netanyahu had high expectations for his meeting with President Obama, the first such encounter since the public political fallout between the two leaders over the Iran nuclear deal,” however, according to Jahshan, “Netanyahu’s attempts to placate the Obama Administration and its Democratic allies in Congress were overshadowed by several events which clearly demonstrate the continued tensions in US-Israel relations, namely: the controversy over the appointment of Ran Baratz as Israel’s head of public diplomacy; the Israeli government agency’s announcement of 2,200 new settlement houses in close proximity to Ramallah, and; the declaration of defeat by President Obama over the failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

According to Jahshan, “Netanyahu’s trip generated some verbal support for the military aid package he requested and mended some fences with the Democrats, however, the trip brought to the surface the reality of a significant loss of credibility for US policy in the Middle East and severely diminished the prospects for an Obama Middle East peace legacy.” According to Jahshan, Obama finally admitted that his peace process is dead, and therefore, US endorsement of “Netanyahu’s strategy of ‘anti-solutionism’…and blaming the Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation for increased violence is not a policy befitting a superpower that claims leadership of the free world.”

In his remarks, Munayyer focused on the impression created by Netanyahu over the past several months concerning the threat posed to Israel’s security by Iran. “The purpose of keeping the attention of the US Administration on this issue,” according to Munayyer, “was to divert its attention from the occupation and the ‘1 ½ state solution’, not the two-state solution, considering the actual state of Palestine as a viable entity. Netanyahu, he explained, created a perception of insecurity that would serve to support his proposed funding increase request as he prepared for his discussions with Obama on the 10-year US military aid package for Israel.

“Palestine is no longer the main cause of destabilization in the region and…the drivers of that are not necessarily directly connected to Palestine,” stated Munayyer. He further stressed “Palestine continues to fall down the priority list of US interested making it increasingly less likely that US presidents will seek, in any way, to challenge Israeli prime ministers on what they are doing on the ground in the Occupied Territories.” Munayyer concluded that the Palestinian leadership view Obama as “the last great hope” for a Palestinian State, however, as the liberal landscape continues to change, in the long-term, Israelis are going to have to work a lot harder in order to maintain a relationship with the future leadership of that constituency.

For additional information, please contact:
Ms. Priscilla Philippi, Director of Communications
pphilippi@arabcenterdc.org |  +1-202-820-7770

The Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) is a bipartisan, non-profit 501 (c)(3) research organization founded in 2014 in Washington, DC. Its research activities focus on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.