It has become a truism of conflict resolution to say that peace cannot be forced on a country and negotiations only work when the time is ripe. Is that moment approaching in Syria? A poll of Syrians by The Day After, an Istanbul-based research organisation, shows that a small majority now favour a negotiated settlement with the government. Of the 2,600 people polled inside and outside Syria, 54.7 per cent want to see talks that lead to a settlement. That is still low compared with some countries in conflict. A recent poll in Afghanistan showed that 71 per cent of respondents want a negotiated settlement with the Taliban even though only 4 per cent said they would prefer the return of the Taliban to power rather than the current government.
The TDA Survey, which can be found on their web site here, illustrates some of the deep divisions in Syria. Poorer respondents and younger respondents mostly reject any accommodation with the Damascus regime. They are the people who have benefited least from its policies and often faced the worst brutality at its hands. Secular Syrians also heavily favor negotiations while those who regard themselves as Islamist deeply oppose any talks. Sunnis were almost evenly split on talks whereas three-quarters of Alawites were in favor.
In Aleppo 55 percent of respondents in both regime and rebel held areas support talks. Most people had heard of the plan of UN Special Envoy Stefan de Mistura but few among the opposition favored a ceasefire specifically in Aleppo because they believed it would only benefit the government. A majority felt it would either only see gains for Damascus or it would not provide a solution to the city’s conflict. Those in opposition-held areas were most opposed.
Most Syrians believe that there is a lack of international interest in finding a solution and that is the main reason why talks have failed. And yet a majority also supports a strong international involvement in any peace process. On a more surprising and optimistic note, a third of respondents believe a peace agreement can be reached within a year and another third within five years. We can only hope.