November 23, 2006 Edition 43 Volume 4

Restoring the state

  Nizar Abdel-Kader

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was perceived as an opportunity for progress in the immediate and mid-term future. It opened the way for the Siniora government to demonstrate its capacity to take the steps needed to regain sovereignty over South Lebanon, consolidate national security and achieve economic recovery and repair of all the damages caused by the war. The government quickly implemented the security provisions of 1701 south of the Litani River and along the Syrian border, opening the way for the UNIFIL deployment in the South. When Hizballah conceded the area for this deployment, many observers believed that Lebanon's domestic problems were on the way to be resolved.

Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah's declaration of a "divine victory" was the first indication of the collapse of the consensus among the Lebanese parties to accept 1701and the deployment of the army in the South. That speech offered clear signs that containing Hizballah would not be an easy task. Gradually it emerged that Hizballah was shifting the focus of its agenda from the military to the political dimension by trying to discredit the government and accusing Siniora of plotting with the US and France to disarm the "resistance". This shift clearly serves the Iranian-Syrian agenda in Lebanon.

The National Dialogue Conference held before the war achieved significant progress on issues relating to Shebaa farms, relations with Syria and the establishment of an international court regarding the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. But it failed to deal with Hizballah's arms and the election of a new president. After the war, Hizballah, allied with General Michel Aoun, moved from that agenda to a new one calling for the establishment of a "national unity government" in which both would have veto power over Cabinet decisions.

Hizballah's new agenda is driving the country toward a severe political crisis, especially with its threat to bring its supporters to the streets to bring down the Siniora government. This leads many observers to believe there is a hidden agenda in which Iran and Syria are the key forces.

While the government was seeking help and support from the Arab states and the international community, Hizballah and its allies were preparing the ground to overthrow the government. The sudden resignation of the Shi'ite ministers from the government was clearly caused by Siniora's call for the Cabinet to approve the special protocol for the establishment of an international court to look into Hariri's assassination. It is believed that Hizballah's move was prompted by Syria, which opposes the international court.

Nor is Iran, having supported Hizballah for many years with weapons and money, going to abstain from the game. The Iranian leadership hastened after the war to provide Hizballah with substantial financial aid to compensate for damages. Hizballah remains one of Iran's strategic assets in Lebanon--in the words of Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, "the main battleground to defeat America and the Zionist state".

Nasrallah clearly explained in his recent speech on November 19 his intention to bring down the Siniora government unless the majority agrees to the "national unity" government formula. He stated, "we will call for early elections and we will take all necessary steps to force the government to resign and form a temporary or interim government to supervise the elections." There is no doubt that this plan is now underway; there is no indication of any possibility of renewing the dialogue. The government has so far resisted, arguing that Hizballah is trying to conduct a coup d'etat and asserting that it is ready to counter Hizballah's moves on the street.

The assassination of Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel on November 21 added fuel to the fire. It is a political crime meant to derail the government and accentuate the divisions among the Christian factions while increasing tensions between the Shi'ite and the Sunni communities. Now uncertainties are greater than ever before; this tragic crime could engender political turmoil that in turn could lead to civil strife.

Is there a way out of the present crisis?

Both the government and the opposition must reassess the situation on a more realistic, political basis. There is now a great need for both to review their agendas, concentrating solely on reaching a common ground regarding power-sharing and rebuilding lost confidence.

Both parties need to reach a more solid consensus than the one reflected in UNSC Resolution 1701--covering interpretation of 1701's core demands and their implementation, including how to deal with Hizballah's weapons in the future. As for Hizballah, it must decide whether it actually wishes to integrate into the Lebanese state, free of Iranian and/or Syrian influence.

The key international players must follow through on their pledges, not only to beef up UNIFIL forces and provide military and financial assistance to the Lebanese government, but also to use carrots and sticks to convince Iran and Syria to stop those actions that are destabilizing Lebanon and derailing its evolving democracy. Also, it should be made clear to Israel not to play into the hands of Hizballah by continuing its violations and delaying resolution of the Shebaa farms issue.

Resolution 1701 stresses "the importance of, and the need to achieve, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East". Accordingly, the United States government should make all necessary efforts to re-launch Arab-Israel peace talks. Such a move would not only untie the knot of regional conflicts but also alleviate the growing tension and risk of state breakdown in Lebanon.- Published 23/11/2006

Nizar Abdel-Kader is a researcher and a political analyst and columnist at Ad-Diyar newspaper in Beirut.

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Also in this edition:

Uncertainty again clouds Lebanese politics
     Oussama Safa
Turbulence in Lebanon
     Nicholas Blanford
The pariah who came in from the cold
     Rime Allaf
Restoring the state
     Nizar Abdel-Kader