BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the resistance are “two different entities,” Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya MP Imad al-Hout told The Daily Star Thursday, emphasizing that Hezbollah and all other militant groups in Lebanon should be disarmed.
In an interview that covered a number of pertinent political topics, from the Cabinet formation deadlock to the Syria crisis, Hout described the differences between his party and the other side as “immense.”
“Our dispute with the March 8 alliance is very deep and there is no framework in place to resolve our issues with these parties,” Hout said. “We totally disagree with the March 8 alliance, with respect to the arms issue and its use in domestic disputes, over the Cabinet formation, and the Syrian crisis.”
While he claimed the party “shares perspectives over certain issues” with the March 14 coalition, he insisted on Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya’s political independence. He said the sharp divisions between the March 14 and March 8 alliances were extremely dangerous.
“We don’t want to be part of it, that’s why we have never severed relations with March 8 and Hezbollah and our contacts are still standing,” he added. “We are not part of the organizational structure of the March 14 alliance.”
While acknowledging that there were differences between his party and Hezbollah, Hout repeatedly stressed that this did not imply they were enemies, and that disputes with the resistance party were purely political.
“I’m sorry to say that we differ with Hezbollah more than we agree on certain political issues, and this has weakened our relationship,” the lawmaker said. “But this doesn’t mean Hezbollah is an enemy, and it surely doesn’t sanction armed confrontation on the street.”
Hout added: “The dispute between us is not sectarian either, because our differences are political, not religious.”
The MP said he supported March 14’s call for Hezbollah to hand over its arsenal to the state, saying this should be applied to all armed groups in Lebanon.
“We don’t want to disarm the resistance but we surely want all the arms in Lebanon to be handed over to state authorities. Any use of arms in domestic disputes has nothing to do with the goals of the resistance,” Hout said, drawing a distinction between the principle of armed resistance against Israel and Hezbollah as a political party.
“I totally differentiate between Hezbollah and the resistance because in 1982, the resistance had nothing to do with Hezbollah and it was this resistance that drove the Zionists out of Beirut and Sidon,” he said. “Later on, Hezbollah became a major part of this resistance [but] Hezbollah and the resistance are two different entities.”
Hezbollah is a political party with massive military capabilities that contributed immensely to the eventual withdrawal of Israel, Hout said, but asked: “Is the resistance an exclusive right of Hezbollah or is it the right of all Lebanese?”
If the right belongs to all Lebanese, Hout said, “then the state should nurture this right,” by benefitting from all the forces, and their arms, which contributed to the success of the resistance, including Hezbollah, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya and the Lebanese Communist Party, “so there can be one resistance that all the Lebanese can support.”
As for the deadlock over the Cabinet formation, Hout said the March 8 alliance was to blame for delaying consensus by advancing irresoluble counter-conditions.
“The major problem that Salam is facing is the March 8 alliance, because it insists on maintaining its grip on the Cabinet with veto power, and with including the ‘Army, people and resistance’ formula in the Cabinet policy statement,” Hout said.
He said the alliance was using its military might to suppress other political parties.
Using its role as the resistance party as a pretense, “[March 8] is transgressing taboos and posing a security threat,” he said, adding that the Lebanese would suffer the consequences.
“In my opinion it is time to make decisions that are compatible with the Constitution, rather than wait to secure consensus if consensus is not possible,” the lawmaker said.
Though his party is not represented in the National Dialogue, Hout said Al-Jamaa supported Speaker Nabih Berri’s call to resume all-party talks to uphold stability in the country. In the event of a dialogue, Al-Jamaa would have to relay its point of view to the president.
Hout also said he stood strongly against extending the mandate of President Michel Sleiman, saying it would be unconstitutional.
“Today, six months before the presidential elections, I think it would be wrong to discuss the extension of the president’s mandate instead of initiating discussions to elect a new one,” he said.
However, Hout added, in exceptional circumstances the party would “consider” the option of extending Sleiman’s term.
Speaking of the Syrian refugee crisis, Hout said the party was adamant that the refugees should be organized within proper camps, arguing: “If you limit the Syrian refugees in one geographical region, they you would solve the problem of competition in the job sector between Syrians and Lebanese, as well as the problem of security.”
“We can still organize the refugees within camps,”he said, adding that it was up to the government to make the bold decision to establish official camps for refugees.
“This decision would help Lebanon immensely in facing security, social and economic challenges posed by Syrian refugees and encourage donor countries to follow through on their pledges,” he said.
In terms of security threats posed by the refugee presence, Hout said certain Christian parties interpreted their rising numbers as a demographic threat, “despite the fact that their displacement is temporary, so it won’t change the political balance in Lebanon.”
Conversely, Shiite parties, Hout said, saw the presence of Syrians as a potential military or security threat, “but again, what we think is that the Syrian refugees are highly unlikely to be part of the military equation in Lebanon.”