BEIRUT: The head of the parliamentary Future bloc accused Hezbollah Sunday of blocking the formation of a Cabinet, while the party hit back, blaming the March 14 coalition for the monthslong political deadlock with its “inapplicable” conditions.
Hopes for a new Cabinet to be formed before President Michel Sleiman leaves for New York on Sept. 23 to attend the U.N. General Assembly’s session as he had wished were dashed as the March 8 and March 14 camps continued to bicker over what government should be formed to face mounting security challenges and sectarian and political tensions fueled by the war in Syria.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future bloc, put the blame for the Cabinet crisis squarely on Hezbollah.
“ Hezbollah does not want a new Cabinet because it is happy where it is now,” Siniora told The Daily Star.
Siniora, who met Sleiman Saturday to discuss hurdles facing the formation of a new Cabinet, said the government issue had been put on the backburner until the president returns from New York later this month.
Siniora said Sleiman and premier-designate Tammam Salam revived last week Salam’s old proposal for a 24-member Cabinet equally shared by both parties and centrists without granting veto power to any party and with key portfolios rotated among major blocs. The centrists refer to Sleiman, Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt. The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance had previously rejected the three-eight formula.
“We reacted positively to the three-eight formula in order to facilitate the Cabinet formation, but the other side [March 8] rejected it,” Siniora said. “It is clear that Hezbollah and its allies are blocking the Cabinet formation by insisting on veto power.”
Another major hurdle hindering the Cabinet formation, Siniora said, was Hezbollah’s insistence that the tripartite equation of “the Army, the people and the resistance” remains the next Cabinet’s policy statement.
The March 14 coalition has staunchly rejected this formula and is pressing for the Baabda Declaration to be adopted instead as the next Cabinet’s policy statement. The coalition argues that the formula lost relevance when Hezbollah sent fighters to Syria to help President Bashar Assad’s forces against rebels seeking to topple the regime.
The Baabda Declaration, reached by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders during a National Dialogue session in June 2012, calls for “keeping Lebanon away from regional and international conflicts and sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises,” particularly in Syria.
The three-eight Cabinet formula was revived after March 14 parties had rejected Hezbollah’s participation in any government in response to its military intervention in Syria.
Siniora said that if the three-eight formula failed to materialize, the alternative should be a neutral government to cope with the worsening socioeconomic conditions.
“We demand a neutral, nonpartisan government whose members do not belong to any political party,” he said. “The formation of such a government should be coupled with the resumption of National Dialogue.”For his part, Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem accused the March 14 coalition of thwarting attempts to form a national unity Cabinet representing all the political parties by setting what he called “inapplicable” conditions.
Addressing the March 14 parties, Qassem said in a speech in Beirut’s southern suburbs: “Stop stalling with the conditions you are putting for the Cabinet [formation]. They say: ‘It’s forbidden for the Cabinet to include party members and it’s forbidden to have a blocking third [veto power].’ They are putting these conditions, while we have not put any condition.”
“We have called for the formation of a national unity Cabinet without any conditions or restrictions. But when you put conditions, this means that they are blocking [the Cabinet formation],” Qassem said.
“Frankly, the March 14 folks do not want a national unity Cabinet. They want a farm-like Cabinet directed by a regional state to follow up on developments in Syria and at the same time work to crack down on the Resistance and cripple the country in favor of the Israeli project,” he added.
Qassem said the March 14 terms were “inapplicable” and could not lead to the Cabinet formation.
He upheld what he called the “golden” tripartite equation of “the Army, the people and the Resistance” as the best means to defend Lebanon against Israeli threats.
Hezbollah’s caretaker State Minister for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish warned against attempts to do away with the tripartite formula in any Cabinet. “This formula has proved its usefulness and effectiveness in facing and deterring the Israeli aggression, liberated the land and defeated Israel in the  war,” Fneish said during a ceremony in the southern village of Toulin.
“Therefore, we cannot compromise it because that would be tantamount to compromising Lebanon’s immunity and strength and would serve the Zionist project and its expansionist and aggressive intentions,” he added.
Fneish reiterated his party’s demand for an “all-encompassing” government lineup with each party represented according to its parliamentary weight.
“[We should] seriously think about dropping conditions regarding the Cabinet formation and act with humility in order to help the prime minister-designate form a government capable of at least addressing the people’s needs,” he said.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai renewed his call for a quick formation of an all-embracing government capable of confronting challenges facing the country.
He spoke at a Mass during the inauguration in Bucharest of Saint Charbel Church, the first Maronite church in Eastern Europe.
“In the name of the Lebanese community and the Arab community in Romania, we ask officials and politicians in Lebanon to hurry up today before tomorrow and form a new all-embracing Cabinet capable of facing the current challenges,” Rai said, according to the state-run National News Agency.
Meanwhile, a delegation from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc will visit Siniora Monday to brief him on the speaker’s initiative to break the monthslong political impasse.
The delegation, comprising MPs Michel Musa, Yassin Jaber and Ali Bazzi, met last week with Sleiman, Salam and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for the same purpose.
However, Siniora expressed skepticism about Berri’s proposal being able to make a breakthrough in the political crisis. “I don’t think the initiative will achieve a breakthrough in the political deadlock,” he told The Daily Star.
Last month, Berri proposed a five-day conclave for dialogue between March 8 and March 14 leaders, in addition to Salam, to address divisive issues, including the makeup and policy statement of a new Cabinet and a national defense strategy.
Some Future and March 14 politicians have rejected Berri’s proposal, viewing it as an infringement on the prerogatives of the president and the prime minister-designate.