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Siniora dismisses initiatives to solve political crisis as ‘filibusters’

LF leader Samir Geagea, second left, receives the Liberation and Development bloc in Maarab, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. (The Daily Star/Aldo Ayoub, HO)

BEIRUT: The flurry of initiatives Lebanon has witnessed recently to break the monthslong political deadlock are a waste of time, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and analysts say.

“All these initiatives are filibusters,” Siniora, head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, told The Daily Star.

The political crisis, deepened by national divisions over the conflict in Syria and Hezbollah’s military intervention in the war-ravaged country, threatens to throw Lebanon into a power vacuum and ignite sectarian strife.

Analysts said Thursday none of these initiatives, including the latest one announced by Speaker Nabih Berri, seemed to stand any chance of being able to make a major breakthrough in the crisis, given the diametrically opposed stances of the March 8 and March 14 parties on how to address contentious issues, namely the six-month-long Cabinet stalemate.

Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese Army general, dismissed the latest proposals to resolve the crisis and resume all-party talks by President Michel Sleiman, Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt as “a waste of time,” saying they would lead nowhere.

“All these initiatives are a waste of time at a time when Lebanon is sliding toward the abyss and the entire region is in jeopardy,” Jaber told The Daily Star, referring to the wave of Arab Spring upheavals that has roiled across the Arab world, leading to turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and a civil war in Syria.

Jaber said the only solution to the crisis was for Sleiman to convene “a national salvation conference.”

“The president must call for a national conference aimed at rescuing the country and form a national salvation government comprising respectable political, military and scientific figures capable of taking decisions to save the country,” said Jaber, the director of the Beirut-based think tank, the Middle East Center for Political Studies and Research.

A similar view was echoed by Abdallah Bou Habib, Lebanon’s former ambassador to the United States, who praised the proposals made by Berri and others but said they would not solve the problem.

He said internally, Hezbollah and the Future Movement, the two rival Muslim heavyweights in Lebanon, must take positive gestures toward each other in order to break the deadlock.

“Unless there is a positive initiative from Hezbollah or the Future Movement, all other proposals are good but would not solve the problem,” Bou Habib told The Daily Star.

Externally, Bou Habib said a rapprochement between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran, currently backing opposing sides in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, would help promote a solution to the Lebanese crisis.

“Speaker Berri is correct. The solution [to the Lebanese crisis] has now moved from “S-S” [Saudi Arabia and Syria] to “S-I” [Saudi Arabia and Iran],” Bou Habib said.“Unless there is a change of policy either from one of them [Saudi Arabia and Iran], or both of them, the Lebanese crisis will drag on,” added Bou Habib, also the director of the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon, a Beirut-based think tank.

In an interview with Al-Shiraa magazine last month, Berri said the only viable option for a solution to the political crisis in Lebanon and the turmoil in the region is a Saudi-Iranian “understanding.”

Berri’s remarks came days before he proposed a five-day conclave of National Dialogue sessions attended by March 8 and March 14 leaders, in addition to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, to address divisive issues, including the makeup and policy statement of a new Cabinet, a national defense strategy, means to end Lebanese intervention in Syria and the new electoral law.

A delegation from Berri’s parliamentary bloc has met with leaders and officials from both sides of the political divide to brief them on the speaker’s initiative, which has won praise from Hezbollah and its March 8 allies and Jumblatt, but drew criticism and reservations from the rival camp.

Siniora expressed skepticism about Berri’s proposal being able to make inroads in the political crisis. “I don’t think the initiative will achieve a breakthrough in the political deadlock,” he told The Daily Star.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea was also skeptical, saying Berri’s initiative would lead nowhere. “The story is not that we reject Berri’s initiative, but it will lead nowhere in its present form,” Geagea told a news conference after meeting Berri’s delegates.

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.

The failure of rival Lebanese leaders to reach agreement to resolve the crisis has enhanced a long-standing conviction that without outside mediation, they are unable to strike a deal to maintain the country’s security and stability.

This was best manifested by the Doha Accord, a political deal signed by the March 8 and March 14 leaders in the Qatari capital in May 2008. It led to the election of former Army commander Michel Sleiman as a consensus president and the formation of a national unity government following days of street fighting between pro- and anti-government gunmen in Beirut and elsewhere which left more than 80 people dead.

Likewise, the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the 1975-90 Civil War, was brokered by Syria and other Arab countries and backed by Western countries.

For his part, Sleiman has been reiterating his call to distance Lebanon from the repercussions of the conflict in Syria and urging the rival parties to be committed to the “Baabda Declaration.” He also renewed his call for the resumption of National Dialogue and the formation of an all-embracing government to meet security challenges as a result of the Syria war.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has delayed announcing his own initiative to resolve the crisis until the outcome of other proposals, particularly those by Sleiman and Berri, is known, a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star.

Last year, Jumblatt announced the PSP’s initiative aimed at encouraging dialogue between the feuding parties and preserving civil peace amid fears of sectarian strife as a result of divisions over Syria.

However, Jumblatt’s initiative, like Sleiman’s repeated proposals for the resumption of National Dialogue and the formation of an all-embracing government, has fallen on deaf ears.

“The ongoing efforts to resolve the Lebanese crisis will not lead to decisive and positive results because of conflicting regional and international interests that are affecting the situation in Lebanon,” Shafik Masri, professor of international law at the Lebanese University, told The Daily Star. He predicted that the current unstable political and security situation in Lebanon would continue until 2014.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 20, 2013, on page 1.

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