BEIRUT: Rival ministers tasked with drafting a policy statement plan to hold further talks next week in an attempt to reach a unified formula on the new Cabinet’s political blueprint after failing during Friday’s meeting to make a breakthrough on the thorny issue of the resistance.
During the meeting of a seven-member ministerial committee assigned to draw up a policy statement, ministers from the March 8 and March 14 parties presented conflicting proposals on how to approach the issue of the resistance.
Friday’s was the third meeting by the committee, which includes ministers from the March 8 and March 14 camps and centrists, since Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced a 24-member Cabinet of “national interest” last week. The meeting was chaired by Salam at the Grand Serail.
A terse statement issued after the meeting that lasted two and a half hours said the committee would meet again at 5 p.m. Monday to continue discussions on the policy statement.
March 14 Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb presented a formula that proposes placing the resistance, or the use of Hezbollah’s arms against Israel, under state control or under supervision of its authority.
This proposal, a long-standing demand by the March 14 coalition, has been rejected by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, who uphold the tripartite formula of “the Army, the people and the resistance” as the best means to confront Israeli threats against Lebanon.
“What matters is that an agreement should not constitute a slap to any party or contradict its principles,” Harb said.
“We hope to reach an agreement among the proposed formulas on a unified formula,” he added.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc presented a proposal that calls for using all the means to face threats from the Israeli enemy.
Committee member Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish, who represents Hezbollah in the Cabinet, did not present his party’s proposal on the resistance issue.
But in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station Friday night, Fneish reiterated the party’s commitment to the resistance option.
“The resistance [clause] cannot be eliminated from the policy statement. The resistance issue should not be a topic of political bickering,” he said.
Fneish pointed out that since the 1989 Taif Accord, which stressed Lebanon’s right to use all means to liberate its territory, all previous governments had confirmed this right.
“Therefore, we cannot accept that the right of the resistance be dropped in this Cabinet’s policy statement,” Fneish said.
Minister of Agriculture Akram Chehayeb from MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party said points of agreement were much more than those of discord. Chehayeb stood in for Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who was out of Lebanon.
Committee member Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, who represents the Kataeb Party in the Cabinet, said the discussions centered on the responsibility of the state in defending Lebanon and its right to liberate its territory within a framework that affirms the state’s task in this respect.
In addition to Harb and Khalil’s proposals, the committee also discussed a draft statement presented by Salam at the first meeting.
Salam proposed a draft statement stipulating that the Cabinet’s task would be to address the deteriorating security and socioeconomic situation, combat terrorism and prepare for holding a presidential election this spring.
According to the proposal, disputed issues would be discussed during National Dialogue sessions.
“So far, proposals under discussion have not been merged. We hope to reach a common ground next Monday, but without any party scoring a victory against another,” Azzi told reporters after the meeting.
Ministerial sources said Monday’s session could be decisive in reaching agreement on the policy statement.
Contacts to be held by the rival factions, including Berri, will lead to an acceptable formula that reconciles the resistance and the state authority, a ministerial source said.
The March 14 coalition has insisted the policy statement include the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria.
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat said the Baabda Declaration and the National Charter issued by the Maronite Church in Bkirki should be the basis of the Cabinet’s policy statement.
“It’s even better if it [the policy statement] is based on the Bkirki charter,” Fatfat said after meeting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab.
Among other things, the Bkirki National Charter stresses that defending Lebanon should be the sole responsibility of the Lebanese state.