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Policy statement panel close to compromise over resistance

Prime Minister Tammam Salam smiles upon his arrival at his home in Beirut, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A seven-member ministerial committee is close to reaching a deal over the divisive issue of the resistance in the new Cabinet’s policy statement, officials said Sunday.

The committee, which includes ministers from the March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists tasked with drafting a policy statement, is slated to hold its fourth session Monday under Prime Minister Tammam Salam amid signs that the meeting might be the last.

“Tomorrow [Monday’s] session could be decisive with regard to reaching an understanding on a formula acceptable to all political parties that will not give up the right of the Lebanese in the resistance against Israel,” committee member Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said in a statement. Khalil belongs to Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc.

A source close to Salam concurred that the committee was working to reach a compromise on the thorny issue of the resistance, or the use of Hezbollah’s arms against Israel.

“The atmosphere [among committee members] is positive. The committee’s meeting tomorrow [Monday] could be decisive and final,” the source told The Daily Star.

“Committee members are working on a compromise formula that stresses the right of the Lebanese to resist the Israeli occupation by all available legitimate means,” the source said.

Committee member Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish, who represents Hezbollah in the Cabinet, said his party was adamant on adopting the resistance option in the policy statement. “We insist on consecrating our right to the resistance to liberate Lebanese territory and confront the Israeli dangers,” Fneish told The Daily Star.

“It is not possible to relinquish the right of the resistance which had liberated Lebanese territory,” he said, referring to Hezbollah’s guerrilla war that led to Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation of a border strip in the area.

Asked if he had presented a proposal on the resistance issue during the committee’s deliberations, Fneish said: “We already have a formula that has been adopted by previous governments. Anyone who wants to amend it can do so.”

He was referring to the controversial tripartite formula of the “Army, the people and the Resistance” that has been mentioned in the policy statements of previous governments. The clause effectively legitimizes Hezbollah’s arms.

The March 14 coalition has strongly rejected this formula and insisted that the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria, be adopted in the policy statement.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri reiterated his opposition to the “Army, the people and the Resistance” formula, saying that the Baabda Declaration should be adopted instead in the Cabinet’s policy statement.

He also voiced optimism that Salam’s Cabinet would be granted Parliament’s vote of confidence once differences over the policy statement have been ironed out.

“In my opinion, this Cabinet will win [Parliament’s] confidence. They will find the required wording for the [policy] statement. In Lebanon, there are always people who find solutions in a smooth manner,” Hariri said in an interview with the Egyptian TV channel CBC in Cairo.

March 14 Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said the committee’s deliberations were seeking to abolish the the “Army, the people and the Resistance” formula in the policy statement.

Harb, who has presented a formula that calls for placing the resistance under state control or under supervision of its authority, said his proposal was based on the predominance of the state and the Constitution.

“We cannot tell the Lebanese that they have a future but we do not have a state,” Harb told MTV Sunday night.

Earlier, Harb, speaking to supporters at his residence in Tannourine, renewed his rejection of the tripartite formula.

“We have participated in the Cabinet on the basis of specific principles and a specific stance, especially since one of those principles is to reject a reinstatement of the tripartite formula of ‘The Army, the people and the Resistance.’ We have linked our continued participation in the Cabinet to this issue,” Harb said. “We cannot reinstate this formula again.”

A committee member said he expected the panel to eventually recommend the adoption of policy statements of previous governments as well as the decisions of the National Dialogue Committee, including the Baabda Declaration.

Once the policy statement has been drafted, the Cabinet can go to Parliament to seek a vote of confidence.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 24, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

A seven-member ministerial committee is close to reaching a deal over the divisive issue of the resistance in the new Cabinet's policy statement, officials said Sunday.

Committee member Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish, who represents Hezbollah in the Cabinet, said his party was adamant on adopting the resistance option in the policy statement.

The March 14 coalition has strongly rejected this formula and insisted that the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria, be adopted in the policy statement.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri reiterated his opposition to the "Army, the people and the Resistance" formula, saying that the Baabda Declaration should be adopted instead in the Cabinet's policy statement.

He also voiced optimism that Salam's Cabinet would be granted Parliament's vote of confidence once differences over the policy statement have been ironed out.

March 14 Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said the committee's deliberations were seeking to abolish the the "Army, the people and the Resistance" formula in the policy statement.


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