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Cabinet searches for ways to unravel ‘resistance’ knot

From left, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk attend the ministerial committee meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Rival Cabinet parties will intensify contacts Thursday in a bid to resolve the remaining sticking point in the draft government policy statement – whether or not it should mention the resistance.

The ministerial committee tasked with drafting the statement will hold its seventh meeting Friday at 4 p.m. after a session Wednesday led to an agreement on the controversial Baabda Declaration.

“A satisfactory formula has been reached regarding the Baabda Declaration. It preserves the political stances and convictions of all parties,” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour told a news conference after the meeting at the Grand Serail.

He said some issues still required discussion by the committee, which is being chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

The March 14 coalition wants to use the Baabda Declaration instead of the clause stating that Lebanon has the right to liberate any of its territories occupied by Israel according to the “Army, people and resistance” formula mentioned in previous Cabinets’ policy statements. The phrase is viewed as essential by Hezbollah and its allies, as it legitimizes the party’s weapons arsenal.

The Baabda Declaration, agreed upon by rival parties during a National Dialogue session in June 2012, calls for Lebanon to be disassociated from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria. Hezbollah violated the agreement when it joined Syria’s war last year.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Hezbollah and Amal ministers said they accepted that the draft policy statement should recognize all decisions made during National Dialogue sessions, implicitly referring to the Baabda Declaration.

However, they insisted that instead of the tripartite formula, the policy statement stipulate that the Lebanese have the right to resist the enemy and liberate their occupied territories with all possible means.

“The Israeli airstrike is an additional indicator that it is necessary to mention the resistance in the policy statement,” said Mohammad Fneish, Hezbollah’s minister of state, before attending the session.

Fneish was referring to an Israeli airstrike that Monday targeted an area controlled by Hezbollah on the border with Syria.

The March 14 coalition wants the resistance to be under the authority of the state, something Hezbollah and its allies reject.

Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, from the Kataeb Party, said prior to the meeting that only the Lebanese Army should be allowed to respond to violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

Lawmakers who attended Speaker Nabih Berri’s weekly meeting with MPs quoted him as saying he was still optimistic that the draft policy statement would be finalized soon. Berri is the leader of the Amal Movement, one of Hezbollah’s key allies.

“We have been flexible in discussing the policy statement, and we are ready to continue as such until we reach a consensus formula,” Berri was quoted as saying.

The lawmakers said the speaker presented them with the minutes of four Arab summits and statements of Arab ministers meetings, all of which affirmed Lebanon’s right to “resist Israeli occupation and aggression with all legitimate means.”

Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman said he hoped the committee would be able to finalize the draft policy statement in light of the positive atmosphere that led to the formation of a new Cabinet.

In a statement, Sleiman highlighted the importance of overcoming conditions and counterconditions, particularly given that the Cabinet will be short-lived and can only achieve a limited number of things.

Salam’s government will resign once a new president is elected. The presidential election period begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiration of Sleiman’s term.

He added that the terrorism Lebanon was witnessing required all groups to prioritize the interests of Lebanon and its citizens.

Separately, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said it was still too early to back a presidential candidate.

Speaking to Future TV, Jumblatt said the election of the president required an agreement between Berri and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun has said that during talks with Hariri last month in Rome they did not agree on backing a specific candidate.

Speaking to NBN TV Wednesday evening, Aoun said he would run for the presidency if there was a will to build a state in Lebanon, arguing that a consensus president would be weak.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2014, on page 3.

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