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Lebanon needs a Cabinet, regardless of Geneva II

Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, right, receives U.S. ambassador to Lebanon David Hale in Beirut, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

Information made available through official circles in the Geneva II conference is not at all encouraging. The delegations for the Syrian government and the opposition are both clinging on to their conditions and are further locked in an ongoing dispute over the interpretation of one of the items in the Geneva I statement on forming a transitional government. Consequently, this failure to reach a compromise has made it imperative the Lebanese government be ready for what is to come in the next few months: The violence in the region will reach the heart of the country through suicide operations targeting areas where Hezbollah enjoys broad support.

A source familiar with the issue of the Cabinet formation said U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale had met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris a few days ago. He then visited head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.

According to the source, Hale used his meetings to tell politicians that they needed to “fortify their internal positions through a consensual government that does not exclude anyone, for this is a dangerous phase and it demands painful conciliations from all powers.”

Hale is currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia to meet with officials there who are following up on the Lebanese file. He is expected to bring back the results of their positions relating to the Cabinet formation, the source said.

The source said there was a more positive attitude in Lebanon concerning the formation of a government, adding that he believed the closest scenario was a government being formed this week without the support of all parties, which will likely prompt ministers loyal to FPM to withdraw.

The spotlight will then shift to Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s position on a government without two Christian components – the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement. In a sermon over the weekend Rai called for the formation of a capable government, without further elaborating.

The source also confirmed, based on what he had heard from diplomats, that no matter the result of the Geneva II conference, protecting Lebanon by maintaining its stability remains a priority for the international community.

But the source added that despite repeated international calls for the formation of a government, there were internal factions that could intervene to disrupt it, and called for more dialogue between those involved and parliamentary blocs to reach positive results.

Other sources familiar with the issue said political efforts were moving toward the creation of a balanced and fair government that would work along the path of regional and international consensus and would hopefully reflect positively on Lebanon, especially in light of the deteriorating security situation.

Sources close to the president and to Salam said both political leaders had been called upon to use regional tension as a prompt to solve their internal affairs through the quick formation of an inclusive government.

The Cabinet’s first task would be to address negative fallout from the Syrian crisis, particularly since none of the Lebanese parties appear able to control outbursts of sectarian strife among their followers.

According to one of the sources, “the formation of a government today is considered a test of the ability of the country’s officials and its leaders to affirm the principle of Lebanon’s independence from the affairs and the concerns of other countries. They must take advantage of the continuous international protection offered to Lebanon, shown through foreign stances and statements released by the Security Council, the last of which was a statement by Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, who commended the role of Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and the policy of disassociation.”

The source also said the latest burst of Cabinet deliberations had shown that success did not depend on Geneva II, but rather on the narrow interests of some local politicians.

And despite talk of a comprehensive settlement which will include an agreement on presidential elections, the electoral law and parliamentary elections, the source said, the equally important issue of public sector appointments is being forgotten despite the alarming vacancies in state departments and institutions.

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

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Summary

A source familiar with the issue of the Cabinet formation said U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale had met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris a few days ago.

The source said there was a more positive attitude in Lebanon concerning the formation of a government, adding that he believed the closest scenario was a government being formed this week without the support of all parties, which will likely prompt ministers loyal to FPM to withdraw.

Other sources familiar with the issue said political efforts were moving toward the creation of a balanced and fair government that would work along the path of regional and international consensus and would hopefully reflect positively on Lebanon, especially in light of the deteriorating security situation.

Sources close to the president and to Salam said both political leaders had been called upon to use regional tension as a prompt to solve their internal affairs through the quick formation of an inclusive government.


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