BEIRUT: Rival ministers failed Friday to narrow differences over the issue of the resistance, dashing hopes of the Cabinet winning a vote of confidence in Parliament ahead of next week’s international conference to support Lebanon’s stability.
The March 8 and March 14 ministers, part of a seven-member ministerial committee tasked with drafting a policy statement, remained poles apart on whether a clause legitimizing Hezbollah’s armed resistance against Israel should be mentioned in the document.
What was described as a “decisive” meeting to untangle the remaining knot over the issue ended in total failure after March 14 ministers rejected Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal demanding that the draft policy statement stress the right of the Lebanese to resist Israeli occupation by all legitimate means, political sources said. The proposal was submitted by Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri.
The issue of the resistance, or the use of Hezbollah’s arsenal to protect Lebanon against Israeli attack, is holding up the Cabinet’s draft policy statement after the rival ministers agreed on “a satisfactory formula” over the Baabda Declaration.
In addition to their support for the Baabda Declaration, March 14 ministers demand that the issue of the resistance be placed under state authority, thus denying Hezbollah the right to use its weapons at will against any Israeli attack, as has happened in the past.
However, this demand has been rejected by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.
Statements made by rival ministers after the committee’s two-hour meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail underlined the wide gap between the two sides over the resistance issue. Before the committee met, Salam discussed the dispute with MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament.
The committee, which has held seven sessions since Salam announced a 24-member Cabinet on Feb. 15, decided to meet again at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
“Matters are still complicated essentially over the resistance clause,” March 14 committee member Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb told The Daily Star.
Health Minister Wael Abou Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc said after the meeting: “The knot over the Baabda Declaration has been resolved by reaching a specific formula, but discussions are still ongoing over the resistance issue.”
Despite the dispute over the resistance, Abu Faour said the committee had not reached a dead end in its deliberations.
Committee member Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, who represents the Kataeb Party in the Cabinet, said the two sides were sticking to their conflicting stances.
“We did not reach a final solution. But we did not hit a dead end. We will continue our meeting next week,” he told reporters after the meeting. “We have agreed on some points but we are still facing snags over some points, including the resistance issue and other political concerns.”
“We want the committee to succeed and for the Cabinet to work after winning [Parliament’s vote] of confidence, especially as the president is heading to Paris,” Azzi said, adding: “There are two sides, and each is sticking to its stance. But this does not mean we are at a dead end.”
President Michel Sleiman voiced hope the Cabinet’s policy statement would be finalized and approved before the International Support Group for Lebanon’s meeting in Paris set for March 5.
The support group was inaugurated in New York in September, on the sidelines of the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly. It aims to mobilize support for Lebanon and its institutions as well as to help the country address the influx of Syrian refugees. The Paris conference is to be followed at the end of March by a conference in Rome to support the Lebanese Army with military aid.