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Lebanon News

Global, internal crises blocking policy statement

File - President Michel Sleiman, left, meets with Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad in Baabda, Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

Hezbollah’s unprecedented criticism of President Michel Sleiman after he spoke out against the “Army, people, resistance” formula has precipitated a new stage in internal relations, in which demands are escalating fast.

On the eve of the eighth round of talks aimed at drafting a ministerial statement, Hezbollah sought assurances from those involved on the legitimacy of two points: its weapons and its involvement in the Syrian conflict fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Sources at Baabda Palace refused to comment on Hezbollah’s statement, citing the need to respect the plurality of opinions and the rules of democracy.

However, a high-ranking source close to the presidency told The Daily Star, “The entire issue revolves around one point, the Baabda Declaration, and Hezbollah is challenging its international legitimacy by refusing it. It is flouting the interests of the Lebanese, and placing the successive conferences to support Lebanon in the danger of not taking place for the simple reason that the principles of the declaration have become a necessary condition for the provision of a safe and stable environment that allows for securing aid for Lebanese authorities.”

But those familiar with the vagaries of the Lebanese political scene know that this sudden escalation right after the “quick” formation of a Cabinet is aimed at preparing for the next round of internal conflict: the presidential elections.

Even before Sleiman’s comments, information from multiple parties revealed the ministerial policy statement debate had about a month to produce a consensus before the current Cabinet is turned into a caretaker one to run the country’s affairs until the results of the Syrian conflict become clearer.

Political sources revealed that a number of regional and international developments had also contributed to local tensions, the most prominent of which was the failure of the Geneva II talks and its negative repercussions on Syria.

Sources also pointed to the effect of the crisis in Ukraine, including Russia’s intervention and Western warnings to Moscow about the consequences.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is likely to take advantage of his participation in the International Support Group for Lebanon next Wednesday to meet with his American counterpart John Kerry and discuss the consequences of the Ukrainian conflict with him.

On a domestic and regional level, the Israeli air raid on the Syrian-Lebanese border targeting a Hezbollah post and a weapons convoy has also contributed to the stalled negotiations of the ministerial statement. This development was complicated by the tough stance taken by the head of Iran’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee Alaeddine Boroujerdi, which saw him confirm his country’s support for the resistance’s actions in both Lebanon and Syria. To make matters worse, the Israeli raid was followed by a Syrian airstrike on the outskirts of Arsal and Syrian rebels firing rockets at Brital.

All of these factors have shifted priorities and escalated the internal situation, prompting the most recent incident, which saw the March 8 bloc use the president’s statement on national constants at the Holy Spirit University to justify its political escalation and obstruct the drafting of the policy statement.

It seems the Lebanese political scene has reverted to being a mailbox for fiery messages.

United States Ambassador David Hale, however, is continuing to encourage the resolution of the ministerial statement issue, especially given that this government won’t have enough time to implement any of its clauses. Sources also suggest that the U.S. supports a solution that would see the statement gutted of any controversial points and limited to general goals.

This was proposed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and backed by Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi. Health Minister Wael Abu Faour is working on this, under the mandate of Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblatt.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 03, 2014, on page 3.

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