BEIRUT: A ministerial committee tasked with drafting the Cabinet’s policy statement is unable to resolve the row over the resistance issue, a committee member acknowledged Tuesday, casting doubts over the panel’s mandate.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said the right to resistance against Israeli occupation was nonnegotiable.
Separately, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale said the presidential vote should be held on time in order to avoid a vacuum in the country’s top post.
“I think in terms of presidency, obviously this is an important year. This is an opportunity for the Lebanese people to select a Lebanese leader. I think the international community has a responsibility to help make sure that opportunity is taken advantage of,” Hale said in an interview with LBCI TV.
He warned that a vacancy in the presidency would pose “a difficult and challenging time” for Lebanon.
“We all support the idea of stability and freedom. So we want to make sure that a vacancy is avoided,” Hale said. “But ultimately the responsibility lies on the shoulders of Lebanon’s leaders in order to avoid that.”
Asked whether the U.S. has a preferred presidential candidate, Hale said: “We are focused on helping the Lebanese ensure that their constitutional processes are respected and the elections are held on time.”
Abu Faour acknowledged the committee’s failure to narrow differences over the resistance issue.
“The policy statement committee is unable to find a solution to this [resistance] problem, especially since the [National Dialogue] table had been unable to do so,” Abu Faour said in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station.
“The principle of resistance is nonnegotiable but the mechanism [for resistance] is up for discussion. The role of the state should be preserved but without disavowing the resistance’s role,” he added.
Underlining the difficulties facing the seven-member ministerial committee in its attempts to agree on a Cabinet policy statement, Abu Faour said: “We are stuck in a stage of a political struggle that will end with some formula.”
Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc spoke a day after the committee failed to make any breakthrough over the thorny issue of the resistance and put off its talks for three days due to some ministers’ travel plans.
Since Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced a 24-member Cabinet on Feb. 15, the committee, which includes ministers from the March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists, has held eight sessions but has been unable to settle the dispute over the resistance. It will meet again at 3 p.m. Friday.
The rival factions remained at odds over whether a clause legitimizing Hezbollah’s armed resistance against Israel should be mentioned in the policy statement.
March 14 ministers demand that the issue of the resistance be placed under state authority, thus denying Hezbollah the right to use its arms at will against any Israeli attack as has happened in the past. However, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies reject this demand.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah have vowed not to budge on the need for the resistance clause to be included in the Cabinet’s policy statement.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said in a statement that the right to resistance against Israel should be at the crux of the Cabinet’s policy statement.
“The resistance is no longer a proposal for discussion or an idea for testing. It is fixed and firm like Lebanon. It is taken for granted that the right of the resistance be at the core of the policy statement,” Qassem added.
“The resistance is a reality and a destiny. It was the first supporter of the rise of the state and its strength in facing challenges. There is no point in playing smart, looking for ways to discard this strategic principle,” he added.
Qassem said Israel and takfiri groups posed a danger to Lebanon and that political stability was needed to address the two challenges.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun warned of attempts to topple the Cabinet as a result of continued differences over the policy statement.
“A dispute over a word [in the policy statement] will not change the meaning and reality ... But there are some who risk toppling the Cabinet,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his Rabieh residence.
“There are many risks for the collapse of the Cabinet. This might affect the presidential election, thus leading to a dispute over [the election of] a new president,” he said.
Aoun and three ministers and a number of lawmakers of his bloc were hosted at a dinner Monday by the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi at the Iranian Embassy building.
Talks centered on relations between the two countries and developments in Lebanon and the region, particularly the situation in Syria, according to a statement released by the Embassy.
Separately, Berri Tuesday postponed once again a Parliament session due to a repeated boycott by lawmakers from both the March 8 and March 14 coalitions.
The session, the tenth to be postponed in eight months, was adjourned due to a lack of quorum.
A date for a new session has yet to be set.