BEIRUT: Rival factions intensified efforts on the eve of a ministerial committee’s meeting Friday aimed at reaching a compromise over the thorny issue of the resistance, the remaining obstacle delaying the Cabinet’s policy statement, political sources said.
The compromise will seek to reconcile the Baabda Declaration, upheld by President Michel Sleiman and the March 14 coalition, and Lebanon’s right to armed resistance against Israeli occupation, which Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah insist it be included in the Cabinet’s policy statement, the sources said.
“A compromise formula is being pondered whereby the ministerial committee [tasked with drafting the policy statement] will adopt decisions of the National Dialogue Committee and also stress Lebanon’s right to resistance against Israeli occupation as part of a national defense strategy,” a political source told The Daily Star.
Decisions of the National Dialogue Committee include the Baabda Declaration, which was approved by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders during a Dialogue session chaired by Sleiman at Baabda Palace in June 2012. The declaration calls for insulating Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the 3-year-old war in Syria.
The reported compromise seeks to refer the dispute over Hezbollah’s arsenal to the National Dialogue Committee which is expected to discuss a national defense strategy, the only remaining topic on its agenda.
The development comes as a seven-member ministerial committee drafting the policy statement is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Friday in yet another attempt to untangle the knot over the resistance issue.
Chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, 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 clause.
The committee, which constitutionally has one month to finish drafting the policy statement, appears to be in a race with time. If it fails to accomplish this task by March 16, the 24-member Cabinet, formed on Feb. 15, would be considered resigned and Sleiman would be obliged under the Constitution to hold binding consultations with lawmakers to name a new prime minister.
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.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri spoke by phone with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea to discuss the local and regional situation, and efforts to hold the presidential election on time.
The two leaders also discussed the [March 8] media campaigns against Sleiman over his recent stance on the resistance issue.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk discussed hurdles delaying the approval of the policy statement during a meeting with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun at the latter’s residence in Rabieh.Earlier Thursday, the parliamentary Future bloc reiterated its call for the Baabda Declaration to be included in the Cabinet’s policy statement, while rejecting the use of arms outside the supervision of the Lebanese state. The bloc denied allegations that it opposed the inclusion of the resistance clause in the policy statement.
“The Future bloc reiterates that the Baabda Declaration should be included in the policy statement. It is surprised by allegations by some March 8 figures who were promoting false assumptions that [the bloc] rejected the inclusion of the principle of the resistance against the Israeli enemy in the policy statement,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.
“The truth is that some of the [March 8] coalition’s components insist on legitimizing the use of arms in Lebanon and from Lebanese soil outside state authority and supervision. We cannot accept this matter.”
It cited Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria as a unilateral decision by the party.
The bloc’s statement comes a day after Berri said he would show more flexibility and end the row over the policy statement on condition that his rivals do the same first.
Meanwhile, Salam said distrust among rival groups was the main factor obstructing the committee’s work.
“It is not the president’s stances that have obstructed the drafting of the policy statement, but distrust among political groups that needs time to be resolved and overcome,” Salam told reporters at the Grand Serail.
“I’ve said on many occasions that the meetings of the policy committee were progressing,” he said. “We have not given up yet. The Paris conference affirmed the world’s trust in us and we should trust ourselves.”
Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament said there was still a chance to agree on the Cabinet’s policy statement. “The chances of finalizing the policy statement in an acceptable and satisfactory manner are still there if everyone is committed to the requirements of national interest,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting. It renewed its demand that the resistance be mentioned in the policy statement as “one of the pillars to protect Lebanon.”