BEIRUT: A ministerial committee tasked with drafting the Cabinet’s policy statement remained deadlocked Friday over the thorny issue of the resistance as attention shifted to contacts by rival political leaders to help break the stalemate.
The seven-member committee, chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, barely touched on the resistance issue during Friday’s meeting, the ninth since Salam announced a 24-member Cabinet on Feb. 15.
The meeting began with the ministers discussing the security situation in light of the kidnapping of a 9-year-old schoolboy, the son of a wealthy businessman, in Zahle, east Lebanon, by masked gunmen.
Then Salam asked the committee members if they had any new proposals over the policy statement to discuss. When they said no, he proposed putting off the committee’s meeting until Tuesday in the hope that someone would come up with an initiative to break the deadlock over the policy statement.
Salam said if the problem over the policy statement was not solved at Tuesday’s meeting, the matter should be referred to a Cabinet meeting.
Responding to Salam’s proposal, committee member Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said: “If we don’t agree on a policy statement, this means there will be no Cabinet. But we will eventually agree on a statement.”
A terse statement issued after the one-hour meeting held at the Grand Serail said the committee, which includes ministers from the March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists, would meet again at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
The three-day deadline for the committee’s next meeting was apparently intended to give rival leaders sufficient time to hold contacts aimed at reaching a compromise over the resistance issue.
Statements made by rival ministers after the meeting underlined the still wide gap between the March 8 and March 14 parties in addressing the issue of the resistance, or the use of Hezbollah’s arms to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.
“There are two conflicting logics over the resistance issue in the committee,” committee member Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish said.
Fneish, who represents Hezbollah in the Cabinet, told The Daily Star his party and the Amal Movement insisted that a clause stressing Lebanon’s right to armed resistance against Israeli occupation be included in the policy statement.
“The other [March 14] side rejects this demand and insists instead on placing the resistance under state authority and also on deciding the national defense strategy in the policy statement,” he added.
Committee member Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said after the meeting: “So far, there are no initiatives” to break the deadlock over the resistance clause.
Summing up the dilemma facing the committee in its task to draft the policy statement, Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi told reporters after the meeting: “If the policy statement is not issued Tuesday, this means that we are in a predicament.”
Azzi said “a political decision” by rival leaders was needed to help the panel accomplish its task in drafting the policy statement.
“The next few days separating us from the ministerial committee’s next meeting Tuesday could witness political contacts and consultations in the hope of finalizing the policy statement and appearing before Parliament [for confidence vote],” he said.
Despite difficulties facing its mission, Azzi said the committee is capable of reaching agreement on the policy statement. “We are not an impotent committee. But the committee mandated by the Cabinet as a whole lacks a political decision in order to fully play its role,” he said.
Ahead of the committee’s meeting, Salam met with President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace to discuss difficulties facing the panel’s attempts to agree on the policy statement.
The committee, which constitutionally has one month to finish drafting the policy statement, seems to be racing against time. If it fails to complete this task by March 17, the 24-member Cabinet would be considered resigned and Sleiman would be obliged under the Constitution to hold binding consultations with MPs to name a new prime minister.
Meanwhile, Bassil denied reports that he had sent a letter to the Arab League demanding that the word “resistance” be deleted from the final communiqué of the upcoming Arab summit scheduled to be held in Kuwait later this month.
Before departing for Cairo to attend an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting, Bassil told reporters: “The word resistance is too big to be changed by a person, a group or a team ... Neither me, nor others can delete the word resistance. I think there is national consensus that Lebanon remains a country resisting and confronting Israeli attacks in this spirit. We are not the ones who delete the word resistance.”