BEIRUT: The Cabinet early Saturday approved a compromise formula over the controversial resistance clause in its policy statement, in a move that averted an open-ended government crisis and cleared the way for a vote of confidence in Parliament.
The draft policy statement, reached after more than four hours of backstage consultations held by rival ministers with their leaders ahead of the Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, stressed “the right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repulse its attacks and recover occupied territories.”
It also emphasized the state’s responsibility in liberating lands still occupied by Israel in south Lebanon.
“Based on the state’s responsibility in preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and the safety of its citizens, the Cabinet stresses the state’s duty and efforts to liberate the Shebaa Farms, the Kfar Shouba hills and the Lebanese part of the village of Al-Ghajar through all legitimate means,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said, quoting the draft policy statement, after the Cabinet session chaired by President Michel Sleiman.
He added that the policy statement was not long and emphasized the authority of the state in several clauses and all public affairs.
Joreige said some ministers voiced reservations over the failure to link the resistance to sate authority.
The compromise formula was taken from Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal concerning the resistance after the words “Lebanese people” mentioned in the proposal were replaced with “Lebanese citizens.” The amended version was apparently aimed to appease March 14 ministers who have long insisted that any resistance against Israel should be placed under state authority.
The deal finally broke a 28-day deadlock over the policy statement that had threatened the fate of the month-old Cabinet after premier Tammam Salam Thursday threatened to resign if no agreement was reached on the document Friday.
The compromise clearly sought to satisfy both the March 14 coalition by stressing the role of the state in liberation and Hezbollah and its March 8 allies by affirming the right of Lebanese citizens to resistance.
But the three ministers representing the Kataeb Party in the Cabinet as well as Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi from the Future Movement voiced reservations over the amended version concerning the resistance clause.
Rifi and other March 14 ministers had demanded that the resistance, or the use of Hezbollah’s arms to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack, should be put under state control. He also voiced reservations over Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria.
Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi told reporters after the meeting that the Kataeb Party’s Political Bureau would meet Saturday to decide on whether to withdraw from Cabinet in protest against the policy statement.
“We cannot accept the clause concerning the relationship between the state and the resistance,” Azzi said. “We want to stress the state’s role and state authority.”
Parliament will most likely meet starting Tuesday to debate the Cabinet’s policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence. Despite the Lebanese Forces’ boycott, the Cabinet is assured of winning an easy vote of confidence in the legislature because the country’s main parliamentary blocs are represented in it.
The parties’ row over how to mention the resistance had delayed the policy statement while the Cabinet was in a race against time to finalize the draft before the one-month constitutional deadline expires on March 17, after which the Cabinet would be considered resigned if no agreement was reached over the document.
March 8 and March 14 ministers disagree on how to incorporate the resistance into the policy statement.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance had insisted that the policy statement stipulate that Lebanon and the Lebanese have the right to resist Israeli occupation and defend the country against any Israeli aggression, effectively legitimizing Hezbollah’s arsenal.
March 14 argued that resistance against Israel should take place under the authority of the state and that Lebanon, rather than the Lebanese, reserves the right to resistance.
The Cabinet meeting, originally scheduled for 8 p.m., was delayed for over three hours because rival ministers were busy holding backstage talks or consulting with their leaders.