Lebanon News

Jumblatt hints at split from March 8 alliance

PSP leader Walid Jumblatt attends a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 1, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt blasted what he dubbed “this strange partnership” with Hezbollah which he said could not endure at the expense of the state, the Army and security, a move apparently aimed at setting the stage for the Progressive Socialist Party leader to split from the March 8 alliance.

Jumblatt’s change of heart over the thorny issue of Hezbollah’s arms could push him to withdraw his three ministers from the government, a move that would eventually lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet, which is controlled by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.

Jumblatt, an outspoken critic of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, also warned of dire consequences if the pro-Assad Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance won next year’s parliamentary elections.

The Chouf lawmaker argued that a March 8 victory in the 2013 elections would do away with the state of law, an independent president, an independent Army and an independent judiciary.

“Under the slogan of the ‘Army, people and resistance,’ this vague partnership cannot continue at the expense of the state, the Army, security, economy and destiny,” Jumblatt said Saturday in a speech during an iftar in the Chouf, Mount Lebanon.

In an indirect response to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, who has said that the state is incapable of leading the resistance, Jumblatt said: “The Lebanese Army, both soldiers and officers, does not lack competence and professionalism to gradually accommodate the resistance’s arms according to a plan that takes into account the resistance’s security concerns.”

The PSP leader, who is in a loose alliance with Hezbollah and other March 8 allies in Mikati’s government, has repeatedly called for Hezbollah’s weapons to be gradually incorporated into the Lebanese Army. He last week praised President Michel Sleiman who said that the Army should have no partner in defending security and sovereignty.

Jumblatt said the state alone should have the right to decide on war and peace and criticized Hezbollah’s self-declared “balance of terror” against Israel.

“There is no place except for one state that alone can take the decision on war and peace in defense of Lebanon only,” he said.

“Yes to the liberation of the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba hills once the boundary of these areas has been delineated and drawn. No to the logic of liberation to serve other countries or to bargain over Lebanon. With regard to a [military] balance, I don’t encourage the balance of terror outside the state’s framework because it might drag the country into disasters and destruction.”

A Hezbollah MP refused to comment on Jumblatt’s criticism of the “Army, people and resistance” equation which was adopted in the government’s policy statement as the best means to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.

Jumblatt’s three ministers had approved the government’s policy statement. “We don’t want to comment on Jumbatt’s statement,” MP Nawar Saheli told The Daily Star.

In televised speech on Aug. 1, Nasrallah defended this equation, saying that a genuine and realistic national defense strategy should be based on coordination between the Lebanese Army and the resistance.

He also stressed that the resistance could not fall under the command of the Army as the state lacked the ability to resolve basic challenges.

The thorny issue of Hezbollah’s arms will come up for discussion as part of a national defense strategy at a new round of National Dialogue on Aug. 16.

Sleiman, who launched the intra-Lebanese National Dialogue in July to address a national defense strategy, has said he would formulate a defense strategy aimed at incorporating Hezbollah’s arsenal and that his proposal would meet the demands of both the March 8 and March 14 parties.

Jumblatt’s criticism of Hezbollah and the March 8 coalition extended to the government’s approval last week of a controversial draft electoral law based on a system of proportional representation.

The draft law has come under fire by Jumblatt, March 14 politicians and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who said that the proportionality law was directed against the majority of the Lebanese, vowing to block its endorsement in Parliament. Hariri said the draft electoral law was made to serve Hezbollah and its March 8 allies in the 2013 elections.

“If the entire March 8 team or some of it wins [the elections] ... I don’t think there will be a place for a middle-of-the-road plurality or diversity, or a room for a central decision on war and peace for Lebanon outside the Iranian and the remaining Syrian axis,” Jumblatt said.

“I don’t think there will be a place for the state of law, the security exclusivity of the Army and security forces, or a place for an independent judiciary, an independent president and an independent Army,” he added.

Likewise, Jumblatt said if the opposition March 14 coalition won next year’s elections, there would be “no room for hope and joy to benefit from the huge energies of the Lebanese in diaspora.”

“We will remain in this state of tension and ongoing political war in the interior,” he said, referring to deep political differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties over Hezbollah’s arms and the 17-month uprising in Syria among other issues.

He renewed his call for an inter-Lebanese dialogue under “one state, an independent president, an independent Army and an independent judiciary.”

Jumblatt, who is represented in Cabinet by three ministers from his National Struggle Front bloc, also took aim at the government, saying its one accomplishment was funding the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

“If there was a central achievement by this government then it would be its commitment to funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probing the assassination of [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” he said.

Jumblatt, who strongly supports the anti-Assad uprising, said violence in Syria had surpassed “all imagination” and expressed puzzlement over what he described as an international conspiracy against Syria as an “entity and people.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2012, on page 1.




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