Despite their reservations and criticisms of the current Cabinet, Western states believe preserving the government has become a necessity for Lebanon, at least as long as the situation in Syria remains unstable.
These states believe the power vacuum left by the Cabinet’s toppling would push Lebanon into the Syrian arms struggle and would threaten its security, unity and civil peace. This threat is considered a line not be crossed, a point that was evident in Thursday’s talks between President Michel Sleiman and French President Francois Hollande.
An addition to the Western equation is U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns’ recent insistence on maintaining calm in Lebanon and giving the Cabinet new momentum to continue what it started in terms of enhancing stability.
Lebanese parties have understood from this combination of Western stances that the status quo cannot be altered, and it is in this atmosphere that the Cabinet will convene Wednesday at Baabda Palace.
Ministerial sources told The Daily Star that the Cabinet could make progress this month in the long-delayed arena of administrative appointments. A head for the Higher Judicial Council might be appointed, and vacant posts in the Customs Department and diplomatic corps filled.
The sources added that if appointments are made, this move will have been helped by the positive atmosphere resulting from a thawing of ties between Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun. One indicator of a closer relationship is the attendance of Energy Minister and FPM official Gebran Bassil at a Sunday St. Charbel’s Day Mass in Anaya, where the president was on hand. The two stood near each other to receive greetings.
As for National Dialogue, sources who have spoken to Sleiman quoted him as saying “when we called for National Dialogue in the past, Lebanon was in the midst of an internal crisis, while surrounding countries were stable. But today, our situation is better than those of other countries, especially Arab states that are witnessing revolutions and turmoil. This is an opportunity for us to look for common ground to prevent the country from sliding into political and security difficulties.”
The sources added that Sleiman believes the current atmosphere is a favorable one for resuming dialogue that could reach consensus on a set of points that could protect the country from the fire surrounding it.
According to these sources, the president believes the current circumstances are encouraging for dialogue, because if things change, Lebanese parties might be forced to engage in dialogue under more pressure, bringing more demands to negotiations.
Thus, the president believes it better to sit at the dialogue table now, and work calmly toward a mechanism to implement the Taif Agreement and the commitments made on July 11 at the first dialogue session after 18 months of quiet.
Visitors to Baabda Palace said the president is concerned that any lull in talks would have negative repercussions on security, causing Lebanese leaders to eventually speak again but in a devastated country. This is an opinion shared by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
These visitors understand Hezbollah’s concern that some groups will attempt to take advantage of a collapse in the Syrian regime or a Civil War to corner Hezbollah and its allies. But they believe these concerns can only be allayed through frank talks.
After Hezbollah hears Sleiman’s proposal on a starting point for discussing the defense strategy – the president is set to deliver it later this month – the visitors believe it will be the party most capable of starting a constructive dialogue on the topic. This does not mean all of the responsibility for dialogue lies with Hezbollah, as the visitors add all sides should work for the continuation of the talks.