Sovereign chaos

An Israeli soldier takes pictures as seen from the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Thursday, May 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

The nearly daily dose of bad news that is coming from Lebanon’s northern and eastern borders is no surprise, given the alarming lack of energy by officials to tackle some of the most basic elements of governance – securing borders and bolstering national sovereignty.

On the southern border with Israel, violations of sovereignty that involve a number of centimeters are certain to raise the ire of civilian and military officials, and with good reason. But everywhere else, a country with which Lebanon is supposed to enjoy strong ties has been involved in deadly shooting incidents, kidnapping civilians, harassment, laying mines, and other violations that rarely generate an official response.

Instead, the world of behind-the-scenes negotiations and mediation is often handled by everyone except the officials who are supposedly in charge. The Cabinet of PM Najib Mikati has opted for a policy of disassociating itself from the crisis in Syria, but this should not mean washing its hands of the basic elements of sovereignty, such as international borders.

While few governments in the world can protect 100 percent of their borders 100 percent of the time, the current government is an example of sitting back and hoping for the best, while getting the worst.

As President Michel Sleiman acknowledged this week, the task of demarcating the border with Syria – agreed to in an early stage of the National Dialogue process – has been an utter failure, due to a lack of responsiveness by the Syrian side.

There are many international institutions to which Lebanon could have resorted to resolve this issue, but to no avail. The current government apparently feels no need to make up for lost time by assigning priority to the matter, and as usual, the public is paying the price.

Pursuing an ostrich-like policy of ignoring the long list of border violations is simply intolerable, and will only lead to further destabilization in the future. It is a message to the world that despite all the talk of building a state, and establishing respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Lebanese officials remain immune to actually doing the hard work needed to see tangible achievements. Instead, they offer excuses about why things don’t work, and wonder why there is so much popular outrage.

The Mikati government pledged that it would get down to work, when it took office one year ago. Its members promised to solve the “pressing daily issues” of the average citizen, but little has been achieved on this front. Officials have acknowledged that they can’t solve the electricity problem, or undertake the political reform and civil service appointments that they have spent months talking about, instead of acting on.

The government has failed on both the domestic and external fronts, and the only question that remains is why it continues in office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2012, on page 7.




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