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Dead-end rhetoric
Hezbollah's leader Hasan Nasrallah speaks during a ceremony in Beirut's southern suburbs, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Hezbollah's leader Hasan Nasrallah speaks during a ceremony in Beirut's southern suburbs, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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The leader of Hezbollah gave another one of his “how dare you?” speeches Friday, ratcheting up political tension in Lebanon while claiming to be interested in turning over a new page with his March 14 rivals.

Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah recited the usual litany of complaints against March 14 politicians, whom he accused of making dangerous accusations about his party. Nasrallah’s outrage is conveniently absent of any assessment of the rhetoric of his own party members and allies, who waste no opportunity to engage in wild accusations about the behavior of their rivals – the language of “treason” is a constant feature of such statements, in the event that Nasrallah hasn’t noticed.

It’s a case of Hezbollah’s acting as if it’s on the defensive, when in fact it regularly engages in offensive verbal and other maneuvering. Sprinkled in between Nasrallah’s offers to work together for the national interest are, invariably, the usual ultimatums – the next government in Lebanon will be X, and not Y – period, end of story. “Don’t play with us” is another favorite threat that Nasrallah used on Friday – this is what an armed political party in Lebanon tells the other political actors on the scene, while claiming to be engaged in self-defense.

With every speech, both before the eruption of the uprising in Syria and after, Nasrallah talks about the “exceptional circumstances” the region is experiencing. It’s time for Hezbollah to do something exceptional itself, namely make a real effort to arrive at compromise and abandon the policies that have contributed to all of the tension. Otherwise, the speechmaking, exclusive interviews and other media appearances by Nasrallah generate nothing other than empty words and phrases.

As for next year’s presidential election, Nasrallah made a plea for a candidate who represents Lebanon and challenged his rivals to act without allowing their decisions to be swayed by the intervention of foreign countries. This kind of empty rhetoric might play well with Hezbollah’s supporters, but it would take a superhuman mental feat to even imagine – for the sake of argument – that Hezbollah would ever stand up and say to Iran, for example, or to Syria: “We reject your ‘choice’” for Lebanon’s next president, we will openly lobby against this choice, and we will vote no in Parliament when the time comes.” Unless Hezbollah undergoes a radical change, there’s no reason to expect that it will act in any way other than keeping one eye, or both, on the interests of its foreign friends and backers.

Hezbollah’s leader and his colleagues are quick to talk about being victims and wanting to work together with others for the common good of Lebanon, but the fact that they spend most of their time issuing ultimatums and setting down red lines means that few people bother listening anymore to such dead-end rhetoric.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 21, 2013, on page 7.
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