Friday, May 16, 2008

Progress Without Principle

I’ll start by saying the following: I am [mildly] optimistic. And I am undeterred by the incredible let down I first felt when reading the Arab proposal. An extended examination of the proposal, especially within the context of the events of the past week, has mustered in me a semblance of contentment with it and the reality it could create on the ground.

For one, it bears echoing the disgruntlement of my readers, my fellow bloggers, and my friends within that movement which seeks to establish for this tiny country on the Eastern Mediterranean a peace and normality to which all free Lebanese aspire. This deal stinks. On the most important of issues, it dodges the very principles on which we, the members of that movement, defined our stances.

On the Parliamentary elections, it is wrong. And perhaps out of all the issues presented here, it is the most wrong, and that because it follows down the erroneous path of talks, or political negotiations, outside the constitutional institution through which these negotiations are meant to take place – Parliament – and which has been effectively shut down by a major party [not only] to the violent assault launched against the state over the past week [but also to the assault on every institution of the state that has taken place over the past 3 years]. This path was first paved when the government agreed to National Dialogue talks [in January of 2006] the futility of which is still visible in the scars left by the July War started to abort them. It is this path that, to me, poses the greatest level of worry for the future of our state’s institutions and for the precedence that it sets.

And a worrying precedent too, is being set in the manner in which the so-called unity government is to be formed [according to the proposal] in the absence of a President and the input that that President is entitled to. In a word, the Presidential vacuum that has gripped the country over the past six months is constitutionally abnormal, unacceptable, and seemingly – to all those actually interested in pursuing a solution to this abnormality – easily fixable! After all, everyone has already supposedly agreed to who the next President should be. And for those of you [of the slower variety] who continue to cling to the resignation of this government as the sole act of salvation for this country, bear in mind that according to the constitution, the government is automatically considered resigned following the election of a President – who’s first duty it is to convene with the Parliamentary majority and all the represented parties of the country in order to form the next governing executive body (i.e. Cabinet).

Of course, we all know that what has been really happening in the country has not been the occurrence of two sides coming together to find a solution to a problem, but the occurrence of one side actively blocking the implementation of democratic norms and [instead] pursuing a policy aimed at reversing the gains garnered through the Cedar Revolution. Indeed, despite much whining about the comfort enjoyed by a Sunni PM who does not have to find compromise with a Christian President (or the ministers which answer to him in a cabinet), it is important to correctly identify which group stands to gain the most from the complete paralysis and dismantling of the institutions that define our state.

And therein lays the silver lining I have attributed to the proposal. The formation of a national unity government (assuming it to be of the non-blocking-third variety), the re-drafting of the electoral law, and the election of a President have never been M8 goals to begin with. In fact, it has been the blocking of all these that have been the goal. When Saad al Hariri, or any other M14 leader announces their objection to ‘dialogue’, it is not because they are not interested pursuing any of the above, but because they are uninterested in getting bogged down in the M8 maze of circuitous demands and two-handed dialogue aimed at impeding a solution rather than pursuing it.

By moving the talks to Doha, the capital of the most active agitator of the Iranian agenda within the Arab fold – next to Syria, that is – the Arabs and the Lebanese have in fact put the major backers of the blockages within the Lebanese system at the forefront, preventing them from hiding behind their tools in Lebanon, and exposing them to the full brunt of the failed talks. And quite a brunt there is to bear, as the international community and the petrodollar powerhouses of Gulf prepare to extract due penance for the brazen power-move by Iran in Lebanon.

If anything, the speed with which the Qatar-led Arab delegation managed to push through the blockages, on paper at least, seems indicative of the failure of that power-move and the true measure of political, economic, and military balances on the ground it has yielded. Not lightly does one declare the election of a President “within days”.

With the international tribunal due to come online within the next several weeks; with the arrival of Parliamentary elections in approximately one year and Hizballah’s complete loss of any support outside (and even, to some extent, within) its sectarian base [due to the past week’s events]; and with the group’s use of its weapons against fellow Lebanese unequivocally turning it into a militia in the eyes of an ever important [and potentially strengthened, whether directly or through UNSC 1701] UNSC 1559 – even though any mention of those weapons was left out by the Arabs’ statement – Hizballah will certainly need the time afforded by such a temporary settlement to regroup and refocus its efforts (let alone process all the intelligence gathered from the raiding of FM offices throughout Beirut).

For the Lebanese too, the implementation of this latest proposal will provide a temporary relief – time needed to organize immigration papers, explore investments abroad, and secure oneself within a sectarianly-cohesive area of the country ahead of the next wave of assaults. And that is a reality Hizballah has ensured no [realistic] proposal can reverse.

20 comments:

  1. I failed to detect any optimism in your piece Jade. Is it so mild we need a microscope?


    One very sad thing is the position of FPM and its morAoun leader. They were and are the people with the most leverage in a sense. Like the gvmnt. and M14 they are unable/unwilling to leverage and they were deservedly shut down from input in the agreement.

    Instead of pushing for state sovereignty (not Saniora sovereignty) and less corruption and pushing Hezbo in that direction, as Hezbo needs them very badly, they keep getting nothing while selling the country down the river.

    Instead of bridging the gap and making themselves relevant they are now zeroes.

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  2. They are simply bending over in the fallacious hope that Hezbollah and Amal will reward them when they will have conquered power for their masters. Their bet is that they will get something in the long run (some milking cow such as a Minsitry...). They probably won't even get it. Even if Nasrallah promised something to Aoun, we all know that Nasrallah's word is not even worth the toilet paper it is written on.

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  3. Anonymous4:27 PM

    with the arrival of Parliamentary elections in approximately one year and Hizballah’s complete loss of any support outside (and even, to some extent, within) its sectarian base -

    Why would Hezbollah permit anyone other than Hezbollah to vet the voters and count the votes for Hezbollah-run areas?

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  4. So you don't think it would just be enough for Israel to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms and thus strengthen the government by leaving Hezbollah without a reason to bear arms?

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  5. Anonymous4:35 PM

    The microscopic hint of optimism is in there if you look closely: BMJ is speaking about the swiftness of these agreements to talk indicating that the Hizbos are desperate to find a solution, at least, a short fix solution. They have effectively united the country in an unprecedent move against them! and they have also successfully stripped the Christian's opposition leader (Aoun) of a support base and thus doing away with any veneer of intercommunal fellowship that the March 8 claims to posses. They feel, from what I understand from BMJ's post, that they need to do something! There were some reports of Hizbo contacting Harriri through a third party for a way out of the crises they started.

    At any rate, I agree with your post BMJ. Although, sometimes I realize this talk about a state is maybe too ideal. We never had a 'state' to begin with... just a patchwork of feudal enclaves kept in line under the boots of the Syrians... thats why its not surprising to see that the allies of Syria in Lebanon have been systematically trying to undermine the state institutions: its in everybodys interests for a state to emerge, except the Syrian and Iranian leaderships...

    it too bad the fpm have collapsed because they attracted many based on their declared intent to support the building of the state and the demolishing of feudalism (they are mutaully exclusive)...

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  6. Anonymous4:44 PM

    On Qatar "the most active agitator of the Iranian agenda within the Arab fold – next to Syria"...

    Yes I agree to some extent. It seems Qatar has expressed views more aligned with Syria and also showing some inclination to showing sympathy with it. They also, interestingly, withdrew their forces from UNIFIL recently.

    But Qatar is a perplexing state. Look right now at the Israeli-Qatari relations? Or the American military [naval was it?] base there? Is it, perhaps, the 'good cop' of the Iranian axis?

    Are you sure BMJ that Qatar is really "the most active agitator of the Iranian agenda within the Arab fold – next to Syria"???

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  7. Hey Josey, Anon (9:35 am) pretty much took the words out of my mouth, with regards to your question - thanks Anon :)

    On Qatar, the question isn't an easy one, and as you pointed out Anon (9:44) and as Mustapha wrote in his post today, the country is full of contradictions. But yes, despite other contradictory behavior, it has sought to appease the Iranians by pushing specific points which are in conflict the position of Saudi, by far the most influential in the Arab League.

    And for the record, I agree about the "pledge not to use violence".

    In any case, given the command structure of Hizballah, I don't expect them to have gone to Doha without them already having made their minds up about what they're going to do.

    But who knows, maybe being closer to Iran just decreases the lag they have to put up with when they call to get their instructions.

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  8. I see that my question - which repeats BJ's argument of 2006 - doesn't merit a reply.

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  9. Sorry Sol2!

    Didn't mean to ignore you.The question was a bit of a sidestep to the content though.

    A withdrawal of Israel from Shebaa, even without an agreement between Syria and Lebanon over its identity, would certainly provide a very strong push to decreasing internal support for Hizballah within the Shiite community.

    External support has already been totally destroyed by the events of the past week, I think.

    What the Syrians have been doing through their secret negotiations with Israel is avoiding such a move, though.

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  10. The "optimism" is in the last paragraph. You now have a little time to pack your bags and decide where to go. If you stay in Lebanon - may I suggest you head to Jumblatt land and enjoy the mountains.

    Qatar pulled their UNIFIL troops out because they read the situation. The UN can't do anything because of all the "hostages" on the border. It was the first sign this was all coming down.

    We will see if M14 gives in to the VETO - if they do then Hezbollah will have essentially taken Lebanon, and taken it the only way they can hold it. Politically with a puppet Government to maintain a facade of "freedom" and "democracy"(small d) in Lebanon.

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  11. What the Syrians have been doing through their secret negotiations with Israel is avoiding such a move, though.

    If you have followed the SF story fully you know that the U.N. considers Shebaa Syrian, and Israel has a letter from the U.N. to that effect; Syria won't say that SF isn't Syrian, so Israel won't give it to Lebanon. How any settlement that is limited to Syria and Israel could give SF to Lebanon I don't know.

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  12. Bad Vilbel7:30 PM

    I'm afraid I too fail to see the optimism in this piece, and if it's there, I certainly don't share it after reading your take.

    1. There is absolutely no guarantee that the negotiations that have now been taken to Doha will conclude in a matter of days (I expect they will turn into another failed hiwar, if that's what HA wants).

    2. There is absolutely no point discussing electoral laws and cabinet makeup as long as HA gets to keep its weapons. In a way, all these other issues, as you so rightly pointed out, are NOT the core if HA's grievances. They are just distractions to keep us busy and away from their weapons.

    3. I still don't see how any of this strengthens government institutions in any meaningful kind of way. Specially if HA gets to keep their weapons and their "autonomy".

    4. A direct result of points (2) and (3) is that there is absolutely ZERO point in having parliamentary elections in a year, since we all know parliament doesn't get to meet and debate anything. Why bother with elections?
    Specially if one side still has guns, and can therefore influence elections in its area, or even worse, torpedo said elections by starting another war (internal or external) at just the right time.

    5. The foundation of ANY kind of functional state, nay, the PREREQUISITE (meaning, you can't even begin without the following condition) is the disarming of all groups. There is absolutely ZERO point in ANY of the above is HA's weapons are not the FIRST topic on the agenda. End of story. The events of the past week, and the war of 2006 should be proof enough of that. Everything else, at this point, is academic masturbation.

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  13. The charade continues.

    We all know where this ends. Hezbollah is not going away, ever.

    I don't need to predict the future. You know what it is already. All we are talking about is when.

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  14. Anonymous8:35 PM

    so, is the airport open now?

    -elvis7

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  15. Anonymous8:36 PM

    elvis: yes

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  16. Arabic Coffee Pot9:38 PM

    Look, if nothing happens in Doha then obviously HA's weapons are going to be the first thing to be discussed - they started a civil war afterall!!!

    If things get settled there then what will there be left to discuss other than HA's weapons??

    Its not the end of the world.

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  17. Just for a little levity - I just picked this up from the floor of the Orange Room and it is the quote of the day.
    "You know Lebanon is knee-deep in $hit when you have to rely on Arabs to teach you a thing or two about democracy."

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  18. What we all know is that Hizballah's weapons are not just a Lebanese matter but a regional matter - requiring a regional/int'l solution.

    Whatever agreement comes out of Doha won't address Hizballah's arms because it can't. That work is left to such institutions as the UNSC (which will act after the conference) - and such institutions move slow.

    At least in settling these issues, if they are settled expediently in Qatar, we can provide for Lebanon working institutions that can provide for those living in the country a reprieve from being at the front lines of a regional-international confrontation with Iran. That is the position Hizballah has put the Lebanese - and the Shiites especially - and that is the situation we want to extricate ourselves from.

    We want Hizballah to give up its weapons not because they are [arguably] effective against Israel, but because they answer to a regional power [not Lebanon] and thereby embroil us in regional conflicts we want no part in.

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  19. Sorry BJ, but you must know that the UN is a toothless moribund organization that issues nothing much more than statement of condemnation.

    Hezbollah hold all the UNIFIL troops in a hostage situation and it is a sure thing that all concerned know this. They continue to live at Nasrallah's pleasure.

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  20. Whats the point? The country is already divided - Iran has its little base in southern Lebanon that it will never give up (and which the residents down there support anyway) while the rest of the country wants to live free.

    Let the buggers get the shit bombed out of them until they realize their only salvation is to forget Iran and love Lebanon again.

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