Hariri ‘will quit if Hezbollah interferes’

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri greets the audience during a regional banking conference in Beirut recently. (AP)
Updated 27 November 2017

Hariri ‘will quit if Hezbollah interferes’

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun held consultations on Monday with representatives of political parties in Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition government as he declared that Hezbollah must stop interfering in regional conflicts and accept a neutral policy to bring an end to the political crisis.
According to Reuters, Hariri told French broadcaster CNews that he was ready to stay on as prime minister if Hezbollah accepted to stick by the state policy of staying out of regional conflicts.
The premier, however, said he would resign if Hezbollah did not keep to that, although consultations so far had been positive.
“I think in the interest of Lebanon, Hezbollah is carrying out a positive dialogue. They know we have to remain neutral in the region,” he added in the interview recorded on Monday.
Aoun’s talks on Monday took place after Hariri last Wednesday put off his resignation upon the president’s request to find a way out of the current crisis. Hariri had unexpectedly announced his resignation from Riyadh on Nov. 4, protesting that Iran and Hezbollah had taken hold of Lebanon, and he feared for his life.
The talks concerned the concept of “self-distancing” and how to apply it. Most of those whom Aoun consulted supported activating the Lebanese administration and reaffirming the ministerial statement and the political settlement, which resulted in naming Aoun president and Hariri prime minister until the next parliamentary elections in May. Aoun did not address the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons. 
The ministers and deputies who met with Aoun made statements in the lobby of Baabda Palace to voice their stances. Hezbollah’s allies preferred to discuss “reaffirming the ministerial statement,” which does not include the term “self-distancing.” 
The Hariri government stated in its ministerial statement that it is “committed to what was stated in President Michel Aoun’s presidential speech, when he said that Lebanon, which is moving between the mines, is still free from the fire burning around it in the region because its people’s stances are one and they are holding on to civil peace. 
“Therefore, Lebanon must distance itself from external conflicts while respecting the Charter of the League of Arab States, especially Article 8, and adopting an independent foreign policy based on Lebanon’s supreme interest and its respect for international law in order to protect its peace, stability and unity.”
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, representative of the Amal Movement, said: “We are committed to the agreed-upon values in the ministerial statement and to our national charter. We are positive that an understanding will be reached to restore work in the Cabinet and spare Lebanon any strike to its political and security stability.” 
Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos, representative of the Marada Movement, said: “We wished for this government to continue. We are fully committed to its ministerial statement, under the umbrella of the Taif Agreement and the National Reconciliation Accord.”
Mohammed Raad, who chairs Hezbollah’s political wing Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, avoided discussing the self-distancing policy. “We discussed protecting Lebanon, guaranteeing the independence of its decisions, and restoring political life back to normal, and all opinions were identical,” he said. “We hope to start putting them into action.”
The head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Hanna Al-Nashif, said: “We must define self-distancing scientifically and legally so that our speech doesn’t target certain countries and to avoid getting Lebanon involved in alliances rejected by all of us. We want Lebanon to be united, protect its security, sovereignty and unity, and embrace all Lebanese people in one strong social fabric.” 
MP Sami Gemayel, leader of the Phalange Party, called for “the complete neutrality of Lebanon, and not the self-distancing policy, which is a broad concept with neither legal nor constitutional bases.” 
He stressed that “neutrality cannot be achieved without sovereignty, and there is no state without sovereignty. We cannot take any step toward building a state unless the state is the master of its decision and the people are the ones deciding their future. Therefore, we believe the main requirement for achieving neutrality is the sovereignty of the state and its exclusive possession of weapons. 
“I am sorry no one is tackling the issue of weapons inside Lebanon,” he added. 
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said: “We must do what it takes to keep Lebanon outside the region’s conflicts. This should be seen in our actions and not only our words. Self-distancing means actually walking out of the region’s crises. Each of us can have an opinion, and we will continue to say that the regime in Syria cannot stay; this is our political opinion. 
“In the first stage, the military decision must be made by the state, and at a later stage we will discuss a final solution for Hezbollah’s weapons,” he added.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said it would be wise not to bring up the question of Hezbollah’s weapons in discussions.
“If we brought up this question, we will return to previous rounds of futile talks on this matter, which we held in the days of Berri in 2006 and in the days of President Michel Suleiman,” he explained.
“Let’s stick to discussing self-distancing and how to apply it.”

Book promoting national dialogue in conflict-hit countries published

Launch of the Arabic version of ‘National Dialogue Handbook- A Guide for Practitioners’ in Beirut. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 09 December 2018

Book promoting national dialogue in conflict-hit countries published

  • The Berghof Foundation initiated Lebanese national dialogue efforts in 2007
  • The aim of the guide is to “provide solid guidance and practical support to those who explore national dialogue

BEIRUT: Two European peace-building institutes have jointly published an Arabic-language manual aimed at promoting national dialogue in countries plagued by war and extremism.

The Berghof Foundation, a not-for-profit peace-building organization that initiated Lebanese national dialogue efforts in 2007 and embarked on similar initiatives in Yemen and Sudan, collaborated with Swiss research institute Swisspeace to publish the guide.

Firas Khairallah, Berghof representative in Beirut, told Arab News that the aim of the guide is to “provide solid guidance and practical support to those who explore national dialogue as a means to transcend political obstacles or scenarios of divisive conflict or turbulent transition.”

At a recent meeting held in Lebanon, Germany’s ambassador to Lebanon, Georg Birgelen, stressed that “anything is better than war.”

“As German, we know war all too well,” he told politicians and officials at a recent meeting held by the foundation. “This is why avoiding conflict is key to German policy-making.”

Swiss ambassador to Lebanon, Monika Schmuts Kirgoz, said: “National dialogue and consensus-building are the subjects of the hour in the Middle East”, adding that “courage is needed to advance dialogue and reach agreements.”

“National dialogues provide an effective way to overcome internal faults and to rebuild relations between state and institutions,” said one official from the foundation. “Where national dialogue succeeds, social contracts are born.”

While peace-building initiatives hang in the balance in Lebanon, Berghof Foundation and Swisspeace officials concurred that Tunisia proved the most successful model for national dialogue in the region.

“The dialogue was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Tunisia,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ouided Bouchamaoui, who founded the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.

“We forced all parties to participate in the dialogue and held 1,700 hours worth of dialogue and one-on-one talks. We received many threats and faced problems with state actors, but we always reverted to dialogue. We set a new constitution and held elections. Our mission ended in 2014. We now have elected institutions.”

Bouchamaoui added: “The experience was successful thanks to a strong civil society and high education levels, which make Tunisians think 100 times before resorting to violence. Still, economic challenges are mounting.”

In Jordan, where extremist rhetoric among youth facing soaring unemployment rates has become rampant in recent years, the foundation instigated dialogue to strengthen the culture of tolerance.

Musa Al-Maaitah, Jordan’s political affairs minister and founder of the Jordanian Social Democratic Party, said that democracy essentially boils down to the right to disagree.

“Our problem is that we want to take without giving,” he said. “Political parties always think that they have the truth, but the fact is that no one has one absolute form of truth.”

In Libya, matters were not so simple and talks fell through. 

“The Libyans elected a constituent assembly for the first time in 40 years and they were happy, but the Libyan people wanted a UN-sponsored dialogue,” said Tariq Mitri, the former head of the UN Support Mission in Libya. “They thought the UN held the carrot and the stick.”

He pointed out that one of the problems in Libya was trying to root out the other side under the slogan “no democracy for the enemies of the nation.” 

“Armed groups have strong sway over political parties,” he said. “This is why it was difficult getting them on one table.”

In Lebanon, meanwhile, efforts hang between success and failure.

“The dialogue broke down in Lebanon after failure to implement the constitution,” said former President Michel Suleiman. 

“Civil society must be included in dialogue. What we lack is the implementation of a social contract in accordance with a constitution. The only way out is limit weapons supply to the state, revisit agreements with Syria and form a committee to abolish sectarianism.”

Former Prime Minister Fuad Siniora concurred. “Domination, marginalization, external and internal interventions, provocation, assassinations, intimidation, blackmail, populism and all sorts of other forms of sabotage rampantly increased between 2006 and 2018,” he said.

As former Minister Yassine Jaber put it: “We need to agree on the rule of law because implementation of the law is not a point of view.”