Hariri refuses to head new Lebanon government as tensions rise

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, urged President Michel Aoun to hold consultations to designate a new leader. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2019

Hariri refuses to head new Lebanon government as tensions rise

  • ‘I am sticking by the rule ‘not me, rather someone else’ to form a government’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday struck his name off a list of candidates to head a new Lebanese government.

Hariri, who recently resigned as premier under pressure from protesters, said he refused “to be falsely held responsible for delaying the formation of the new government.”

His sudden announcement will come as a blow to President Michel Aoun, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which together were pinning their hopes on having Hariri’s support to help establish a techno-political administration in the country.

The former PM’s decision came as national protests throughout Lebanon against the political elite entered their 41st day and followed rioting in Beirut between anti-government demonstrators and Hezbollah and Amal supporters.

Russia pledged its support for the Lebanese state during the current “delicate” period, while the UN Security Council called on “all actors to conduct intensive national dialogue.”

In a statement, Hariri said he was “sticking to the rule ‘not me, but someone else’ to form a government that meets the aspirations of young men and women. The state of chronic denial seemed to use my positions and proposals of solutions as a pretext to continue its intransigence and maneuvers and its refusal to listen to the people’s voices and their rightful demands.”

He reiterated his commitment to a government of technocrats to end “the severe economic crisis” gripping Lebanon and urged Aoun to “immediately call for binding parliamentary consultations, to designate a new prime minister to form a new government.”

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Meanwhile, Amal and Hezbollah supporters on Monday evening returned to challenge street protesters by organizing provocative motorcades through central Beirut and near to protest squares in the capital. Groups chanted, “the people want a new May 7,” in reference to the armed operation that Hezbollah carried out against the Future Movement in Beirut in 2008.

Mohammed Kabbara, a member of the Future bloc in Parliament, said: “What is happening in Lebanon has become beyond reason and puts Lebanon in a dangerous circle at all levels.”

Researcher in social movements and an activist in the Lebanese civil movement, Nizar Hassan, told Arab News: “The pressure from the political authority on the movement is not surprising. This scenario has been expected since the resignation of the government.

“This authority has limited options. The first is to form a government that meets the aspirations of the people, but it cannot form such a government because it wants a government that meets the political ambitions of Hezbollah, Aoun and Hariri.”

“The second option is to extend the period of the resigned caretaker government to cause confusion and incite against the revolution to minimize its momentum in the street and to bring fear into the hearts of the people by assaulting them.

“Hezbollah and the Amal Movement were shocked by the fact that people from their environment joined the civil movement. So, they tried, with other parties, to respond by dividing the street along sectarian lines.”

He added: “Our next step is to target the banks with our insistence on an independent government whose project is to save the country economically and not save capital.

“The authority is trying to fight the battle of public discourse, after the revolution took control of this discourse, and the authority is trying, through its political discourse, to stress that things cannot be solved in the street and that the authority cannot be held accountable in the street.

BACKGROUND

Hariri’s decision will come as a blow to President Aoun, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which together were pinning their hopes on having his support to help set up a techno-political administration.

“We are redirecting the discourse. The issue is not security or sectarian. It is an economic discourse. People came down for their living demands.”

Political activist, Ibrahim Mneimneh, told Arab News: “The civil movement continues regardless of the events and pressures it is subjected to, based on the development of political awareness among people and away from sectarianism and the movement’s commitment that the people want to hold everyone accountable without exception.”

Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin conveyed to Aoun the Russian leadership’s support for the Lebanese state in the face of developments and assured him that Moscow would “not hesitate to meet what Lebanon asks for in these delicate circumstances.”

The Russian backing came hours after the UN Security Council unanimously issued a statement calling on “all actors to conduct intensive national dialogue and to maintain the peaceful character of the protests by avoiding violence and respecting the right to peaceful assembly in protest.”

It also stressed “the importance of the timely formation of a new government able to respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people and to restore the stability of the country within the constitutional framework.”


Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

Updated 2 min 30 sec ago

Israel parliament moves for third election as talks falter

  • On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2
  • New elections would add to the political challenges facing Benjamin Netanyahu
JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament began rushing through a bill on Wednesday to call a third general election within a year as talks between embattled premier Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival broke down ahead of a midnight deadline.
A deal to avert a new election must be reached before 11:59 p.m. (2159 GMT), following a deadlocked vote in September.
But Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, both of whom have repeatedly failed to build a governing majority in the Knesset, or parliament, have spent days trading blame for failing coalition talks.
On Wednesday morning the Israeli parliament passed 50-0 a preliminary reading of a bill immediately dissolving parliament and setting a new election for March 2.
It must face three more plenary readings and votes during the day before being passed.
New elections would add to the political challenges facing Netanyahu — Israel’s longest serving premier, now governing in a caretaker capacity — at a time when, weakened by corruption charges, he must fend off internal challengers in his right-wing Likud party.
Netanyahu and Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had been discussing a potential unity government, but disagreed on who should lead it.
Last month, when Netanyahu was indicted on corruption charges, Gantz called on him to step down.
On Tuesday night Netanyahu called on Gantz to stop “spinning.”
“After 80 days, it’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It’s not too late,” he said on social media.
Gantz said his party was making “efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics.”
If confirmed, it would be the first time Israel’s weary electorate has been asked to go to the polls for a third time within 12 months.
The parties of Netanyahu and Gantz were nearly deadlocked in September’s election, following a similarly inconclusive poll in April.
Israel’s proportional system is reliant on coalition building, and both parties fell well short of the 61 seats needed to command a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Both were then given 28-day periods to try and forge a workable coalition but failed, forcing President Reuven Rivlin to turn to parliament with his deadline for Wednesday.
New elections are deeply unpopular with the Israeli public, which has expressed mounting anger and frustration with the entire political class.
Both parties had been trying to convince Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial kingmaker, to join their blocs.
But the former nightclub bouncer, whose secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party holds the balance of power, has refused.
Kann Radio reported Tuesday that Netanyahu had abandoned hopes of earning Lieberman’s endorsement.
Lieberman pointed out that Likud and Blue and White wouldn’t need his support if they could agree to work together.
“If during the next 24 hours a government is not formed it will be solely because the leaders of the two big parties — Likud and Blue and White — were not willing to set aside their egos,” he said on Facebook Tuesday.
“All the rest is lies and excuses.”
Netanyahu was indicted last month for bribery, breach of trust and fraud relating to three separate corruption cases.
He strongly denies the allegations and accuses the media, police and prosecution of a witch-hunt.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the proceedings and, under Israeli law, Netanyahu can remain in office despite an indictment.
He also faces a potential challenge from within his own Likud party.
To boost his support, Netanyahu has pushed his plan to annex a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, as well as signing a defense treaty with the United States.
He is a close ally of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a number of controversial steps in support of Netanyahu’s agenda.
Blue and White, meanwhile, pledged Monday to run with only one leader in the next election — Gantz.
Previously Yair Lapid, second in command in the coalition, was meant to alternate the premiership, but on Monday Lapid said: “We’ll all get behind Benny Gantz, our candidate for prime minister.”
Despite Netanyahu’s indictment, polls suggest that a third round of elections could still be neck and neck — prompting some Israelis to speculate about yet another electoral stalemate.
A commentary writer for the Israel Hayom newspaper suggested that “a fourth election is even now visible on the horizon sometime in early September 2020.”