Across the Bay

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Arab Framework

The Arab states' attempts to get Syria to save some face are still alive as Sharaa met with Mubarak in Cairo and will go on to meet with the Saudis (who are none too pleased with the Syrians!) and Syrian minister Naji Otari has met with the Jordanians. All these meetings, as Mubarak put it, are attempts to find the "overlap" between 1559 and the Taef agreement that will let the Syrians pull out gradually and make them feel good about themselves as not having succumbed to international pressure. Or, as Sharaa put it: "[Arabs must] recover their solidarity and a little respect. We must not simply bow to diktat."

The problem is that the way the Syrians view Taef and the way the international community and the Lebanese opposition view it are entirely different matters! The Syrians want to use it as a way to maintain their influence intact, by redeploying troops and then negotiating further with the Lebanese government (which is still their puppet!). This doesn't say anything about the intelligence apparatuses and the meddling in Lebanese affairs or the infiltration of Lebanese institutions.

The opposition is still offering the Taef option to Syria. However, the opposition understands the caveats and loopholes, and that's why Jumblat made their position crystal clear:

The Taef accord states that the Syrian army should redeploy fully and honorably to the Bekaa. Then a national consensus government should be formed who would negotiate with the Syrians on the total and honorable withdrawal from Lebanon. Taef is clear, and that's what we want. However, we want an independent national government and not a subservient one. And what's more important than the Syrian army -- because our problem is not with the army -- but with the joint Syrian-Lebanense intelligence apparatus which has oppressed the Lebanese people long enough, and since it is in control of everything, it is responsible for the enormous security events that have hit the country.

This is why opposition figures, including the Maronite patriarch, have called for the resignation of the puppet government and for free and honest elections that will lead to the establishment of a sovereign national government which will be able to set a timetable for a full and comprehensive Syrian withdrawal.

All this leaves the international community out of the picture, but they are clearly not out of the game (deputy assistant secretary of state David Satterfield will be meeting with Jumblat to discuss the possible overlap of the Taef and 1559. Jumblat wants to leave out the clause about disarming Hizbullah "for now" and focus on the Syrian withdrawal)! They will decide based on the UN report whether Syria is complying with UNR 1559 (it will not go away!) and take steps accordingly. Furthermore, the US and the EU have asked that Syria be out before the elections, and they have also asked for election monitors to guarantee free and honest elections. Syria is mistaken if it thinks it will be able to maneuver its way into preserving the status quo. That's the main thing that the Syrians have failed to grasp so far, as evident from Sharaa's almost disoriented statement: the status quo is no longer tenable or acceptable to anyone. Paul Wolfowitz made that clear in an interview on LBC's "Al-Hadath" (I'm retranslating from the Arabic excerpt):

The Syrian redeployment to the Bekaa is only the first step. We in the have agreed, and we are in agreement with various world leaders, everyone's agreed that this is the first step and Syria must understand that. It must also put an end to the presence of the intelligence services and quit meddling in the affairs of its neighbors and start minding its own business. (Emphasis added.)

Wolfowitz went on to draw an analogy with the 1986 elections in the Philippines, where the dictator tried to tamper with the results. This is the best way to approach the Lebanese case, he said. The most important thing is to support the Lebanese people who have shown their capacity to express their will, and the Syrians must understand that, he added.

Let's see if they do.