Across the Bay

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

No More Extensions

Chibli Mallat writes in today's DS: "Without the resignation of Lahoud, the chance for the restoration of stability in Lebanon will be much weakened." Mallat maps out in broad terms what the course of action should be:

A dignified resignation should be followed by national agreement on a compromise president and the formation of a national unity government. That government's first move, and indeed main program, would be to request a full and immediate Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, conducted in an orderly fashion in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 (or the Taif Accord, if some are still keen to use that fig leaf). In this way, parliamentary elections could be carried out with full freedom, without foreign boots and intelligence-service fixers lurking. International observers could also be invited in.

Such a process would be a showcase for nonviolent change in the Middle East's history, which the Lebanese have been writing in recent weeks.

Mallat then has joined with Ghassan Tueni (see a couple of posts below) and Walid Jumblat, who has made clear (see here in English) that he wants Lahoud out. But, as the piece in the previous post (right below) shows, he's holding back in order not to embarrass the Maronite Patriarch should he decide to negotiate with Lahoud. I frankly don't see that happening. Yes, he has cut deals with Lahoud in the past, but that was the past. The current circumstances were not available a month ago, let alone before. And remember, the Patriarch is headed to the White House in a couple of weeks, so that should be an interesting visit. But the point is that there is now international support for Lebanese independence as well as huge popular demand for the resignation of Lahoud, so it would be rather short-sighted of the Patriarch to cut a deal, unless perhaps Lahoud (and implicitly Syria) threatens to go violent. Otherwise, I just don't see it happening. It wouldn't make sense to undercut the momentum of the opposition, the popular outpour, and international pressure.

Speaking of international pressure, Condoleezza Rice pointed the finger at Damascus for the latest Tel Aviv bombing. "There is evidence that Islamic Jihad, headquartered in Syria, was in fact involved with the planning of those attacks in Tel Aviv. And so the Syrians have a lot to answer for," she said. I have recently gave my two cents on this, and I found that it was significant that while the Palestinians were accusing Hizbullah, the Israelis and the Americans were pointing the finger squarely at Damascus. It's not just about pressure on Syria either, because either one (Hizbullah or IJ) could be used against Syria. It's either a matter of actual evidence that implicates Syria, or if it's political, then it serves two purposes: it doesn't undercut Abbas, nor does it undercut the Lebanese opposition's efforts to dialogue with Hizbullah.

This An-Nahar report quotes the spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying (I'm translating back from the Arabic. If you find the English version online, please let me know): "I would like to remind that UNR 1559 calls for the exit of all foreign troops from Lebanon. We believe that this resoultion, like all Security Council resolutions, should be implemented, which in the end would allow a just and permanent settlement in the ME... At the same time, the need should be taken into account for careful and realistic decisions that would not disturb stability in Lebanon and the entire region."

Frankly, this is a regrettable statement that's clearly pro-Syrian. Tying 1559 to other resolutions is precisely what the Syrians have been calling for. And tying withdrawal from Lebanon to the restoration of the Golan ("just and permanent settlement'") and apologizing for the Syrian occupation by repeating its bankrupt line about "Lebanese and regional stability" and Bashar's statement to La Repubblica: "It (a withdrawal from Lebanon) will only happen if we obtain serious guarantees. In one word: peace." Not that the Russians' statement alleviates Syria's isolation.

In contrast to that statement, Rice said that Syria "is standing in the way of Lebanese, Iraqis, Palestinians and others in their aspirations for a better world" calling it "out of step" with growing desire for democracy in the ME, and a "barrier" to democracy in the region. "When the Syrians support insurgents, or allow their territory to be used for insurgents, they are frustrating the aspirations of the Iraqi people. When the Syrians allow their troops and their security forces to operate in Lebanon, they are frustrating the aspirations of those Lebanese people... When the Syrians support, from their territory and with their activities, terrorist groups who carry out bombings in the Holy Land, they are frustrating the aspirations of the Palestinian people," she said.

Rice also repeated the call for international election monitors to make sure the elections are free of "contaminating influences," (a point that was strongly seconded by Tony Blair) and reiterated the possibility of sending international peacekeepers if needed.

Also, Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden both stressed that the Syrians must leave and that the international community will strongly seek to assure a quicker timetable, in response to Bashar's ridiculous Time magazine interview, whose vagueness was also criticized by Jumblat. Rice also repeated that the US position on the implementation of UNR 1559 and the withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence apparatuses was firm and serious. You can also read the transcript of Rice's Q&A session with Arab journalists here. Finally, Gen. John Abizaid said that the Syrian withdrawal was inevitable, and that the Syrian government will have to reevaluate its regional role, and that it will have to understand that the sovereignty of its neighbors ultimately serve its own higher interest.

The pressure isn't going away.

Addendum: Martin Kramer links this piece in the Seattle PI on the Israeli angle(s) and reactions to what's going on in Lebanon. Some, like Silvan Shalom, are excited that this might bring about a peace deal between Israel and Lebanon given that, as Shalom put it, "We have no dispute with Lebanon, no dispute about territory, no economic dispute," but Kramer is quoted in the piece with a very good advice: "Israel's role is to keep its head down as far as possible." The piece also quotes that Walid Jumblat says that no peace deal will be cut with Israel, only a truce and a return to the 1949 armistice. Everyone should take that and be very glad (in fact, a Christian opposition figure said the same to me this past January)! Remember, Jumblat and the opposition are in the middle of dialoguing with Hizbullah, and the Syrians are still not out! Any hint of an Israeli link here will blow the entire thing to pieces. Hizbullah is not exactly enamored with Israel, and won't negotiate with people wanting to cut a peace deal with Israel! The idea, as Jumblat and also Aoun want, is to convince Hizbullah that military activity from Lebanon is over, hence the truce. Both Jumblat and Aoun are dismissing the Shebaa Farms card. The territories are Syrian, and fall under another UN resolution (not 425). Unless the Syrians sign them over to us, forget about them. And even if they do sign them over, we can negotiate something as opposed to opting for continued military struggle. So the opposition is hoping to reason with Hizbullah, and is now focused on getting Syria and its intelligence services out. Everything else will have to wait, and that effor shouldn't be undercut.

Tom Friedman wrote in his From Beirut to Jerusalem that Lebanon, although the natural first to cut a peace deal with Israel, will in fact have to be the last, until, in this case, Syria cuts a deal. Egypt, Jordan have cut it, and the Palestinians are in the process. But until Syria does, they will raise hell if the Lebanese do it first. Moreoever, Hizbullah will never go for it as long as the Golan dispute is not resolved, and Syria gets a deal. Hizbullah can't continue to do anything on its own if Syria cuts a deal. But to get Hizbullah to agree to a truce with the opposition should be taken immediately. It's a positive first step. What the opposition is most concerned about is for Lebanon not to be held hostage in a proxy war between Israel and Syria, where it bears the brunt of the damage, while the Golan front is calm. That's why Jumblat said, unless you want to open all the military fronts, the Lebanese front has to shut down. It's unacceptable that Lebanon should be used in that way by Syria. People should take that as a very wise step. Let's not forget the neighborhood we live in.