Across the Bay

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Price of Disarmament?

Leila Hatoum has a couple of pieces on Jumblat's meeting with Hasan Nasrallah, which was held after consulting with US officials. Jumblat came out of the meeting with two main points, which summarize Hizbullah's conditions and the extent of its compromise:

1- The party will not disarm at this stage, until its "ambitions are met over the Shebaa Farms."

2- The UN international investigation should not include peace keeping troops.

First, the second point. Some of the statements quoted in the first piece are telling. Here's the most characteristic:

Hizbullah's Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek condemned all the recent bomb attacks, saying that "the hands behind the crimes aim at bringing international forces to Lebanon" precipitating a new "U.S. colonization."

Hizbullah is very concerned about any presence of foreign troops as it fears it will be used to secure its disarmament. The hint that the intention behind the bombings of Christian neighborhoods might be aimed at bringing in UN troops is interesting. This is an indirect message that despite the bombings of Christian neighborhoods (exclusively), the Christians, and the opposition, should not call for protection from the international community. Whether this was the actual aim of the perpetrators cannot be ascertained, but it's plausible, and I've heard it suggested.

The arugment is that the Syrians and their Lebanese cronies know that the state is not capable of protecting the Christians (its own security agencies are likely behind the bombings!). Should this escalate, the argument goes, the Christians might be tempted to do one of two things: defend themselves (i.e., arm themselves), or call for international troops, which in turn would give Hizbullah a field day, and a pretext to carry operations to "liberate" the country from "American-Zionist occupation." All this is speculation of course, and the Christians and the opposition have shown remarkable restraint and maturity, and expressed inter-communal solidarity and determination not to be provoked into war.

It's the first point that's the more significant. Could it signal Hizbullah's condition for peaceful disarmament? What does their statement, as related by Jumblat, mean?

The fact that Hizbullah has limited its ambition to what it holds as Lebanese territory is of major significance. No talk about the Golan, no talk about "liberating Jerusalem," etc. In other words, no regional agenda, as was the case before.

Of course, this is not without risk. For one, we don't know for sure if Hizbullah will keep its word. Secondly, the specifics of the condition itself (Shebaa Farms) are ambiguous. The first obstacle is that the territories are officially Syrian (the UN says so). How are we supposed to negotiate over what's officially Syrian territory? How will Israel respond to that (I'm assuming the US is aware of this as its officials met with Jumblat)? Will this be a never-ending condition (and will we move from Shebaa to other "Lebanese" territory)? Will this be done peacefully through negotiations, as Jumblat and the opposition have said, or is Hizbullah planning on keeping its weapons to carry on operations against Israel until it leaves the Farms?

Nothing is clear yet, except that this is apparently Hizbullah's condition. In fact, one could say that it was predictable. Hizbullah has built up the Shebaa Farms (its only remaining raison d'ĂȘtre) for a while now, and has been pumping rhetoric left and right about its "liberation." I've said before how Hizbullah is really hostage to its own rhetoric. How do you live it down and expect to maintain credibility with your diehard followers? So in a sense, this is Hizbullah's face-saving fiasco, its chance to say that it stuck to its guns (literally) until it achieved its promise, the liberation of the Shebaa Farms. Jumblat is pragmatic enough a politician to know the strength of his hand. And right now, barring military action against Hizbullah, this is the best offer he's got yet. This is more so if part of the deal is a peaceful negotiation and a de facto shutting down of the front, which effectively means a return to the 1949 armistice, which has been Jumblat's and the opposition's stance (along with the ending of Hizbullah's regional role).

That's why the useless Helena Cobban totally misunderstood Jumblat's statements about the disarmament of Hizbullah and the Shebaa Farms:

In other words, he's backing Hizbullah on the rationale it gives for keeping its militia in operation.

First, she apparently "forgot" everything Jumblat has said so far. Secondly, this is not Hizbullah's rationale. This is only part of it. She completely erased the nuance, which is the substance! All this to argue that everyone has to bow to Hizbullah's righteous cause! But if you read Helena's comments about Hizbullah (in that same post and elsewhere) you'd understand why she jumped to that conclusion. It's because she highly sympathetic to Hizbullah, or I should say, to the image she holds of Hizbullah. Hizbullah for her, and her likes in the Third-Worldist circles, represents the "authentic voice" of the "wretched of the earth," the righteous proletariat (see her comments about Nasrallah being a poor village boy visited by the aristocratic Jumblat), the oppressed majority, etc. Witness this stupid statement:

But in terms of that decidedly modern phenomenon, political parties, Nasrallah's wins hands down over Jumblatt's rather sad "Progressive Socialist Party". In fact, Hizbullah is described by many Lebanese analysts as the only-- as well as by far the largest-- truly "political" and clearly ideological (rather than quasi-feudal) party on the scene in Lebanon today.

That's quite the pile of manure, if you'd excuse my French. Hizbullah is the party of the Khomeinist Islamic revolution. As such, it's not interested in local politics. It never thought of itself as a local political party (the logo on its flag which now reads "the Islamic resistance" used to be "the Islamic revolution"). It turned to local politics only recently (1992) and begrudgedly, maintaining an official rhetorical contempt for the entire idea of playing Lebanese politics (it was split on the issue). And here's the important point. When they did decide to do that, they played those "quasi-feudal," sectarian, client-patronage games to perfection! Only Leftist, Third-Worldist journalists, who swallow their rhetoric whole, think that they remained above the fray. That's why you hear unqualified statements from parody hipster prof. Mark LeVine about how Hizbullah is "the only true democratic force" in Lebanon. (Or take the shitz that Adam Shatz wrote today.) The premise is the same. It's this outdated Third-Worldism/Leftism "that holds on to Hizbullah as the proxy for the international workers' movement," as a friend put it to me.

So anyway, Helena's (et al.) nonsense aside, this might signal some sort of readiness for a compromise by Hizbullah. We'll see if that's the case.