Across the Bay

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lebanon, the Palestinians, Aoun and Hizbullah

There are some seemingly bright spots in the relationship between the post-Syrian Lebanese government and the Palestinian Authority. After finally being given work permits (with talks of grants of professional licenses), Al-Hayat reported yesterday (story via Haaretz) that the PA "plans to transfer Palestinian militants from Lebanon to Gaza following Israel's pullout from the Strip."

Apparently, this is going to be sold as compliance with UNR 1559 which calls for the dismantling of all militias in Lebanon (which essentially means Hizbullah and the Palestinians). Whether this actually means that the remaining Palestinians will actually be unarmed remains to be seen, but it's a more or less creative solution.

While not disarming the Palestinians prevents the total embarrassment of Hizbullah (and may indeed provide them with an opportunity to establish more of a presence in Gaza), it does place the Israeli-Palestinian struggle in its proper geographical context. This way, Palestinians claiming to hold on to their weapons for "resistance" purposes (an excuses favorable to Hizbullah), will operate exclusively on their home soil, and not out of Lebanon. Not that this will change Hizbullah's rhetoric, which has become so vague and ridiculous (and lacking any national consensus, making it strictly sectarian). Listen to #2 man, Naim Qassem, talking to Al-Balad:

Trading disarmament for an Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms is rejected because the occupation does not deserve a prize for its occupation.

He went on to say that the weapons are tied to "what we have in Lebanon and the region in terms of Israeli occupation, threats, and dangers." (Emphasis added.) You can't get any more vague than that. Actually, the message is quite clear. Now it's no longer a matter of liberating supposed Lebanese land (Shebaa). It's "Israeli threats and dangers" not just in Lebanon, but "the region."

This type of rhetoric and intransigence has led Aoun to end any prospect of talks with Hizbullah (for the Arabic original, see here and here.) Aoun added that Hizbullah comes to the table with pre-fixed "red lines" which makes dialogue a non-starter. What are we supposed to be dialoguing about, if there are matters which are a priori not open for dialogue! Furthermore, Aoun added, "I can't dialogue with Hizbullah, especially when recently they've been globetrotting from Syria to Iran. I can't catch up. They've established a state within a state as a matter of fact."

Aoun went on to say that "a serious dialogue with Hizbullah necessitates that they clarify some ambiguities regarding thier positions on the resistance. What are the resistance's ultimate goals, and how long will it go on? What interests me more than the elimination of Israel is the preservation of Lebanon. The current approach will lead to the elimination of Lebanon before Israel."

Aoun then apparently continued his assault on the PoG by saying that "anyone who sets up political, geographical or security barriers between the Lebanese serves the 'federalism of partition'." He added, "the current political reality and some of the discourse is leading us toward a 'partitioning federalism'."

Federalism's proponents in Lebanon have been the Lebanese Forces. But they haven't been talking about it, and this is not aimed at them, but at Hizbullah. Ironically, Hizbullah itself has been against that proposal by the LF and the equation of federalism and partition is actually Hizbullah's line (especially in the 80s when they were working on establishing an Islamic state as an extension of the Iranian revolution. Their famous slogan then was la sharqiyya wa la gharbiyya, joumhouriyya Islamiyya: "no east [Beirut], and no west [Beirut], but an Islamic Republic")! So Aoun is using it against them. Finally, he reiterated his desire to go back to the 1949 armistice with Israel, whereby, as he put it, "not even a mosquito would be able to cross the border." And he is willing to forgo asking for the implementation of 1559 if the Taef accord is fully implemented without reservations. The Taef accord also stipulates the disarming of all militias and the dispatching of the Armed Forces to the southern border, two matters that Hizbullah strongly opposes. I should add however, that in a meeting of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement in northern Lebanon, the spokesperson said that international resolutions are made to be strictly implemented.

For more on this matter, see Nicholas Nassif's piece on Aoun and Hizbullah, and this interview in As-Siyassah with Ghassan Mkheiber, who called for the proper demarcation of borders between Lebanon and Syria, and rejected Hizbullah's competition with the state. Similar sentiments about Hizbullah and 1559 have been expressed by FPM MP and political scientist Dr. Farid el-Khazen (the author of one of the finest books on Lebanon, and several other excellent works).

Lastly, back to the Palestinians, the Haaretz story noted what I've seen repeated in various papers about the possibility of opening a Palestinian embassy in Lebanon. This will be a good move and will continue to normalize relations between Lebanon and the Palestinians, and help take that relationship away from the grip of Hizbullah (now that the Syrians are gone). It might also put more pressure on the Syrians to exchange embassies with Lebanon, something which they have refused to consider.

So let's see what actually transpires, and if all Palestinian militants will leave, and if that means that there will be no weapons or armed militias in the Palestinian camps.

Addendum: Hizbullah involved in Iraq?

Over the past eight months, his [Iranian-backed al-Sheibani] group has introduced a new breed of roadside bomb more lethal than any seen before; based on a design from the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hizballah, the weapon employs "shaped" explosive charges that can punch through a battle tank's armor like a fist through the wall. According to the document, the U.S. believes al-Sheibani's team consists of 280 members, divided into 17 bombmaking teams and death squads. The U.S. believes they train in Lebanon, in Baghdad's predominantly Shi'ite Sadr City district and "in another country" and have detonated at least 37 bombs against U.S. forces this year in Baghdad alone.
The official says the U.S. believes that Iran has brokered a partnership between Iraqi Shi'ite militants and Hizballah and facilitated the import of sophisticated weapons that are killing and wounding U.S. and British troops.

Update: A couple of columns on the Palestinian arms and Palestinian Minister Abbas Zaki, from al-Balad. In the first one, Ali Al-Amin raises the $50,000 question of whether this move will cause an internal clash in the camps between factions loyal to Abbas, and those loyal to Syria, those allied with Hizbullah, and the Islamists.

Addendum 2: Here's the funniest soundbyte from Lebanon's unrivaled joker, and Lahoud court jester, Karim Pakradouni:

We maintain that there is one occupation and one resistance. The occupation is Israel's occupation of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. And there is one resistance in Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. We consider resistance to be legitimate, in all its forms.

Rock on, Karim, with your crazy self.

Addendum 3: The head of Hizbullah's politburo Ibrahim Amin as-Sayyed, in what is perhaps the most telling statement about Hizbullah and their weapons:

[Calling on the Lebanese to] Drop, freeze, or postpone, and not exaggerate in their fears regarding the weapons of the resistance, because we have no intention of being weak and defeated.

I'm hoping to address this in more length in an upcoming post about Hizbullah and the segmented reality of the ME (see post "The ME as it really is" below).

Update 2: Hazem Saghieh on the issue of Lebanese political asylum seekers in Israel; a matter which Hizbullah has manipulated and used against Aoun, and Christians in general with nauseating self-righteousness. Saghieh in an earlier piece reiterated "for the millionth time, Lebanon in its nature and make-up and the plurality of its sects is not an ideological entity. As such, dragging it into an absolute enmity towards a particular party, any party, undermines its ability to reach a consensual agreement. The same applies to adopting a language that declares some 'nationalists' and others 'agents'."

This reminded me of a quote in Edmond Saab's column on Friday. The quote is by Mohsen Ibrahim of the Communist Labor Organization:

In supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people we loaded onto Lebanon more than it can bear in terms of military burdens for the Palestinian cause. We all too easily jumped on board the ship of the civil war under the illusion of a shortcut to democratic change. These two mistakes had dangerous negative fallouts that struck a blow to the structure of the country.

Sigh... this is why Farid el-Khazen's book is important. Read it and you'll find out what I mean.

But this quote from Hazem's piece today explains what I said in my previous post below about the Hizbullah discourse becoming not just mainstream, but the only one acceptable, in close coordination with Syria, which elevated the Party to unprecendented "highs":

What we witnessed in past years in terms of the victory of the theory of resistance over its competitors was not restricted to the South, nor to the two parties of Hizbullah and "the agents." It was an indivisible part of a coup against the traditional Lebanese functions between 1926 and 1975, and against the regional position that had Lebanon as a mediator between Arabs and between the West and the Arabs.

This coup was not calm or meek in nature. It overthrew institutions and relations, and repressed ideas, and caused a lot of death and vast emigration and a decline in the liberties of Lebanon, as well as its economy, its educational system, and its service sectors in general.

See also Nick Blanford's piece on the Lebanese SLA members in Israel.