More Obstacles to Formation of New Lebanon Government

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Article Summary
As conflict continues to rage next door in Syria, Lebanon’s polarized political scene must face several challenges before it can build a government that satisfies past agreements.

The Baabda Declaration was issued at the end of a national dialogue session held at the Presidential Palace on June 11, 2012, and involving all Lebanese parties. The most important of its 17 articles provide for committing to a security, political and media truce, working on consolidating stability and civil peace, preventing the country from sliding into strife, adhering to the Taif Agreement and keeping Lebanon far removed from regional and international conflicts to avoid the negative repercussions of them. An exception is the Palestinian cause, including the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. The declaration has provoked disagreement between the March 8 and March 14 alliances. 

The March 14 faction has been calling on Hezbollah and its allies in the March 8 coalition to commit to the Baabda Declaration. They have demanded since June 2012 that the declaration form the basis of the ministerial (policy) statement of any government formed by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, and they flatly reject the triad of “the army, the people and the resistance,” an axiom of Hezbollah, as part of any such statement.

The March 8 coalition, on the other hand, complained this month that the Baabda Declaration, as promoted by the March 14 alliance, does not address the issue of “the resistance” (i.e., Hezbollah) and its weapons or the controversial defense strategy involving them. The March 14 coalition attempted to present the declaration to be directed against the resistance and counter the statement of the currently resigned caretaker government of Najib Mikati that emphasizes the importance of the equation of cooperation between the army, the people and the resistance in the face of Israeli aggression. Meanwhile, on Aug. 14, the president of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, declared, “The Baabda Declaration was born dead.”

Amid this controversy, on Sept. 12, 2013, the office of President Michel Suleiman issued a statement asserting, “The Baabda Declaration did not include any text on the resistance and its arms. It did not address ways of benefiting from resistance capabilities and put them at the disposal of the Lebanese state.” It went on to assert that these “proposals and concepts were part of the strategic vision for the defense of Lebanon that were delivered by President Michel Suleiman before the dialogue committee during the session held at the Presidential Palace on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012.” 

The presidential statement was at the core of a meeting of March 8 leaders on Sept. 13, as sources of the coalition said the statement would not be proper at anytime as the basis of a ministerial policy statement. The sources asserted the coalition's refusal to change the equation of “the army, the people and the resistance,” which legalizes the role of the resistance and its arms. It is worth noting that the presidential statement was issued at a time when Suleiman had been intensifying efforts to form a government

A source close to Hezbollah, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Al-Monitor that the Baabda Declaration was issued under "delicate" conditions and did not approach the depth of the crisis in Lebanon. The source added that Hezbollah welcomes any dialogue on the Lebanese crisis, because it would be a positive step regardless of its outcome.

Moreover, the same source said that Hezbollah is not concerned about forming a status quo government without its participation, or about its ministerial statement, as the party cannot be kept out of any government. He added that it would be a folly to exclude Hezbollah from a new government and that it remains uncertain whether Saudi Arabia will keep its veto to prevent Hezbollah from being part of the government.

The same source said that the resistance has proved itself to be a significant strategic actor in Lebanon and its main source of deterrence. He stressed that the triad equation is the guarantor of the country’s stability against aggression. He added that cooperation and coordination between the army and the resistance serve as a deterrence against Israel, preventing it from carrying out attacks and safeguarding the country’s civil peace.

On the other hand, Amar Houry, a member of the Future bloc, the main faction of March 14, stated in a radio interview, “The presidential statement [of Sept. 12] was issued to reset priorities and serves as a reminder of what some want to deny.” He said that Article 11 of the Baabda Declaration “stresses the importance of adhering to the Taif Agreement, while Hezbollah has been calling for holding a constituent conference. Also, Article 12 calls for distancing Lebanon from the policy of the regional axes' polarization, while Hezbollah continues to interfere in Syria and Cyprus among other countries. Article 13 talks about controlling the border, while Hezbollah intervenes in Qusair.” 

Karim Pakradouni, a former minister, said in a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, “The presidential statement regarding the Baabda Declaration was an attempt to find a common ground between all Lebanese groups, so as to raise the issue of Syrians displaced in Lebanon before the UN and demand that the international community and donor countries assume responsibility toward this crisis, which constitutes a burden on the Lebanese treasury in terms of economy, health and education. This is not to mention that it is a security and demographic problem.”

Pakradouni, who had served as head of the Kataeb Party and is now a Hezbollah ally, does not consider a ministerial statement, the dispute over the Baabda Declaration or the people-resistance-army triad to be obstacles to the formation of a government. Rather, for him, the obstacles are first, a possible Saudi veto against Hezbollah’s participation in the government, which he said would be an unprecedented and unacceptable occurrence, and second, that some are banking on the fall of the Syrian regime and the opposition assuming control of governance, which would enhance the status of its allies, the March 14 forces, in Lebanon.

Moreover, he added that based on his experience, he does not consider the ministerial statement to be a policy program to be implemented. It is rather a political statement submitted for a vote of confidence and is not the actual obstacle to the formation of a government, as its corners can be rounded.

Regarding the formation of a status quo government without Hezbollah, Parkadouni believes that the president cannot do anything at the moment, as he is well aware that approving such a government would create a problem rather than a solution. Both President Suleiman and Prime Minister-designate Salam are well aware that it would be unwise to form a one-sided, March 14 government, which would be impaired and fail to gain a majority in parliament. Pakradouni advises forming a government of national unity to preserve security and address the difficult situation the country faces.

When asked whether the US-Russian agreement on placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control and the unlikelihood of a US strike on Syria would improve the chances of forming a government in Lebanon without the participation of Hezbollah, Pakradouni said that the opposite is the case. According to him, the “strike that does not kill you makes you stronger.” That is, the stance of Syria and its Lebanese allies will be stronger than before the threat of military action. He also asserted that the Gulf states and the armed Syrian opposition, who had counted on the military strike, will be the biggest losers in the US-Russian agreement. Pakradouni added that he is reassured once again that a political solution through a Geneva II conference is the answer to the Syrian crisis, not military action.

In response to a question on whether the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons would undermine Damascus' stance and deterrence capabilities vis-à-vis Israel, the source close to Hezbollah said that Syria has many strategic alternatives, including long-range ballistic missiles and a number of political cards up its sleeve. He stressed that Syria will not be exposed or alone, as its allies in Russia and Iran as well as Hezbollah will not allow an aggression against it if its chemical weapons are removed. He added that there will be a settlement on destroying the weapons, and Russia will provide guarantees against any Israeli aggression toward Syria, because an attack on Syria would be seen as an aggression on the entire Islamic nation, which would trigger a war across the region.

Haytham Mouzahem is a Lebanese analyst specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs. On Twitter: @haytham66

Found in: syrian civil war, syrian, syria, saudi arabia, saudi, najib mikati, michel suleiman, march 8 movement, march 14 movement, lebanon, hezbollah, future movement, future

Haytham Mouzahem is a Lebanese analyst specializing in Middle Eastern and Islamic affairs. On Twitter: @haytham66

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