Lebanon Should Postpone Its National Dialogue

Article Summary
Before Lebanon can have a fruitful national dialog, writes Rosana Bou Mounsef, it must wait on outside developments on the Syrian crisis and the Iran nuclear issue. Both will seriously affect the balance of power in the region and in Lebanon, so it would be best to wait for results before cutting any deals. 

Will the Lebanese national dialog be any different after the Syrian crisis than it was before the crisis? Could it produce different results this time?

No one seems to think so. To many observers, the dialog that President Michel Suleiman initiated does not even have what the president requested on its agenda, namely the [Hezbollah] weapons issue. There are two matters that no Lebanese dialog can resolve unless they are clarified, regardless of where internal rivals stand or whether they support the dialogue or not.

The first matter involves the negotiations between the P5+1 countries and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear weapons. It would be difficult to discuss the weapons issue in Lebanon and its association with Hezbollah before the results of the P5+1 negotiations are clear. An agreement between Iran and the West, and particularly between Iran and the United States, would immediately cause Iran to lose its justification for sending weapons to Lebanon, and the existing weapons would lose their purpose, too. This issue is at the forefront, regardless of whether the renewed negotiations — for which two meetings have been held, in Istanbul and in Baghdad — will produce any results. This issue is also related to the possibility of an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities. As long as an Israeli strike is possible, it will be difficult to discuss Hezbollah’s weapons as part of a “defensive strategy,” or whatever label it may have. Everybody knows that.

The other matter involves international communication about the Syrian crisis following the Houla massacre, the visit by the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Damascus Kofi Annan, and his announcement that if his plan is not implemented then civil war in Syria is possible. The international negotiations taking place have nothing to do with whether the Syrian president should stay or go, nor are they determining how to bring down the regime and replace it with another, like people originally thought in the beginning. The negotiations will be driven by the relevant parties’ broader interests and their potential gains. As long as international negotiations over Syria remain ambiguous, it will be difficult for a regional player like Iran to defend its influential role in Syria or to achieve any gains, and it will be difficult for Lebanese parties to discuss the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons. When the negotiations are based on gains, Iran will not surrender its influence in Lebanon, nor would Hezbollah surrender its weapons because any radical change in Syria will strengthen the position of one of the negotiating sides, rendering compromise unnecessary.

Furthermore, these two matters are linked. In the international negotiations over Syria, Iran may find itself on Russia and China’s side on the Syrian issue, defending the regime, and also about the nuclear weapons issue. So a settlement on the Iran’s nuclear weapons issue may be made in exchange for future Iranian gains or influence in Syria.

Some believe that Hezbollah was considering these two matters when it called for returning to the negotiating table on the weapons issue. However, very few agree with that viewpoint because Hezbollah officials have recently made it clear that touching their weapons is impossible. Hezbollah wants to give the impression, externally and internally, that it is a responsible party seeking to maintain stability without compromising its views. This is why, when Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah proposed a constitutional conference for Lebanon based on a new social contract, it was not expected to be a gateway for dialogue among Lebanese parties. Some consider such a conference to be a waste of time, just like the discussions over the defensive strategy two years ago when the political class drowned itself in useless discussions. Although it would appear that they are discussing serious and substantial matters, their true objective is to reduce tensions and manage internal discontent. This happened when they provided cover for the Lebanese army to enter Tripoli and quell the clashes there. Hezbollah has influence over the pro-Syrian side, while the others have influence on the other side.

Some believe that calling for a new social pact might not be well timed because the Syrian situation is still unclear. Another thing to take into account is that Hezbollah’s Christian allies remain fearful that, were the pact to be renegotiated, Muslim sects’ share in the government would increase, while the Christian share would fall from one half to one third.

Found in: tripoli, russia, iran, hezbollah, china, annan

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