Monday, March 14, 2005

Understanding the political maneuvering in Lebanon

Over the past week, the basic positions taken by the two opposing camps in Lebanon have been the following:

Hizballah & the authorities claim that they want to remove Hariri’s assassination from the political rhetoric, and turn the issue into a purely judicial/investigative one. After that is done, they state that they would like to move on to the negotiating table with all Lebanese parties – without any prior conditions

The Opposition on the other hand, has categorically denied Hizballah’s demand. It has insisted on keeping Hariri’s assassination within the political rhetoric; and has refused to sit down on the negotiating table until their main demands have been met. These demands are:

- the full withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence personnel,
- the creation of an international investigating commission,
- and the resignation of all the major security chiefs in the country.

On the surface it appears that the differences between the two positions are somewhat superficial. It seems that the only disparity pertains to timing, and whether or not to hold the Lebanese security chiefs responsible for Hariri’s assasination.

However, I believe that the reality is quite different. What is now termed “the opposition” spans almost the entire Lebanese political spectrum – with, of course, the exception of Hizballah. Each of these parties and individuals naturally has political differences and objectives. The only glue uniting them today is that list of three basic demands that act as the lowest common denominator.

Therefore it is safe to assume that Hizballah’s call for sitting on the negotiating table (without any conditions) is an intelligent tactic with the objective of dividing the opposition. As I mentioned above, their unity is only skin deep; and once they do sit down on those chairs their differences are bound to surface – a very good example is the differing opinions with regards to UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

Of course, it is easy to foresee that if Hizballah's tactic works, the political desire for an international investigating commission, the resignation of the security chiefs, and full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanese territory will be fractured. Furthermore, Hizballah will not have to break its promise for a full judicial inquiry into the assassination because there will no longer be the political consensus for one.

Why is it not in the interest of Hizballah to carry out a real judicial inquiry into Hariri’s murder? Simple: The Lebanese intelligence sevices are, most likely, implicated; and it is not in Hizballah’s interest to destroy the apparatuses which have thus far protected its flank while facing Israel.

I see two options for Hizballah. The first is conceding to this overwhelming show of political force displayed by the opposition. The second is continuing in its attempts to divide its large but fragile political foe - maybe through more drastic means.

On the other hand, if the opposition does manage to maintain its unity by sticking to those three basic demands prior to joining any negotiations, I do not think that even President Lahoud will be able to withstand the pressure that is building against him.

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