Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The law of communicating vessels

During his London visit, PM Fouad Seniora had to address diplomats, businessmen, students and UK government officials. I had the opportunity to address 2 of his talks, one at the London School of Economics, and the second at Chatham House (the royal institute for international affairs). Although both speeches had common points, the LSE talk focused on the currently debated economic reforms, while the RIIA talk emphasized regional and domestic political challenges. The content of the talks did not present any groundbreaking announcements, however some points are perhaps worth highlighting.

Although both speeches tackled different issues, they both strongly stressed on (and ended with) the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Seniora used the analogy of the 'law of communicating vessels' to express the idea that anything that takes place in Palestine affects the rest of the region, the Arab world and the muslim world. He talked about the 'great injustice' and the 'great crime' that has been committed against the Palestinian people. He spoke of the humiliation and anger and helplessness felt everyday by 1.4 billion muslims, and which fuels ongoing tensions in Iraq, Palestine, and the region. Solve the Palestinian problem ('the mother of all the problems in the region and perhaps the mother of all solutions') he said, and most of the problems faced by the countries in the Middle East and Muslim countries will disappear...We , as Lebanese/ Arabs, no doubt understand the crucial role that the Palestinian issue plays in regional politics, and the extensive repercussions it has. Nevertheless, I couldn't but wish that he had emphasized more stronlgy domestic factors, or at least ended with domestic factors, rather than regional ones, which cannot be greatly helped by Lebanon.

Just to recount an anecdote: the Israeli ambassador to London was present at the RIIA talk, and following Seniora's insistance on Israel's responsibilities and the Shebaa farms, he sarcastically asked the PM whether he truly believed that Nasrallah would be satisfied with the Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa and would disarm, or whether, Nasrallah being a 'creative politician', it was not more likely that Hezballah would find other excuses to evade disarmement such as Iran, political prisoners, etc. To which Seniora appropriately replied that Hezballah was not an issue in this matter, and that the Shebaa farms were Lebanese territory, and that Israel should therefore de facto withdraw, regardless of Hezballah's stance. (some clapping in the audience).

Another 'challenge' mentionned was Lahoud's presidency...nothing new on that front. As for the economic reform program, it includes a mix of higher revenue (through higher taxes and privatization plans) and management of expenditures (focusing on reducing the fiscal deficit and debt servicing). These reforms are the usual ones likely to be adopted by developing countries, and seem reasonably feasible (let's hope the devil is not in the detail). Seniora's view was that 'it is not the government's business to be in business' -ie let the private sector do the job, except for limited state intervention in certain sectors like the social sector.

The National Dialogue was mentionned as an indicator that the government did not want to impose anything on anyone, and that negotiation is the favoured path forward. Unfortunately it has become increasingly clear that what is supposed to be a constructive dialogue seems in fact to be another instance of politicians going round in circles.

Seniora's purpose was to seek the UK's support (its support of the government and its efforts for reforms, its support for Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa farms) and to get the international community's vote of confidence, to translate into real financial support at the International's donor conference. Although essentially aimed at the international community, Seniora's visit and his speeches came accross as heartfelt, or at least as genuinely intentioned. Seniora and Lebanon may have won this round....all we can do now is wait and see.

By Reem A.


Raja said...


wonderful piece! On the issue of palestine though, I just don't know what to say.

To claim that "the mother or all solutions" is a Palestinian-Israeli resolution is, to put it mildly, bull.

The Palestine-Israeli issue will probably be the mother of all solutions for the Future Movement because Hizballah uses it so successfuly to challenge Future's leadership in the country. In short, once the Palestine-Israeli issue is "solved," Seniora feels that Hizballah will no longer have the ability to challenge Future's leadership and its agenda.

Personally, I doubt that assessment. Sectarian politics is sectarian politics, with or without the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and Hizballah will not just go away, or evaporate.

Furthermore, I worry because it appears that Seniora is saying that nothin's gonna happen until there's peace!

Considering the current tragectory of developments in the region, I doubt such a reality will come about any time soon.

Doha said...

Hey Reem,

Thanks for this account. It's interesting that you mentioned the Israeli official, because this conversation was reported in Al-Nahar.

JoseyWales said...


I want my gvmnt. to DIVORCE Leb's problems from those of Palestine as much as possible.

I believe NO SOLUTION whatsoever to our internal problems can occur before that.

Seniora is well intentioned but he lacks imagination and/or boldness.

I really do not care what taxes or measures are in his stupid plan. IT WILL NOT WORK, as long as security/sovereignty and corruption (which are linked) are not addessed.

And again, security cannot be dealt with without delinking from the Palestine issue (i.e armed camps and HA obsession with resistance and Shebaa, the Israeli guy is right).

JoseyWales said...

Seniora and Lebanon may have won this round....all we can do now is wait and see.

Sorry, one more thing. I do not want to wait and see. Wait for what? the solution to Palestine and/or the goodwill of the US/UK/UN....

Please Fouad stop travelling, stop kissing ass, and stop waiting for help.

Stay in stupid your office, do you job or resign (as much as I hate to agree with the demos of today).

the perpetual refugee said...

Why is shaking an Israeli's hand considered treasonous yet answering their question is ok?

Can we read into the fact that the Prime Minister addressed an Israeli OFFICIAL officially? (in front of people and reporters of all people.)

Mr. Saniora, I do respect you for that although I'm sure people are going to hound you for it until you come back with the typical 'I was tricked by the Zionists' and 'I didn't know who he was...he looked Lebanese' crap. But we all know better. Thank you for not towing the official line and actually answering the guy (even though your answer was bull and he knew it).

As for the remainder, Mr. JoseyWales kind of summed it up beautifully.

AbdulKarim said...

Its a drag that I didn't know about the events otherwise i would have attended. But thank you very much for your accounts Reem.