Saturday, September 25, 2004

Jumblatt and Hizballah React to 1559

I would prefer to be "a garbage collector in New York rather than an Arab leader," Walid Jumblatt stated on Lebanese national TV yesterday. The Druze za`im has reached new rhetorical heights in his campaign against recognition of the Lahoud presidential extension and Damascus meddling in Syrian constitutional affairs. To al-Nahar, he has called the Syrians the "Janjaweed" of the region and promised to fight their meddling "on land and in the air." Verily, he is the Shakespeare of the Lebanese opposition. He has promised not to join in any cabinet so long as Lahoud is president.

The opposition groups met recently at the Bristol Hotel in Beirut. About 200 prominent opposition politicians, including members of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, the Progressive Socialist Party, Metn MP Nassib Lahoud's Democratic Renewal Movement, the Democratic Leftist Movement, Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, the National Bloc and others looked for common ground in denouncing the extension of Lahoud's presidency. They hope to give France and the US something to work with in their efforts to pressure Kofi Annan to denounce Syria on October 3rd when Annan must file his follow-up report on resolution 1559.

The opposition called their meeting "Carlton II" referring to a meeting held three years ago at the Carlton Hotel in Beirut to denounce the mass roundup of anti-Syrian activists and students on Aug. 7, 2001.

Pro-Syrian politicians were quick to react in an attempt to undercut the opposition. The next day, they met at the Meridien-Commodore Hotel to issue an unexpected call on Jumblatt and the opposition groups to join them in dialogue, unity and reform.

Despite his rhetoric, Jumblatt is keeping a toe in the Syrian camp. Beirut MP Beshara Merhej, who attended the Commodore meeting, said: "We will not stop calling on the opposition to join our position." He said that Jumblatt's stance on Thursday was not the step they had hoped for, but indeed it was a step in the right direction, as although Jumblatt's opposition regarding the extension of Lahoud's term did not change, "he did not break the ties with Syria, and has shown a will for discussion." Jumblatt has not come out in favor of dismantling Hizballah, as his Christian allies would like him too. He still believes the "resistance" is legitimate. He will not get into a fight with Hizballah while tangling with Damascus. Moreover, Jumblatt asserts that he is not against Syria, but only against the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term and Syrian interference in the intricacies of Lebanese affairs?

In the old days, Syria would have knee caped Jumblatt for his outspoken opposition - or just offed him, as they presumably did to his father Kamal in the 1977. Today, however, under the glair of international attention and under the leadership of the less iron-fisted Bashar, Damascus is determined to woo him back with emoluments and threats. Some of Jumblatt's supporters were arrested last week after his 17-member parliamentary bloc voted against the constitutional amendment that allowed the extension of Lahoud's term. One of Jumblatt's supporters, Baabda MP Bassem Sabaa, said that "the history of Kamal Jumblatt forbids us to be listed on the black lists" of those who have given up on democracy and who did not vote against the Lahoud extension. Damascus needs Jumblatt on its side in order to smooth over the Lahoud affaire. It is quite possible the Druze leader will be able to exact a hefty price for his neutrality, doing well for himself at the same time as demonstrating to Syria that they will have pay for pushing Lebanon around.

Nicholas Blanford writes that Hizbullah is not dismissing Resolution 1559 with the same initial bravado of some Syrian officials. He explains two deals American officials have recently offered Syria in an effort to curtail Hizballah.

The former U.S. official Martin Indyk reportedly relayed one suggestion two weeks ago to Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to reports, Indyk proposed that Israel withdraw from the Shebaa Farms and retreat from the Golan Heights by 5 kilometers in exchange for Hizbullah's pulling back from the Blue Line by 25 kilometers.

Another proposal, reputedly floated by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, is for Lebanese soldiers to jointly patrol the Blue Line with UN peacekeepers, a move that could be considered a confidence-building measure in lieu of a full deployment of Lebanese troops along the border.

He concludes that: "Unless Syria is offered some very tasty carrots along with the diplomatic beatings it has endured in the past two years, it is difficult to see a significant alteration in Hizbullah's status, Resolution 1559 notwithstanding."


At 9/28/2004 01:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Syira has every right to take care of her strategic interests, after all this is what the USA and major western powers are doing in many parts of the world ( staioning tropps in Japan and Korea ).


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