Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hezbollah announces the obvious: Tribunal in exchange for veto

After hinting at it for months, Hezbollah has officially stated that they consider the UN Tribunal linked to the overhaul of the government. Up until yesterday, the official line was a consequent denial, but now the second man in Hezbollah, Sheik Naim Qassim stated the obvious: both issues are directly related to each other. Hezbollah is willing to accept the UN Tribunal in return for a blocking minority participation in the government.

It is a positive step that Hezbollah declares for the first time to be truly behind the UN Tribunal. Too bad that they immediately link it to changing the democratically elected government. One can only wonder what both items have to do with one another. A possible connection would be that Hezbollah considers the UN Tribunal as American inspired which could lead to a sell-out of Lebanon's interests. By having a veto right in the new government, Hezbollah can try to limit the influence of America on Lebanon.

The first reactions from the Hariri block are positive. They are not afraid that Hezbollah might misuse its veto right by blocking the UN Tribunal once it is back in government. There's no reason for such fear either. Hezbollah is known to be a reliable partner: they deliver on their promises so if they say they will support the Tribunal, they will most likely not backtrack from this.

First reactions from the Christian leader Samir Geagea was less positive. He was quoted as saying that he feels the results of the recent elections should be respected. He is war of giving Hezbollah a much greater influence that these results warrant by letting Hezbollah use the UN Tribunal as a bargaining chip.

He has a point; one should respect the outcome of elections. Still, the objections are largely theoretical in nature since most, if not all, previous cabinet decisions were made unanimously. Having a veto right sounds nice, but using it might prove to be next to impossible. Sure, history never gives you a guarantee for the future, but if there is one thing that became crystal clear during the last few months, it is that the political system in Lebanon is build on consensus. Remove this, and the whole political structure collapses.

Whatever you might think of it, Lebanon has to find back its way to the consensus. Power play by the majority has proven to be leading nowhere and the same goes for power play by the minority. Geagea's fear for domination by Hezbollah seems a bit premature. What he might be worried about is a loss of face. It's likely he wants to avoid of being seen as 'giving in' to Hezbollah since that would be a reward for ruing the country. First by the devastating war with Israel and now by occupying Downtown. Still, it seems both parties are reaching out to each other and that's the best to expect for now.

Update: Today, Friday, the news papers stated that Samir Gaegea has welcomed the proposal of Hezbollah to accept the UN Tribunal and that he's willing to adjust the government. Yesterday, I was blogging that he was against Hezbollah's suggestion, now he seems to have changed his mind 180 degrees. Is it really or is it another example of sloppy journalism and innocent bloggers like me who copy/paste these stories without questioning?

The reason for Gaegae's support is anyone's guess. A possible explanation might be that he's counting on the Tribunal to do so much damage to Syria and thus Hezbollah that this will weaken their position drastically. As a result, Hezbollah's veto right would become less of an issue in this theory.