Saturday, March 3, 2007

Lebanese parties are all talking…to themselves

There was a flurry of speeches and press conferences this week of pretty much everybody who’s anybody in Lebanese politics. We had Jumblatt in America saying that Condoleezza Rice herself promised him that the US will not let Lebanon down. We had Sarkozy in France saying that Lebanon is surrounded by enemies, hinting towards Syria. We had statements from Saudi Arabia and Iran saying that they will do their best to reach a solution. We had EU president Solana say that they might go for a Chapter 7 resolution to force the UN tribunal upon Lebanon. And so on, and so forth.

Once again, it seems that the fate of Lebanon will be decided outside Lebanon and without the Lebanese. It feels like you’re a suspect and your lawyer is plea-bargaining with the public attorney without taking into consideration your point of view.

What’s even more striking is the fact that none of the concerned parties are directly talking to each other…or even talking at all. The Opposition is amazingly silent. Remember the loudly spoken threats to escalate by using civil disobedience? Nobody mentions this anymore. Michel Aoun is unusually silent as well. And even Suleiman Franjieh seems to have lost his appetite for attention by making wild statements.

Then again, on the government side, people are equally silent. They don’t seem to be working on some sort of solution. Instead, they limit themselves to the obligatory statements that they are always ready to listen. It would be better if they’d indicate a readiness to speak!

What can be the reason for the current lull in Lebanon’s political scene? Emile Khoury from L’Orient-Le Jour gave some reasons in his article yesterday. The most striking argument is that Hezbollah does not want to cut loose president Lahoud. This will offend supporter Syria and it would paint Hezbollah as unreliable, an image they want to avoid at all cost. Furthermore, one should never give up old shoes before buying new ones. What if the new president is worse for them than Lahoud is now?

Another argument that flows from the first is that Hezbollah does not want to speak right now because it would indicate a readiness to negotiate about the topic at hand: a veto right in return for a new president. Once they start down that road, the outcome might jeopardize their friendly ties with the Christian segment represented by Michel Aoun. Hezbollah is relying heavily on their good relationship with Michel Aoun, but once it becomes clear that he will not become president, this cooperation could dissolve easily. That would leave Hezbollah even more isolated in Lebanon. Understandably, they are in no hurry to reach this outcome by starting negotiations right now.

So, for now, Hezbollah is in a wait-and-see mode. They are increasingly putting pressure on the government by their occupation of downtown (always interesting to see how people turn into the very thing they hate the most, like pedophiles who were abused themselves) and with success: the merchants in downtown are preparing a lawsuit against the government to get compensated for the losses they have incurred. Time is on Nasrallah’s side and he’d be a fool not to take advantage of this.

Where does that leave Siniora? He’s in a difficult position: he’s receiving support from pretty much everybody in the western world, but he’s also learning a tough lesson. Being right is in no way a guarantee of getting what you deserve. It must be very touching for him to get a supportive phone call from Rice, as the Daily Star mentions today, but what good does that do when you cannot convert your moral high grounds into concrete results?

For now, he seems to be pinning his hopes on the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which have an agenda of their own. That’s not very reassuring for those who were hoping that the Lebanese could reach a conclusion by themselves.