Saturday, November 24, 2007

Upcoming conference in Annapolis, Lebanon

It is often said that politics in Lebanon are actually defined abroad. Sometimes, the Lebanese use it as a convenient excuse to avoid accountability for their own actions. Many other times, however, there is a certain truth to it. Take a look at the upcoming Middle East conference in Annapolis Beirut.

First, it was used by America to push forward with the election of a president. It didn’t really matter if he was neutral or with March 14, as long as there would be a new president in time for America to have an example of how democracy can work in the Middle East.

When it became apparent that no easy solution was available, that same America started pressing for avoidance of chaos, even at the expense of delaying the election of a new president. Imagine if Lebanon would experience a coup d’état right before the Annapolis conference. That would seriously hurt America’s sales pitch for democracy when all this beautiful system to run a country would bring, was chaos and disorder in Lebanon. It also wouldn’t really convince other Arab countries to warm up to majority rule instead of dictatorial leadership.

With Lebanese decisions being taking abroad, the Lebanese naturally have developed a fear of being sold out by foreign powers. Their beautiful little country is often, in their eyes, nothing more than a bargaining chip used by the international power brokers. A good example would be the lead-up to the first Gulf War. The United States, needing Syria’s support, allowed the latter to take an even fuller reign of Lebanon than it already had.

Another good example would be Syria’s presence early in Lebanon’s civil war. Its entering Lebanon was tacitly supported by America with the understanding that Syria would end the Palestinians attacks on Israel. It must be said, Syria did an exemplary job, even leading up to the expulsion of Yassar Arafat’s PLO from Lebanon and into exile to Tunisia.

Despite the current hostilities between the USA and Syria, the Lebanese are not fooled. They know that America can easily change its position the moment it feels it would benefit their policies. They also know that Syria is likewise opportunistic and has proven to America to be quite loyal in the execution of its part of the deals. Is there a reason now to be afraid Lebanon might yet be again on the brink of a sell-out?

A clear ‘Yes’ would be the answer when reading the column of Émile Khoury in today’s l’Orient-Le Jour. He is quoting sources saying that the Syrians have recently made a rather tempting offer to America. Among other things, the Syrians propose to give up their support for Hamas, which is important since Hamas’s political leader Mechaal is based in Damascus. Furthermore, Syria offers to establish embassies with Lebanon, delineate the Lebanon-Syria border, and to officially acknowledge the Lebanese identity of the Shebaa farms.

Wait, there’s more! Syria also has put on the table their willingness to severe relationships with Iran, to stop supporting armed Palestinian factions inside Lebanon and even pressure Hezbollah into regulating its arms.

That’s almost too good to be true. It sure must be tempting for the United States and for president Bush in particular who is dying to leave a mark on history by achieving a break-through in the Middle East before the end of his term next year. Getting Syria to do all of the above, would easily qualify as such.

So what does Syria want in return? Nothing too much it seems, just to be allowed to “play a positive and important role in guaranteeing safety and stability in Lebanon”. However, this would almost certainly mean that Syria wants to use its renewed influence in Lebanon, if granted, to block the UN Tribunal into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and others. Despite its claims to be innocent, Syria would rather not use the opportunity of a legal court to prove its innocence.

The question then becomes for the Lebanese whether Bush will succumb to the temptations offered by Syria at the expense of finding the truth about the killing of a few people, or that he would truly leave a mark on history by forcefully supporting nascent democracy in Lebanon as well as vigorously rejecting the sanctioning of terrorism embedded in accepting Syria’s proposal.