Jumblatt attacks tribunal as threat to Lebanese security

23 Jan
Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Soci...

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Tariq Alhonmayed, editor-in-chief of Asharq al-Awsat, on Wednesday wrote “the time has come to reform Lebanon the hard way, and the International Tribunal is the best way to do this.”  It does indeed look like mediation efforts in Lebanon have reached boiling – or rather, breaking – point.  Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Qatar, the US, France – each has thrown in their pennies’ worth and promptly backed away before any more hard-earned cash (substitute status/reputation/time) is lost.  Each, while worrying aloud about the effect war or violence in Lebanon may have across the region, has decided that the attempt to find a solution is fruitless, at least for now.  Western-affiliated countries continue to stress the importance of the tribunal; supporters of Arabian empowerment, who tend also to be anti-Western, continue to back Hezbollah, meaning that they also follow its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in denouncing the UN tribunal as “an Israeli project.”

How can such divergent perspectives be reconciled? Given that even the international mediators – naturally not as emotionally involved in Lebanese domestic affairs as are the key players – cannot come to a resolution, it is hardly surprising that a successful compromise between the March 8 and March 14 camps has yet to be reached.  But Alhonmayed’s comment demonstrates just how much further there is to go.  His proposed solution is based around the justice that will come out of the International Tribunal.  But this is exactly the problem.  Will it be justice, if the accused party (most likely Hezbollah) believes the tribunal to be biased? Will its verdict carry any weight? Will it have any power to condemn the guilty party? Although by international law accused criminals can be tried in absentia, academic Franklin Lamb has pointed out that this is in danger of breaking Lebanese law and may not be upheld.  There is strife between the UN investigators conducting the inquiry.

And even if the tribunal’s verdict is straightforward and a guilty party is tried, the bulk of the problem remains.  Hezbollah take the very existence of the tribunal as a personal affront.  They also see it as an insult to Lebanon.  For them, supporters of the tribunal are Westophiles, unpatriotic.  Saad Hariri, of the March 14 camp, has backed the tribunal: it is, after all, investigating the murder of his father.  But his decision has cost him the premiership and it now looks unlikely he will be re-elected.  Leader of the Druze sect Wallid Jumblatt, who just days ago declared his staunch support for Hariri (currently caretaker PM) announced on Friday that his party “will stand firm in support of Syria and the resistance [Hezbollah].”  Jumblatt is known for his reversals of support; a pragmatist and patriot, his allies depend upon who offers the Druze a better deal and what seems most promising for Lebanon.  His decisions tend to be intelligently calculated and he is influential.  His backing of Hezbollah is troublesome for Hariri, and not only because Jumblatt has 11 MPs in his bloc.  If Jumblatt, generally agreed to be a moderate, backs Hezbollah, undecided public support may conclude that, in fact, Hezbollah does seem to offer a better option.  Hezbollah now have 62 allies in parliament; Hariri has 60.  65 are needed for a new government to be legitimate.  Hezbollah, the party of “the resistance” for so long, are fast becoming the party with the largest claim to legitimacy – and to power.  And if they govern Lebanon, whatever the International Tribunal uncovers is unlikely to have an affect.  Which brings us back to Alhonmayed’s hope.  Whether for better or worse, the UN tribunal will not reform Lebanon.

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