This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 22/01/2011
The first lesson that any lifeguard learns is not to let a drowning man cling to them and drag them under, and the first lesson that anybody dealing with the Lebanese scene must learn is that you must not march to their beat, but rather raise your engagement with them to the state level.
Prince Saud al-Faisal announced that the Saudi monarch had given up on mediation with Syria with regards to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and following this it was asked in Beirut "Is Saudi Arabia angry with Hariri?" My [Lebanese] brothers, please pay attention! Prince Saud al-Faisal said that King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz had spoken with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, head-of-state to head-of-state, and when there was no forthcoming commitment to what had been agreed upon, he gave up on this agreement. However, the Lebanese then said "Yes…but does this confirm that Saudi Arabia has given up on Lebanon?" Yesterday, Prince Saud al-Faisal responded to this, answering that it confirms that Saudi Arabia has "only [given up] with regards to the issue of mediation." However tomorrow the Lebanese will ask, why did you withdraw from your withdrawal?" This is a vicious circle that will continue in this way; the Lebanese hole drowns everybody who tries to enter it. The issue does not stop here, for during the 2006 war, when Saudi Arabia issued a statement about the [military] adventurists, the Lebanese asked "who wrote this speech?" and the answer was "what's the difference? Everybody is loyal to King Abdullah." This, of course, was a statement that was followed by even more analysis [from the Lebanese].
The whole issue is one of wrangling, for the Lebanese only hear what they want to hear, otherwise how can we explain their disregard of the statement issued by the Turkish Foreign Minister [Ahmet Davutoglu]. The Turkish foreign minister, accompanied by his Qatari counterpart, issued a statement [on Thursday], announcing the end of their mediation efforts in Lebanon. This came after the Saudi Foreign Minister [Prince Saudi al-Faisal] announced that King Abdullah had given up on mediating the Lebanese problems. Davutoglu's statement was clear, he said that his country would be halting its mediation efforts because the Lebanese parties were not responding…this was a very unambiguous statement, but we did not hear any [Lebanese] response to this.
In order to understand the problems [in Lebanon], we must consider one simple thing whose symbolism is clear, and that is that when [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah met with the Iranian President [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] in Lebanon during his last visit, this meeting took place at the Iranian embassy. Ahmadinejad was not taken blindfolded to meet with Nasrallah [at a secret location], and this is because Ahmadinejad was dealing with a subordinate or an employee. The same applies to many others when they visit Damascus, for the Damascus leadership does not come to them [in Lebanon]. However when the Saudi monarch visited Lebanon, he went and visited Hariri, rather than having Hariri come to him at the Saudi Arabian embassy, and that is a big difference!
In comparison, we have all heard the complaints made, for example, by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, about the journey he was taken on in order to meet with Hassan Nasrallah. We also do not know the manner in which the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers met with Nasrallah a few days ago.
Therefore, what we mean to say here is that states cannot lower themselves to the level of sect or militia leaders, meeting with them in caves or rooftops. Tell me…is it rational for the Saudi Foreign Ministry to deal with the fickle Walid Jumblatt? The changeable nature of Mr. Jumblatt means that it would be better for the Saudi Weather Service to deal with him, for his changes in position go beyond even the weather changes in our region!
Therefore we say, there is no need for further clarification, now is the time to deal with Lebanon with the logic of a state, and if the Lebanese do not respond, they are the ones who will pay the price; their situation is getting progressively worse, and this will not only affect them but their neighbors, because there is no question that this fire will spread to others.