Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lebanon: Can Miqati Do It?

By Elias Harfoush
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 25/01/2011

Whatever may be said about the reasons for the change of government in Lebanon, which is expected to lead to the exclusion of Premier Saad Hariri from heading the next Cabinet, there are certainly two principal reasons behind this change at this time. These two reasons are unconnected to what MP Michel Aoun, the head of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, is claiming about an anti-corruption campaign.

The first is the linkage between this change of government and Hariri’s rejection of the demand to cancel Lebanon’s cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which would be followed by withdrawing Lebanese judges for the court and halting funding for the body, etc. At the same time, this tribunal’s work is going forward, with the announcement of its indictment. In all of the discussions that were announced about the regional negotiations over the conditions of a political settlement, it was clear that the demand related to the STL, and nothing else, was the first item on the paper put forward by the opposition, led by Hezbollah.

The second reason for the government change is due to Hezbollah’s ability to bring down the government, which was described as a national unity Cabinet. This is despite the earlier understandings about supporting this government, and most importantly, the agreement that was reached in Doha, when the opposition committed itself to not using veto power to bring down the government, as it did with the Cabinet of Fouad Siniora. (The second item of the Doha Accord: “the parties abide under this agreement to not resign or obstruct the work of the government.”) We know that the items contained in this agreement are what facilitated the birth of the Hariri government and indicated the degree of its regional support.

In both cases, whether related to the STL or entrenching the Cabinet, there has been an abandonment of these earlier commitments, through which Hezbollah, leading its allies, affirmed its obligations under the Doha Accord. The policy statement of Hariri’s government stipulated a commitment to the STL and obtained the confidence of Parliament on this basis. The same applies to the item connected to the veto power within the government. For this reason, the opposition had only ten ministers out of 30 in this government, before it became apparent that the president of the Republic’s share of ministers was also prepared to move things toward obstruction, to the benefit of one of the parties, instead of toward consensus, which was supposed to govern the votes of ministers representing the “consensus” president.

What can we conclude from all of this with respect to the task of the next prime minister, which appears likely to be former Premier Najib Miqati?

The first conclusion to be drawn is that bringing down the STL, and no other item, irrespective of what is being said otherwise, will be the first item in the list of commitments that will be requested of the new prime minister. Can a government headed by Najib Miqati, under the current circumstances, take on a task such as this, as it comes to office on the ruins of a government of the “heir of blood” Saad Hariri? Based on his political and economic stature in Lebanon and outside the country, can Miqati confront a near international consensus over boosting the work of this tribunal, which was created under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, while realizing the consequences of this for Lebanon’s position and its international commitments?

The second conclusion that can be drawn from the last two weeks is connected to questions about the value of the mutual commitments and promises made between the parties to the conflict in Lebanon, while the ability to alter these commitments by force continues to be what governs the political game. What is now meant, for example, by the commitment to not act maliciously, and to remain committed to a government of national partnership that leaves space for everyone, as long as the interest of a single party and support for this interest are what determine the criteria of national belonging?

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