Officials from Riyadh to Khartoum have been working overtime to find a solution to Lebanon s latest political crisis. This week, Speaker Nabih Berri became the most recent leader to enter the fray with a plan of his own.
The speaker has proposed an initiative aimed at resolving two of the more contentious issues that are keeping the country in gridlock: the international court to try suspected assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the composition and mission of a unity Cabinet.
The timing of Berri s initiative bodes well for Lebanon for two reasons. First, his proposal comes shortly after Hezbollah completed its study of the draft agreement on the international tribunal, meaning that all of the parties are now prepared to enter a serious discussion over the document.
Second, Berri s initiative precedes the resumption of regular Parliament sessions in mid-March, giving leaders a large enough window of time between now and then to resolve these two issues so that the political conflict will not deal a fatal blow to Lebanon s last semi-functional institution.
Should Berri s initiative ever see the light of day, it also promises to provide a forum to laying the groundwork for a departure from the status quo. In recent weeks, all of the Lebanese have seen how the current political dispute has allowed for a kind of brinkmanship that is pushing the country toward extinction. It ought to be painfully evident to everyone by now that Lebanon s political design is so faulty that even normal internal and external political pressures easily threaten the very existence of the state.
The Lebanese political class is not entirely responsible for the current situation. Upon Syria s withdrawal from the country in 2005, they inherited a house that had been erected on a flimsy foundation. But Lebanon s leaders are to blame for the fact that they have made no serious attempt to repair the cracks in a political system whose structure is so weak that it buckles in moments of crisis.
With working teams already in place, leaders can proceed from resolving the two core disputes toward introducing changes into a political system that has allowed for half a century of fragmentation. They will need to create a formula for a new system in which the Lebanese people have some form of recourse other than looking on helplessly as leaders gamble with their destiny. The people are in desperate need of assurances that their system will no longer allow a feudal sectarian leadership to slaughter its sons and daughters to feed international conflicts.
Lebanon, like all small states, will always be subjected to international pressures. Likewise, its diversity will ensure continual strains as a result of differences of opinion. But if the state and its institutions are fortified now, future internal and external pressures will not be as likely to result in the complete collapse of the Lebanese state.