By Franklin Lamb
After nearly half a year of attempts to form a cabinet, the new Hezbollah-controlled government under the leadership of its Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the 12-member committee tasked with drafting the platform of the new government has reportedly completed its work within its 30-day constitutional deadline.
It did so by adopting a draft policy statement that, according to Information Minister Walid al-Daouq, resulted in a “consensus” on the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Late information from al-Daouq’s office and his staff says that this statement guarantees “respect of international resolutions” and “pursuit” of the tribunal, “which was established to fulfill justice away from politicization and vengeance and in a manner that does not harm Lebanon’s stability and unity.”
Lebanese political analysts speculated that the Mikati government was trying to finalize its policy before the tribunal releases its indictment in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.
It now appears that the cabinet will quickly ratify the policy statement and schedule a vote of confidence for the first week of July. If indeed this happens, it suggests that the forces are aligned on each side to return to the political conflict of the past six years.
The new pro-Hezbollah majority is very keen on putting the tribunal and the Hariri assassination behind it so it can concentrate on presenting its political, social and economic programs. Much work has been done by Hezbollah to prepare a domestic program that it is confident can fundamentally improve the lives of the vast majority of the Lebanese population by ending government corruption, improving the agricultural sector, reviving the economy of the Bekaa Valley and providing services for all Lebanese citizens — wherever they live or to whichever sect or political group they belong.
But it will not be easy. The new minority March 14 pro-American and pro-Saudi coalition has repeatedly signaled that it will fight, from outside the government, every program or stance it disagrees with. March 14 is applying pressure domestically with regards to the tribunal, creating a hard target of the “international commitments” that are aimed at Hezbollah.
Mikati, his staff and political allies have worked to avoid a confrontation with the international community on this by finding a formula acceptable to all parties participating in the government. Mikati has reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to international obligations, including the tribunal and UN resolution 1701, which ended the summer 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon.
Still, the past few days have witnessed a return to intense US, French and British interference in the new government’s effort to launch itself.
“We discussed many issues, including Security Council Resolution 1701 and I reiterated my expectation and the expectation of the secretary-general that the government will restate its full support and commitment to the full implementation of 1701 in its ministerial declaration,” UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams told reporters on June 29 after meeting Mikati at the Grand Serail.
As if on cue, US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly weighed in to encourage American allies in the March 14 coalition. Connelly told the media that Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s recent statements against the US embassy in Lebanon are solely aimed at “deflecting attention away from internal tensions in the party”.
After holding talks with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun she said, “We discussed the new government and I repeated the US decision which is: we will judge the new government by its composition, its ministerial statement, and the actions it takes. Of course, I reiterated the American expectation that the new government will continue to respect Lebanon’s international obligations including those related to Security Council Resolution 1701 and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.”
While this might appear to be just a continuation of the political jousting of the past six years, the new government and (in particular) Hezbollah operatives insist that Lebanon has entered a new era of resistance and that the new government can and will win widespread support by proving its capabilities to govern fairly for all of Lebanon. If it succeeds — and it intends to — it believes that neither regional unrest nor tribunal indictments of some of its members will outweigh the political support it can gain by substantially and positively changing the lives of its fellow citizens.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons-international.org.