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Talking is always a good thing. Especially when not talking can lead to civil war.
Following the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri a year ago, the tensions between pro- and anti-Syrians in the country jumped. Lebanon, which saw 16 years of civil war end in 1990, suddenly experienced bombs going off under cars of anti-Syrian leaders and journalists and in the streets and malls of Christian neighborhoods.
For the first time, leaders from all sides decided to sit down and to reconcile their differences. The question remains whether, this time, talk can lead to solutions.
On the table are two issues that divide the country down the middle. Should Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian Lebanese Christian president, continue to rule the country? And should Hizbullah disarm? The answers to these questions affect the nature of the Lebanese state, its relations with its neighbor and former patron Syria, and the geopolitics with Israel.
If the success of the national conciliation conference in Beirut is based on agreeing to the answer to those questions, then don't start decorating the party hall.
As one Lebanese analyst told The Jerusalem Post in an e-mail, "Lahoud stays if there is no agreement on a successor."
Lebanese politics dictates that the president must be Christian. The only other powerful Christian on the scene is former general Michel Aoun, but neither the majority of the parliament nor the patriarch want him. "So, for the moment, it's deadlock."
Hizbullah agreeing to disarm is even more complicated. Last week, the talks broke up after Druse leader Walid Jumblatt called on Hizbullah to disarm. If the anti-Syrians want to get rid of Lahoud, they'd need Hizbullah to support the move. That could come with the price of keeping the terrorist organization keeping its arms.
Separately, the country needs to decide once and for all if the Shaba Farms, which are presently occupied by Israel, belong to Syria or Lebanon. If Syria cedes them to Lebanon, it could allow an excuse for Hizbullah to keep its weapons.
Many in Lebanon and Syria see Lebanon as a part of historic Greater Syria. But many other Lebanese want to throw off that historic relationship and become a fully independent state, free from decisions based on Syrian interests.
Lahoud and Hizbullah serve Syrian interests - one of which is to keep an armed body on Israel's northern border - both as a buffer zone in the case of Israeli invasion and as a tool to stage attacks on Israel.
Israel would breathe more easily if the anti-Syrians succeeded in disarming Hizbullah and exchanging Lahoud for Aoun, who expressed support for a peace agreement with Israel "at the right time."
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