Lebanese gov't allows Hizbullah to 'liberate occupied land'

Statement may secure Hizbullah's right to armed existence, and to "liberate occupied lands."

Nasrallah 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Nasrallah 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanon's new Cabinet unanimously approved a draft policy statement which could secure Hizbullah's existence as an armed organization and guarantee its right to "liberate or recover occupied lands" on Monday, setting the stage for a parliament endorsement of the government, Information Minister Tarek Mitri said. Mitri said some ministers in the majority had reservations on the paragraph indicating HIzbullah can keep its weapons. But in the end, all ministers voted in favor of the statement, he said. "The Cabinet unanimously approved the draft," Mitri told reporters after the five-hour meeting at the presidential palace in a Beirut suburb. The parliament will now discuss the policy statement before giving Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's 30-member national unity government an expected vote of confidence. The parliament meeting is expected later this week. The Cabinet is widely expected to win the parliament vote because it has representatives from the Western-backed majority and the Syrian-supported opposition. Some observers in Lebanon see the clause on "resistance" as a significant victory for Hizbullah, which has long resisted giving up its arms in its fight against Israel. "Lebanese officials from the president down had always legitimized Hizbullah's resistance as a national cause," Timur Goksel, a former senior UNIFIL adviser/spokesman who now teaches in Lebanon about Middle Eastern conflict, told reporters on Sunday. "This time, a vehemently anti-Hizbullah government - led by a majority that has significant Western support - has put its signature to a clause that allows Hizbullah to take actions in the fields listed without seeking government approval," Goksel said. "It also puts an end to any dreams of disarming Hizbullah. It secures Hizbullah's armed existence." Government sources in Jerusalem said the decision would make the government in Beirut an accomplice to any Hizbullah aggression and give Israel the right to hold it responsible. During the Second Lebanon War, Israel came under international pressure not to harm Lebanon's infrastructure because it was Hizbullah, not the Lebanese government, that killed several IDF soldiers and supposedly kidnapped reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in a cross border raid in July 2006. The argument that the Lebanese government should not be held accountable for Hizbullah provocations would lose all weight if the government decision is approved, the sources said. The sources added that the pending decision was also an indication of Hizbullah's strong position inside the Lebanese government. The sources said that while it was unlikely that the decision would have any immediate operative significance for Israel, it could lead Jerusalem to launch a diplomatic campaign explaining to the international community that it meant the Lebanese government could be held responsible for Hizbullah aggressions. No decision to launch such a campaign had yet been taken, the sources said. According to the Lebanese draft statement, its government emphasizes "the right of Lebanon, its people, army and resistance to liberate or recover the occupied Shaba Farms [Mount Dov], Kafr Shuba Hills and the Lebanese sector of Ghajar village; and to defend Lebanon against any aggression... by all legitimate and available means," according to the Lebanese news site Naharnet. The "resistance" clause minimizes pressure on Hizbullah's weapons and legitimizes resistance as a national cause instead of a purely Shi'ite one, which had been two goals of Hizbullah during negotiations. The heat was on Hizbullah's rival - the Western-backed March 14th coalition - and "they caved in," Goksel said, because they were eager to get the new government running to use their political offices to campaign for upcoming elections. The policy draft must be approved by the Lebanese parliament for the new government to receive a vote of confidence. But an independent Lebanese member of parliament, who had yet to read the draft, had a different take on the issue, saying he thought the clause made clear that "the resistance is not the exclusive privilege of the Resistance [Hizbullah] but essentially the responsibility of the state." For many years, the resistance was conducted exclusively by Hizbullah but the draft statement also "highlights the other responsibilities of state institutions - the army - but also diplomatic means to liberate land occupied by Israel, Shaba [Farms], parts of Ghajar and the heights of Kafr Shuba," he told The Jerusalem Post. Minister of State Nassib Lahoud, representing the majority in the committee that drafted the policy, said there should have been a clause saying that the "resistance should operate under the wing of the state." "I hope a new version taking into consideration this reservation will be reached before the government adopts the statement," Lahoud said, according to the NOW Lebanon news site. But others argue that the draft policy is vague and devoid of any real meaning. "It is ambiguous enough to make everybody feel that they have gained as it can be interpreted in many ways," said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow of the Middle Eastern Program at London's Chatham House. "In the end, this was the compromise formula and it does not really mean anything. It's as contradictory and inconsistent as any coalition government would be." Toni Nissi, general coordinator of the international Lebanese committee for the UNSCR 1559, said there would be no need for "resistance" if the Lebanese government implemented UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701 that proscribe solutions concerning its occupied territories. "Lebanon has to choose between accepting and adopting the international resolutions... or say clearly that we don't accept the resolutions and we want to deal with our problems alone," he recently told reporters.