Lebanese national unity cabinet affirmed

Policy asserting the right of Lebanon and Hizbullah to "liberate" land occupied by Israel officially approved.

hizbullah nasrallah 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
hizbullah nasrallah 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Lebanese parliament has overwhelmingly approved the national unity cabinet after a five-day debate on a controversial government policy that upholds Hizbullah's right to keep its weapons. The vote was part of a deal reached in May by rival Lebanese factions in Qatar that ended an 18-month political stalemate - Lebanon's worst crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The vote allows the new unity government - essentially a caretaker cabinet that will be in power for 9 months - to proceed with business as usual until the upcoming parliamentary elections next spring. "It's good for the unity of the government," said Walid al-Khoury, a parliament member of the Free Patriotic Movement bloc. "After two years of non-governance in Lebanon, this is the first government in this era for President Suleiman... We think it's a good start, at least for the elections that will take place in (May) 2009. We are optimistic a little bit; at least there will not be civil war, but still there are some risks." Tuesday's vote in the 128-member assembly passed 100-5 in favor of the cabinet. The new policy, which was also approved, "allows the government to go ahead and work; it's a condition for the government to be instated," another Lebanese parliamentarian, who is independent, told The Jerusalem Post before the vote. "One cannot just take it as a whole or leave it as a whole. At the end of the day, it's not a matter of the wording of the text. It's voting for the confidence of the government or not; whether you want the government to go ahead or to knock it down." The parliamentarian said the new policy gave both Hizbullah and the state the "appropriate portions" of control "required to make Lebanon a safer place." The policy asserts "the right of Lebanon, its people, its army and the resistance (Hizbullah) to liberate its land" occupied by Israel. "What relates to security policies and defense policies will be decided during the national dialogue to be convened by the president over issues of security," the independent parliamentarian added. Timur Goksel, the former adviser/spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, told reporters on Tuesday that now the government had received a vote of confidence, much work lay ahead. "What happens next is very important, possibly more challenging than the policy statement," he said. "The most important issue facing the government now is the appointment of a new army commander, key security chiefs and judicial authorities. These are not appointments made only on merit but very much with sectarian political balances in mind." Recently-elected President Michel Suleiman stepped down from his position as army chief to accept his new post. What happens now is "normal politics in a coalition government in the run-up to an important election," said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at the Middle East Program of the London-based Chatham House. The elections next spring are important because the margin between today's majority - the Western-backed March 14th majority coalition - and the Hizbullah-led opposition is very thin, he said. "And the next elections will also be fought on a tight margin, and the coalition that has the majority gets its say on the appointment of the next prime minister and the formation of the government," Shehadi said. Under the deal struck in May in Qatar, the Syrian-backed opposition got 11 members in the 30-member cabinet, the Western-backed parliamentary majority got 16, while President Michel Suleiman got three ministers. Hizbullah and its opposition allies have veto power on major decisions in the unity government.