Saturday, November 17, 2007

Return to Civil War unlikely ... for now

There has been a lot of diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing in the past week.

European ministers continue to fly in and out of Lebanon and Syria; UN head Ban-ki-moon dropped into Beirut; the Arab League's irrelevant leader Amr Moussa was in Damascus; Israel confessed that it's resumed secret dialogue with Syria.

I presume the UN, the Arab League and the EU all went to Damascus pleading, threatening or sweetening Assad in order to get him to compromise on Lebanon's presidency.

To make matters even more confusing, Hizballah has launched investigations into Al-Qaida's activities in Lebanon and its apparent assassination plot against their number one, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

What a week!

In the meantime, Lebanon's constitutional (not that the Lebanese revere their constitution) deadline to appoint a new president is rapidly approaching, and a chosen candidate for November 24th remains elusive. The most neglected aspect of the puzzle, the Lebanese people, are baffled, yet still remain in fear of what may occur should consultations to elect a new president fail. Reports (or allegations) of Lebanese factions re-arming themselves in anticipation of an internal conflict have been emerging for the past year, and the Lebanese people wonder how many more assassinations and bombs the fragile state can sustain before one of these factions explodes.

However, whilst many are looking inwards to find a solution, my concentration is fixed on where Lebanon's key decision-makers lie ... beyond Lebanon's borders.

Critics have already voiced their scepticism of the looming Annapolis Conference, especially from the Arabs, with obviously good reason. The Israelis and the US have on several occasions before invited Arab states for "serious" negotiations, which have often ended up as mere PR stunts. Syria's insistence that the Golan Heights be placed on the agenda - with the backing of America's Arab allies - alludes to the great cynicism of Arab states when it comes to negotiating with Israel.

But Lebanese ought to be focusing on Annapolis and other diplomatic initiatives for key reasons. Whether every Lebanese faction is armed to the teeth or not, guns will remain silent so long as the US, Israel and Syria want them to. The latest expression of willingness from Israel and Syria to resume some kind of dialogue (despite the high possibility of no fruitful outcome being achieved) signals that neither side is interested in embarking on another military initiative in the meantime. Of course, tensions still remain high after Israel's mysterious airstrike on Syria in September, but it is possible that the Israelis and the West are trying to soften Assad's stance to win a few compromises.

Arab critics are probably accurate in their pessimism at achieving a peace agreement at Annapolis, but is this conference really designed to bring peace, or to simply calm the waters? Is this conference a sign that - behind-the-scenes - the US and Israel are willing to conduct a dialogue with Syria over Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinians?

The speeches of Nasrallah, Aoun, Geagea or Hariri deliver little more than affirmation of the status quo. We are incapable of making our own decisions, otherwise I'm sure we would have a new president by now. There will be no president so long as the US, Israel and Syria are not satisfied. Let us not forget that it was a consensus between the US, Israel and Syria that ended the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Regretfully, our deep inter and intra-religious divisions ensure that we are not the bearers of our own destiny.

Until the Lebanese learn to take initiative in their internal matters, my eyes remain fixed on regional developments and for the time being, Annapolis.

US-Israel divisions begin to surface

Israel to US: We want dialogue with Syria, and action against Iran. Give Lebanon to Syria in exchange for severing alliance with Iran, but keep Golan Heights

US to Israel: We want dialogue with Iran, and action against Syria. You're wasting your time with Damascus, they won't accept anything less than the Golan ... And get used to an Iranian bomb.

From Haaretz, full article here.

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