Tuesday, 28 April 2009


[pictured: Samir Al-Kuntar, Lebanese prisoner freed after the 2006 Israeli aggression against Lebanon]

A new order emerges in Lebanon

By Sami Moubayed
Asia Times Online

DAMASCUS - Last week, one of America's top allies in
Lebanon, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, caused a row when he
made remarks - off the record - criticizing his allies in
the pro-Western March 14 Coalition. Among other things,
Jumblatt scoffed at his patron Saad al-Hariri, the head of
the largest bloc in the Lebanese parliament, for having
tried - and failed - to combat Hezbollah on the streets of
Beirut last May.

Then, Hariri's armed men were round up and disarmed in a
matter of minutes by the well-trained Hezbollah fighters.
"We have seen the Sunnis in the field, huh!" he said,
adding, "They didn't last for more than 15 minutes!”
Jumblatt quickly apologized - but the damage was already

Shortly afterwards, when landing in Beirut, US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton did not meet the Druze warlord - who
had often played host to her predecessor Condoleezza Rice,
and been received previously at the Oval Office by George W

Jumblatt is a symbol of a loud anti-Syrian and
anti-Hezbollah stance in Lebanon. The fact that he has lost
faith in his own allies - who have bankrolled him for years
- and was snubbed by Clinton, are testimony to how much
things have changed in Lebanon. This is the same man after
all who called for regime change in Damascus, and betted on
American and Israeli forces to disarm Hezbollah in 2006.

Jumblatt is a political animal, however, who knows how to
get off a ship before it sinks. The US is simply no longer
interested in battle, either with Damascus or with
Hezbollah. On the contrary, it is trying to find common
ground with the Syrians to solve a basket of problems in
the region, like Iran's nuclear file, Palestinian
reconciliation and the future of Hezbollah.

If March 14 continues to challenge Syria, it should not
except much support from the Barack Obama administration.
That is why, according to some observers, Jumblatt might be
toying with the idea of a u-turn - which from where the
Syrians see it, is close to impossible, given the
aggressive stance he took against Damascus during the
difficult years in Syrian-American relations.

Why would the US continue to support March 14 if it is
cooperating fully with the Syrians? March 14 was useful,
after all, during the war against Syria in 2005-2008
-mainly to punish the Syrians for having worked against US
interests in Iraq.

Jumblatt realizes that for all practical purposes, its only
a matter of time until the United States begins dialogue
with two arch-enemies of the former Bush White House -Hamas
in Palestine and Hezbollah. Delaying his own rapprochement
with Hezbollah would harm nobody but him.

During the recent Summit of the Americas, Obama said that
he would respect the "legitimacy" of all democratically
elected governments, even if the US "might not be happy"
with the results of any elections. He added that the US
“condemns any efforts at a violent overthrow of
democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in
the hemisphere”. Talks with Hamas have already begun in
Europe and it is only a matter of time until they are
expanded to include Hezbollah.

Earlier this year, Britain announced that it would commence
political dialogue with Hezbollah, much to the displeasure
of March 14. In early April, British parliamentarians came
to Damascus and met with Hamas political chief Khaled
Meshaal. Certain American political figures, like former
president Jimmy Carter, also met with the Hamas chief in
Syria last December.

According to a January 9 article in The Guardian, "sources
close to the [Obama] transition team" will change course
via Hamas, and "initiate low-level clandestine approaches".
For that to be done, not only would there be a need for a
change in US mentality - both in the media level, on the
street and in American officialdom - but it would also
require changing a 2006 Congressional law banning any kind
of assistance to the Islamic group.

Recently, however, Paul Volker, a senior economic advisor
to Obama, was among those who authored a letter calling for
a more rational approach to dealing with Hamas. Martin
Indyk, the former US ambassador to Israel, who is close to
Clinton, recently wrote that any peace deal without Hamas
was destined to fail.

Additionally, former British prime minister Tony Blair in
his capacity as international envoy for the Middle East
warned of the dangers of continuing to ignore the Gaza
Strip, which effectively is under the command of Hamas. He
was quoted saying, "I think it is important to find a way
to engage Hamas in dialogue."

Richard Hass, a diplomat under both president George H W
Bush and George W Bush, who was earmarked to become Obama's
Middle East envoy, also supports low-level contacts with
Hamas. James A Baker, former secretary of state now based
at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston, was
quoted in Newsweek as saying that Obama must involve Hamas
in any peace process in the Middle East. Baker said, "You
cannot negotiate peace with only half the Palestinian
polity at the table."

Richard W Murphy, a veteran American diplomat and former
ambassador to Syria, added, "I don't think it will happen
quickly but I think it is inevitable. Hamas is, in my
opinion, a legitimate representative of part of the
Palestinian community."

Taking all of that into account, many raised questions
about Clinton's weekend visit to Beirut ahead of
parliamentary elections in June, which are expected to
bring about a smashing victory for Hezbollah. Already,
France has said that it will not boycott any Lebanese
government, even if it is packed with members of the
Islamic group.

With loud voices coming out of Washington calling for
engagement with Hezbollah, Obama promising to respect any
election, Britain taking the lead in dialogue with
non-state players, and the Syrians back in the
international arena, times are not good for leftovers of
the Bush era in the Middle East.

Decision-makers around the world have reasoned that not
talking to Hezbollah or Hamas will not make them disappear.
On the contrary, it will only lead them to radicalize.

Looking back at the Hamas tenure in government, everybody
realizes that the Bush administration missed a golden
opportunity when the Palestinian group said that it was
willing to accept a long-term truce with Israel, and abide
by the borders of 1967. Israel couldn't get them to disarm
by force, clearly demonstrated by the results of the
December 2008 war on Gaza.

The United Nations couldn't disarm them, nor could
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat or the United States. The
same applies to Hezbollah, which emerged victorious from
the war of 2006. Obama, a practical leader by all accounts,
realizes that if these groups are voted into power, it
would be sheer hypocrisy not to deal with them and repeat
what was committed by Bush.

Walid Jumblatt - and anti-Hamas figures in Palestine like
President Mahmud Abbas - is among the first to fully grasp
this new attitude in Washington.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

No comments: