As the year 2005 ended, the American Lebanese Foundation (ALF) had its first full year of existence after completion of its founding board. This should constitute a good opportunity to review our organization’s progress to this point and reconsider the challenges that lay ahead.
ALF was incorporated in Florida, and as the process of board recruitment was in progress, we applied for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and had IRS approval in October 2004. During the earlier part of that year, a high level invitation came to us to visit Syria and meet President Assad to discuss the problems resulting from Syrian policies related to Lebanon. The invitation, to our knowledge was prompted by Syria’s desire to improve relations with the United States and to avoid further confrontation with the Lebanese expatriate community in the United States who supported the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. A delegation of four Board Members was formed with fact-finding goals in Syria and Lebanon. The delegation carried a list of most, if not all the issues that, to our knowledge, produced tension between the Lebanese, in and outside Lebanon, and the Syrian regime. The most important of our concerns were the lack of a timetable for the return of full sovereignty to Lebanon and the injustice, abuse and excesses that resulted from the actions or influence of the Syrian Government and its Security Services.
Prior to our meeting with any Syrian official we made sure, through a meeting with the DCM, (in the absence of the American Ambassador, who was out of town the day of our arrival) that all our activities respected our status as private American citizens.
During our visit, there was a frank and positive discussion of all relevant matters with President Bashar Assad, and follow up discussions with the Lebanese President. The Syrian President was aware of practically all the problems we presented and showed understanding and support to our point of view on most issues. The challenges seemed to be mainly in prioritization and determination of which issues could be addressed first, by Lebanese mechanisms with Syrian support. President Assad demonstrated goodwill as he delivered on his promise to suggest to President Lahoud to meet our delegation and discuss further the roots and solutions to the problems between Lebanon and Syria that were discussed in Damascus. However, as time passed, it became clearer and clearer that there were insurmountable difficulties. At one point, we became convinced that the best and easiest step for the Syrian regime to start defusing the tension was to release one or two of the Lebanese political prisoners, believed to be still alive in Syrian jails. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, that could not be achieved. It was never clear to us if President Assad was really unable or unwilling to deliver. Our research and inquiries with various US authorities and experts, Lebanese politicians pro or anti-Syrian, and even with Syrian scholars and expatriate activists, yielded conflicting opinions from a figurehead president to a totalitarian dictator, who is comfortable in avoiding the truth? Such conflicting opinions about the Syrian President seem to persist to date, when his possible role or knowledge regarding the Hariri assassination is discussed. There are even divergent opinions on this matter within our own ALF Board.
The assassination of PM Hariri limited the role of Lebanese- American expatriate organizations in searching for peaceful and amicable solutions to the problems affecting the Syrian-Lebanese relations, which now depend on future UN decisions and the results of international court proceedings. The ALF was one of the first, if not the first organization, to call the Hariri murder a terrorist act that aimed at assassinating Lebanon. Now that Lebanon has survived this hideous act and made significant progress with democracy and sovereignty, ALF still feels very strongly that it is crucial to reach the full truth about the perpetrators, as soon as possible. The final truth about the Hariri martyrdom is essential for Lebanon to attain full sovereignty and real stability. It may also open the door for solving the cases of other martyrs whether recent as Gibran Tueini and the others, or possibly going back to Rene Mouawad, Bashir Gemayel and Kamal Jumblat and many others. The truth is equally important for the future relations between Lebanon and Syria which we believe should be genuinely brotherly for the best interest of both countries.
ALF also researched and addressed the issue of permanent Palestinian implantation in Lebanon. Since Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the Middle East section in the International Relations Committee, had introduced at one time a resolution that could have resulted in that, ALF Board members residing in Florida met with her and discussed this issue at length. We explained to her the dangers and problems that the implantation will inflict on Lebanon and the Palestinians, and she showed full understanding of the matter and reassured us about her desire to help Lebanon emerge again as a model of freedom, democracy and human rights in the Arab World. The Congresswoman understanding of this matter clearly paid off. The dreaded resolution was put to rest and whenever individual congressmen raised this issue, we were reassured that there was no formal process in Congress toward such objective.
On Feb. 12, 2005, ALF had its first Board meeting in Miami and we had an opportunity to discuss face to face the progress of our organization. There was unanimous agreement that we should continue to focus primarily on the “think-tank” aspects of our efforts, and to address issues that in our judgment are unifying for the Lebanese in general, and for the expatriate community in particular. The Board members had an informal meeting with Congressman Mario Diaz Balart, a friend on our local Lebanese-American community, who has energetically supported efforts in the US congress in favor of Lebanese freedom and sovereignty. A community wide meeting with Congresswoman Ileana Ross-Lehtinane, sponsored by ALF was originally scheduled to coincide with the Board meeting, and had to be postponed by one week due to an emergency change in her schedule. That activity took place on Feb. 19, 2005 with about fifty Lebanese-Americans residing in South Florida in attendance. The Congresswoman took the opportunity to express her outrage and sadness in relation to the Hariri assassination, but reassured the audience that the loss would only increase the determination of her Committee and the US congress to continue helping Lebanon, in anyway they can, towards complete freedom and full sovereignty.
In the summer of 2005, several Board members who were in Lebanon discussed the possible reform of electoral law in Lebanon with various Lebanese leaders. The ALF position consisted primarily of emphasizing the need to establish a mechanism that would allow the Lebanese expatriate community to vote without traveling to their home precinct. ALF also felt that the law should adopt the smallest possible electoral districts, if individual districts are not possible. The size of district should not exceed the Qaza, which can function as a smaller redesigned Mohafaza, and in such case a relatively based law may be considered. In addition to individual Board members efforts with different members of the National Commission on Electoral Law, the President and ALF Vice- President met with Commission Chairman and discussed with him the ALF recommendations. He showed a lot of understanding and hoped to propose a fair law that would allow proper representation of the diverse Lebanese population.
ALF has been concerned that Lebanon has not been able yet to complete the process of the newly regained sovereignty and reach satisfactory stability. We deplore the divisions that are slowing progress, but we salute the spirit of dialogue and understanding, which we sincerely wish that it leads to peaceful resolution of the problems that lay ahead. ALF Board Members continue to talk to the leaders of Lebanon and to US authorities in search for solutions to the problems remaining. Will also continue to support unifying and problem solving initiatives, whatever their source may be, and will float our own ideas whenever possible, in support of Lebanon’s freedom, unity, democracy and complete sovereignty over all its territory.
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