Lebanon and the value of dialogue
Dialogue by definition is a process that allows opponents, adversaries and even enemies to discuss issues and problems that are subject to important disagreements and which may result in risky confrontation. The objective of dialogue is to seek solutions for difficult and dangerous problems by smooth and peaceful mechanisms. The process usually helps find some form of compromise that allows the participants to avoid violence or any form of negative or catastrophic outcomes. When issues are not amenable to reasonable and timely solutions, dialogue may at a minimum allow the postponement of any risky confrontation, with the hope that some future developments may ease the tensions and allow solutions to emerge.
Since the Syrian official exit from Lebanon in 2005 dialogue has been, on and off, a major component of Lebanese political life. During the presence of its army and intelligence apparatus inside Lebanon, Syria in some way functioned as a power broker and acted as a judge in solving problems, or tactfully imposing solutions. When political leaders could not agree among each other, they knew that sooner or later a Syrian verdict may emerge and settle the issue in contention.
After the Syrian army left Lebanon, the State was weak and had to adjust to the presence of a strong and powerful armed Lebanese resistance and a number of armed Palestinian groups outside its control. Divided leaders wisely decided to address these issues via dialogue, initially under the guidance of the Speaker of Parliament and subsequently under the leadership of the legitimately elected Lebanese President. To our understanding, the main issue for dialogue was to develop a “defense strategy” for Lebanon that will not sacrifice or confront the well armed Lebanese resistance, but will recuperate the full authority of the Sate in making the crucial decisions regarding war or peace.
For multiple reasons, some obvious and other tactfully hidden, the dialogue could not succeed in reaching the desired goals. In fact, it never progressed to effectively addressing the most needed solutions, but had to focus largely on lesser targets, cosmetic options or delays and postponements of possible confrontations. The dialogue, nevertheless, reached a full agreement on the disarming of Palestinian elements outside the official camps. Despite the consensus reached in that regard, that decision was never implemented. Each of the deeply divided Lebanese political groups blamed the other side for the failure of implementation.
The tragic developments on the Syrian scene which, to date, have resulted in the loss of more than 40,000 lives, brought new elements to the Lebanese dilemmas. Deeper divisions ensued between the two main political groups: the pro Syrian regime (March8) and the anti-regime, pro revolution (March 14) coalitions. One camp is said to provide fighters and training to help the regime and the other is accused of supplying arms and logistics to the revolutionary forces. The current government which officially wisely distanced itself from the Syrian violent confrontations includes within its ranks elements with opposing views regarding the Syrian problem. It is obviously finding it difficult and may be impossible to implement its so called neutrality concept. And since it is dominated by March 8 elements, it has been frequently accused of supporting the Syrian regime. More recently, when General Wisam Al Hasan was assassinated, the opposition did not just stop at criticizing the government’s failure to prevent such horrible crime, but went further to accuse it of complicity and demand its resignation.
Thus, as stability in Syria continues to deteriorate, the divisions in Lebanon are deepening and the tensions increasing and moving ever closer to the possibility of a risky and dangerous outcome. Long time ago we appealed to Lebanese leaders to avoid involvement in Syria’s violent confrontations, since it seemed clear to us that nobody in Lebanon could significantly influence the outcome. We believed that Lebanon should only participate in any initiative, if it became available, which will try to stop the killings through dialogue and possible compromise. The opposing political groups in Lebanon each thought that our thinking can only help the side they did not like in Syria, because they believed the side they like was about to win in days or weeks. At the time of our initial appeal, the lives lost in Syria were believed to be between 3000 and 6000. Now, with 5 to 10 times more lives lost, are we closer to a real solution or a clear outcome? We have more concerns now that some evil forces may be trying to turn the conflict in Syria into a violent Sunni- Shia confrontation. Very recently the Syrian Sunni Vice President appealed on the record for a compromise and some form of unity government as the only possible solution to avoid a prolonged and debilitating conflict that can completely destroy Syria. We are in no position to judge or determine the value or chances for success of such thinking. We only can say that we wish the best for the Syrian people and we want the killing to stop today before tomorrow, if possible. The interferences of the big players in Syria have not been constructive, and to date, have contributed to making the situation worse. We can only wish that small Lebanon does not contribute to worsening the situation through more Sunni-Shia tensions. We hope that the moderates in Lebanon from all religions and sects, who we believe are an overwhelming majority, will work intensively and selflessly towards a smooth and harmonious Shia-Sunni relationship that will serve as model for other countries where tensions exist and help protect them from disasters or catastrophes. We strongly warn against any carelessness or evil fifth column which may create in Lebanon a spark that could ignite the unthinkable confrontation.
While the problem of “arms outside the control of the state” remains unresolved, newer issues, with fast approaching deadlines are emerging. These are primarily related to the upcoming parliamentary elections. The current opposition groups are requesting the formation of a new independent government, constituted by non candidates who will have no problem being impartial towards the parties participating in the election process. This request is very legitimate and such principle has been respected with good results in 2005, in the first elections that occurred after Syria’s official departure from Lebanon. The current Prime Minister is concerned about resigning and creating a prolonged vacuum, judging by the time it took to form new governments after the Syrian departure. This concern is realistic and the most reasonable possible solution is to promptly restart a focused dialogue under the leadership of the independent Lebanese President. The newer desirable government should be promptly discussed and agreed upon, while keeping in mind the date of the upcoming parliamentary elections. The current government should be ready to resign when its replacement is ready. The other related issue is the new electoral law. Both Mach 8 and March 14 groups agree that neither the 1960 nor the 2000 laws are suitable. Any of the laws being currently discussed may be better. The President may have a reasonable chance to guide the dialogue towards reaching consensus on the law that may assure the best representation and not just secure an advantageous result for one party or the other.
It is understandable that some opposition leaders are disappointed by the previous dialogue experience to the point that they are now refusing to participate. Their disappointment may be explained by the dialogue’s failure to address appropriately the problem of the “arms outside the control of the State”. However the issues of a better electoral law and new independent impartial government are now more pressing and may not necessarily be as complex and as difficult as the issue of the resistance arms. More importantly, if no dialogue is initiated to address these issues, what is the alternative and what price will Lebanon and its democracy have to pay?
The biggest obstacle to successful dialogue may be the outside influences that make it difficult for some leaders to sort out the interest of Lebanon from those of other countries that provide support and financing. We therefore appeal to all Lebanese Leaders to examine their conscience and give priority to their own country’s survival and prosperity ahead of any narrow selfish or outside interests. In view of current regional and worldwide developments, a good consensus agreement among the various political ideologies in Lebanon, may allow the country to reach a level of independence never attained before, in resent history. The upcoming exploitation of Lebanon’s oil and gas resources may bring unimaginable wealth and prosperity from which all the Lebanese population will benefit. Consensus will facilitate and speed the development of these resources and no party in Lebanon will further need to seek foreign financial aid, which never comes without political strings, regardless of its source. Failure to seek consensus through dialogue may delay and possibly thwart the development of these vital economic resources and keep the country at risk of war and devastation.
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