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In Lebanon, "hope should be kept alive" 7/31/2007


While the political standoff, polarization and terrorist violence continue to sustain an atmosphere of apprehension and fear of a new civil war, three editorials which appeared earlier in July significantly contribute to keeping "hope alive". All three articles were written by prominent non-Lebanese personalities who have special knowledge of Lebanon and are obviously motivated by caring and a desire to support positive progress in the country. The first of the three editorials "Let freedom ring" written by the current US Ambassador in Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman was published on July 4, 2007. The second "Lebanese need say-so in camps" written by Graeme Bannerman appeared in the Miami Herald on July 10 and the third "What is going on in Lebanon" written by Khalaf Al Habtoor appeared on the internet site on July 13, 2007 as a reproduction from the opinion section of Gulf News.

The three editorials are not related to each other, and may not share the same focus. Nevertheless, they independently caught the attention of many Lebanese Americans interested in searching for solutions to the continued problems and dangers in Lebanon.

Ambassador Feltman during the July 4th celebration of US Independence saw similarities in Lebanon's current struggles for freedom and democracy with the early days of American liberation from the British. And judging by the outstanding long term outcome in the United States he emphasized that "diversity does not have to mean disunity". He reassured the Lebanese that they are not alone in their struggle and concluded "The strong ties that bind our people today connect also our two countries, now and in the future". This clear and firm support from the representative of the world's dominant super power should certainly inject a healthy dose of hope and faith in the future of Lebanon. However, the Ambassador did not specify what type of help the U.S. will be able and willing to provide in order to help Lebanon survive a number of upcoming deadlines that could make or break the future of the country as a united, independent and sovereign nation. Although he may have the answers or may be in the process of working towards solutions, he did not see it appropriate to go into such specifics at this point.

Bannerman's editorial says it all in its title "Lebanese need say-so in camps". The confrontation with Fatah El Islam in the Nahr El Bared camp awakens the Lebanese to the source of most instability and violence on Lebanese soil since the country's independence from the French mandate. Undoubtly the unchecked presence of armed Palestinians in and outside their camps in Lebanon has resulted in immense tragedies for the Lebanese as well as the Palestinians, without any benefit to the Palestinian cause or any Arab interest. Lots of monies and resources that could have been used to alleviate the Palestinian suffering were carelessly wasted on arms that resulted in death and destruction, victimizing both Lebanese and Palestinians. And more recently several camps have become headquarters for rival radical, extremist and terrorist organizations. Bannerman concludes his editorial stating "getting responsible Lebanese authorities in charge of these camps would make Lebanese, Palestinians and American a lot safer" we wish to humbly add that it would make the whole world safer and will significantly contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East. After UN resolution 1701 and the expanded Unifil presence in the South, there is no use or excuse whatsoever for any armed Palestinian presence in Lebanon.

This takes us into the Al Habtoor editorial "What is going on in Lebanon". Having significantly invested in the hospitality industry in Lebanon, Khalaf Al Habtoor understands the implications of the recurrent summer flare-ups of violence, on tourism and the Lebanese economy as well as political stability. Al Habtoor is right about the need to uproot the Nabr Al Bared criminals as fast as possible. He is also right that the Lebanese people and government should understand the value of their country and should act courageously to establish the foundations of a real stable nation. Lebanese decision makers should heed his warning about "political entities that are agents of foreign powers" and they should listen to his advice about requiring that "political activists needing to make their loyalty to Lebanon before anything else". Finally, and most importantly, he is correct that solutions should be found for miseries inflicted upon Palestinian refugees. However instead of saying that Lebanon needs to help the Arab league in such effort, it would be more appropriate to say that the Arab League and more specifically the moderate and wealthy Arab States should help Lebanon in finding fair solutions for this problem. They should provide Lebanon with relief from the overwhelming burden placed on the country by the Palestinian refugee problems, particularly the armed factions, which are providing a safe-haven for criminal and terrorist groups. The UN and World Community could also contribute to a fair solution of the Palestinian problem in Lebanon, and this may be the best possible first step that Prime Minister Blair could take in his new role as Middle East peace maker. Al Habtoor may not be aware of the fact that there are hundreds of Lebanese expatriates scattered around the world, who would love to return to their country of origin, but can not do so because Lebanon does not have appropriate resources and space to accommodate them. How then can Lebanon, drowning in debts and all kind of problems, be asked to realistically find solutions for the Palestinian miseries generated by Arab neglect or indifference?

Inspired by some of the ideas enunciated in the above editorials, the American Lebanese Foundation wishes to appeal to the conscience of all involved in Lebanese politics and leadership as well as to all friendly governments to consider the following:

1. The Lebanese army, the best symbol of Lebanese Unity and Patriotism, should receive maximal support to complete the job at Nahr El Bared as fast as possible. More modern arms, particularly helicopters, should be provided, to prepare the army to prosecute an efficient and effective war on terror which is in its beginnings in Lebanon and is likely to last for a very long time.

2. The Arab League should intensify efforts to help minimize the suffering of the dual refugees from the Nahr El Bared camp by seeking urgent economic support from rich Arab countries and trying to resettle as many of them as possible in such countries and those under-populated, while patiently waiting for their final return home to a Palestinian State. This would provide some relief to the overcrowding at the Beddawi camp which can explode in new violence, putting further strain on the Lebanese army and people. They should remember that the reconstruction of the Bared camp, if feasible and advisable, will take a long time and that may unnecessarily prolong the misery of its displaced inhabitants.

3. The Lebanese government should seek support from the Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas as well as any coalition of willing governments to implement the unanimously supported resolution during the national dialogue, which required disarming Palestinians in Lebanon, starting with those outside the camps. This would certainly make it easier for Lebanon to comply with UN Resolutions, intended to improve its security and stability

4. All above problems are better addressed by a National Unity Government. However a government change should only be considered within a package deal which includes a public assurance about the timely election of a consensus or unity president, within the constitutional requirements and deadlines. We believe that there are personalities within the pro-government politicians, the opposition, as well as some independents, with security or economic expertise, who would satisfy the most demanding requirements. We also hear talk that a consensus can only be reached on electing a transition President for a two or three year term. If this is the only option for consensus, so be it, but three years will definitely be a better option than two. The necessary constitutional amendments, in such case, should present no problem since after all, two thirds of the Parliament members are needed anyway to initiate the constitutional election process, and once consensus is reached, obstacles will become easy to clear.

5. Further, all Lebanese in Lebanon and abroad should be asking their friends and the friends of Lebanon to help work towards

A. Expediting the formation of the "International Tribunal" to neutralize any further risks from its delay.

B. Convincing Israel to relinquish control of the Shebaa farms as soon as possible, to the Lebanese government or the United Nations, so there will be no further need or excuse for violent resistance.

ALF will be happy and honored to help in anyway possible towards the achievement of all above goals. Let us all work together, with all our friends to "keep hope alive in Lebanon" until most or all the above problems are solved.


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