How Far is Too Far?
That is the question Siniora's government and the Lebanese should ask when it comes to Lebanon and Syria's tortuous relationship.
Through Fatah al-Islam, a newly born and relatively unknown Islamist group, Damascus did what it’s best at: It created mayhem in Lebanon. Presumably only coincidental, Fatah al-Islam attacked the Lebanese army just when the talks about establishing the international tribunal in Rafiq al Hariri's case were at their climax at the UN. But this time, neither the UN nor the Lebanese government took the bait.
The international tribunal was established through UN Resolution 1757, under Chapter VII as opposed to the other UN resolutions (1559, 1680,1701, 1636). Lebanon will be better off with Chapter VII, where the deliberations and outcomes of the tribunal to prosecute the Syrian and Lebanese criminals will not be tainted with any (Lebanese) bias, blackmail or intimidation attempts, but truly an international effort.
The resolution was sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Slovakia and Italy and brought in at the request of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Annahar (Arabic liberal publication) reported that hundreds of people celebrated this important step by going out into the streets, and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri thanked them and the international community for supporting this initiative.
The tribunal is necessary not just for Rafiq Hariri but also for Pierre Gemayel, Gebran Tueni and Samir Kasir, all good men who have publicly stated that they want a Lebanon free of Syrian interference. Lets not forget that long before this chain of assassinations there were many others eliminated or unlawfully detained by Syria. They too deserve justice.
Evidently President Assad refuses to accept the legitimacy of the international tribunal and he has often warned in the past two years that Syria will not go along with the tribunal's demands and decisions. After almost 30 years of military and intelligence occupation, the Syrian Baath has the audacity of denying that it has ever harmed the Lebanese or Lebanon as a national entity.
In light of the Serge Brammertz and Mehis reports that suggested Syrian and Lebanese involvement and cooperation at different levels in the assassination of Rafiq Harri, it is comprehensible why President Assad together with his Lebanese counterpart and puppet, Emile Lahoud, opposed the tribunal all along. If justice prevails it might be the last we see of their regimes.
Hezbollah uses the same rhetoric. They have declared that the tribunal is illegitimate and a hostile interference in internal affairs. If Hezbollah is truly concerned that Lebanon’s sovereignty is being pushed aside, then its refusal to disarm as requested by several UN resolutions, the Lebanese government and many citizens is difficult if not impossible to explain. Moreover, if there isn't anything to hide, why fear the tribunal? It lacks reason.
This is a rare opportunity for both Syria and Lebanon to break ties with a past dominated by violence, insecurity and corrupted dictators. But there aren't any quick solutions.
The government should step up its reforms while fighting tooth and nail against terrorist factions - Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese. The army at Nahr al-Bared did a very good job and the population responded by largely supporting the army. But that is not enough. Lebanon cannot have two polls of power. It is either the militias or the government that rules the country.
Siniora's government should have the following immediate objectives:
- Protect Lebanon's sovereignty
- Seek justice for the victims of assassinations, Syrian hegemony and the bombings that plagued the country in the past few years
- Continue to fight against terrorism
- Implement the economic and fiscal reforms asked by Paris III conference in order to recover at least partially from the destruction that Hezbollah has caused in the country
- Implement UN Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701
- Border delimitations with Syria – by doing so, the problem of the Shebaa Farms will also be solved
- New electoral law
- Amend the Constitution in order to stop political patronage, diminish the negative influence of sectarianism and give meritocracy and transparency a chance
- Presidential elections held in accordance with the constitution
Too much is at stake now for the government to act coy and bow to 8 March* and its sponsors’ pressure and plots.
*March 8 is a political movement largely perceived as supportive of Syria. Its main members are Hezbollah and Amal and their allies – the Free Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun, Marada, Syrian Social Nationalist Party, etc. March 8 opposes the current government of Prime Minister Siniora.