November 27/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 21,1-4. When he looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood."

Releases. Reports & Opinions
Score this round for March 14 -By Michael Young. November 26/07
Bush might fail at Annapolis, but give him credit for trying.-The Daily Star-November 26/07 

Kidnappers And A Hostage. By: Elias Harfouch. November 26/07
The Conference To Release Palestine From International Isolation. By: Raghida Dergham. November 26/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for November 26/07
Syria has succeeded in Banning Presidential Elections-Naharnet
Some think more about their own ambitions at the expense of the
Analysis: Lebanon's un-independence-Middle East Times
Muallem Denies Relations with Aoun-Naharnet

Bush lends clout to Mideast peace talks-AP
Aoun: Christians' Political Authority is Rabiyeh, Not Bkirki-Naharnet
Hezbollah recruits thousands in Lebanon
Jumblat Wants Nothing to Do with Annapolis Meeting
8 Injured in Blast in Nahr al-Bared-Naharnet
'Saudi pressure propmted Syria to participate in Annapolis conference'-Jerusalem Post
Majority rejects Aoun's initiative-Al-Arabiya

Pope calls for prayer ahead of Annapolis summit.AFP
Mitri to represent Lebanon at US talks despite objections-The Daily Star  
Fearful MPs 'stay put' at luxury hotel in Beirut-The Daily Star  
Religious leaders speak out against vacancy at Baabda, call for consensus-The Daily Star  
International community urges Lebanese to fill presidency-The Daily Star  
Beirutis voice unease about presidential vacuum-The Daily Star  
Explosion wounds five at Nahr al-Bared-The Daily Star  
History repeats itself as Lebanon returns to power vacuum reminiscent of final years of Civil War- (AFP)
Lebanon can't risk an extended void at Baabda Palace-The Daily Star  
Qassem accuses Washington of blocking consensus in Beirut-The Daily Star
Political wrangling causes price slump on Beirut Stock Exchange-The Daily Star
Syria agrees to attend regional peace summit at Annapolis
-The Daily Star

Hezbollah Adds New Demand in Lebanon-The Associated Press
Lebanon situation "critical", Christian leader warns-Monsters and
Hezbollah dismisses Annapolis talks as "media show"-Reuters
Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas miffed at Annapolis-Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Sfeir: Conditions could Lead to Stability or Fighting-Naharnet
8 Injured in Blast in Nahr al-Bared-Naharnet
Qassem Slams Saniora for Taking Charge-Naharnet
Italian PM For More Talks with Iran, Quick Lebanon Elections

Hezbollah says Lebanon left with no executive-AFP
Syria Announces Plans to Attend Middle East Talks-Washington Post
Facts about Golan Heights, disputed between Israel and Syria-International Herald Tribune

Pope calls for prayer ahead of Annapolis summit
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Monday, November 26, 2007
VATICAN CITY: During his traditional Sunday blessing, Pope Benedict XVI said the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had called for a day of prayer before the US-sponsored summit to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that opens Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland. He asked the faithful to join in the prayer for "peace in a region so dear to us and for the gifts of wisdom and courage for all the protagonists of this important meeting." He said the meeting hoped to restart negotiations "to find a just and definitive solution to the conflict which for 60 years has bloodied the Holy Land and provoked so many tears and suffering among two peoples." The United States is hoping that Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will declare a formal resumption of peace talks, in the presence of a large international audience, at the two-day summit. Talks broke down amid violence seven years ago. - AFP

Aoun: Christians' Political Authority is Rabiyeh, Not Bkirki

Opposition Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun insisted that the Christians should submit to the political authority of Rabiyeh and not Bkirki.
"The Christians' political decision is in Rabiyeh," and consultations with Bkirki are tantamount to "advice.""I enjoy Christian representation whether they like it or not," Aoun warned. "I'm known to represent 66 percent of the Christians, and whoever enjoys 66 percent has decision rights." "Anyone from the other (political) side who does not acknowledge me, will not be acknowledged by me," Aoun went on. He blamed the United States for the stalemate in Lebanon, adding that former President Emile Lahoud's parting statement before leaving office on Friday had paved the way for Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government to remain in power.
Aoun on Saturday invited the various Christian leaders to meet at his residence in Rabiyeh on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to draft a "plan to resist this unacceptable situation."Aoun, in two separate interviews with LBC and New TV channels, warned that the vacuum could threaten Lebanon's existence because the Taif Accord - which ended the 1975-1990 Civil War - is threatened and the presidency is being weakened. He said that Taif was only partially implemented to meet the interests of certain sects.
"International support today is more for Saniora than it is for Lebanon," Aoun said. "I cannot imagine we have a prime minister whose name is Fouad Saniora doing the job of the president." He said his Reform and Change Bloc would take "practical but peaceful steps" to oppose the current situation but only after consulting with its allies. Beirut, 26 Nov 07, 08:50

Jumblat Wants Nothing to Do with Annapolis Meeting
Druze leader Walid Jumblat said he wants nothing to do with a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, stressing that "inner restoration" should be the first priority.
"We do not want any connection what so ever with the Annapolis conference and its outcome, whether it was a failure or a success and no matter what the American-Syria level of contact was," Jumblat told the daily As Safir. "The first priority should be to restore the internal situation and to reassure Syria's allies so that we don't have to pay a price for any foreign decisions," he said. Jumblat said "we will continue respecting international resolutions for the time being and will look forward for their implementation, much like 242 which was issued 40 years ago." Beirut, 26 Nov 07, 10:00

8 Injured in Blast in Nahr al-Bared
Eight Palestinians, four of them children, were wounded in a blast on Sunday in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared where the army battled terrorists of Fatah al-Islam this summer. Samir Lubani, an official with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), told AFP an explosive device blew up as the children were collecting scrap metal in Nahr al-Bared camp. The four children, including two in serious condition, and two adults were transported to hospital, he said. Two men were also wounded and treated at the scene. Lubani said the children and their families had returned five days ago to Nahr al-Bared which they had evacuated during the 15 weeks of deadly clashes between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants until September 2. Despite repeated warnings from the Lebanese army and demining groups not to touch unexploded munitions, trade continues in scrap metal extracted from weaponry in Nahr al-Bared and regions infested by mines in southern Lebanon. About 30,000 refugees had fled the camp due to the clashes that reduced much of the shantytown to rubble. On October 10, dozens of refugee families began returning to the bombed-out refugee camp, with the help of the Lebanese authorities and U.N. agencies.(AFP) Beirut, 25 Nov 07, 21:04

World Powers Appeal for Calm to Avoid Unrest in Absence of President

The United States, the European Union and other countries appealed for calm and urged the feuding sides to quickly negotiate an end to the presidential crisis and spare the country further turmoil. Washington offered its support to Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government and urged "all Lebanese political groups to do their part to maintain calm and promote security for Lebanon's citizens." In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was still optimistic a solution would be found next week. Spain, in turn, urged the warring factions to continue exerting efforts to overcome differences.
"Madrid hopes that all the political leaders will work to preserve peace and stability in Lebanon and (urge them) against taking unilateral action that could further aggravate political differences," a statement from the Spanish foreign ministry said. "I don't believe there will be serious tension," said Kouchner, who spent last week in Lebanon trying to mediate. "I know that any local conflict can degenerate into something extremely serious in Lebanon, but I am optimistic."
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin, whose country maintains close relations with Syria, voiced "deep concern" over the situation after President Emile Lahoud resigned amid a raging dispute over who was in charge in the politically divided nation. "The situation has been greeted in Moscow with regret and deep concern," foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement. "The priority remains the avoidance of open or even armed confrontation and to continue the search for the broadest possible consensus in Lebanon within the constitutional framework," Kamynin said.
Lahoud, regarded as one of Lebanon's most controversial presidents, left office shortly before midnight Friday at the end of his term with no elected successor.
He handed over responsibility for the country's security to the army. Egypt hailed Saniora, saying the prime minister "enjoys appropriate expertise and wisdom to run Lebanon through this critical stage and bring peace to the country.""Egypt looks forward to a Parliament session to elect a new president … on Nov. 30," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu al-Geith said. Beirut, 25 Nov 07, 10:29

Italian PM For More Talks with Iran, Quick Lebanon Elections

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called on Sunday for further talks with Iran over its contested nuclear program, in a speech in the United Arab Emirates.
"We have to negotiate with Iran," Prodi, who arrived in the UAE late on Saturday, told the Federal National Council, a body that advises the government of the oil-rich country facing Iran across the Gulf. "Negotiations (must be) based on two principles -- the right of Iran to develop a nuclear programme and also the right of the international community to make sure effectively about the peaceful nature of the project in Iran," said Prodi, whose remarks in Italian were translated into Arabic and English. Prodi said he could "understand the security fears of Israel" over Iranian comments about the Jewish state, and he called on Tehran to pursue cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a "transparent" manner. The Italian premier said his country backs a suggestion by pro-Western Gulf states to create a multinational consortium to provide enriched uranium to Iran as a way of resolving Tehran's standoff with the West. Prodi was due to go from Abu Dhabi to the booming UAE emirate of Dubai later on Sunday. Turning to Lebanon, which has been without a president since Syrian-backed Emile Lahoud left office on Friday with no successor in place, Prodi urged rival factions to quickly elect a new head of state in order to resolve the political crisis "jeopardising construction prospects." Lebanon's stability is "an essential and necessary condition for stability in the region," he said. Prodi expressed hope that a U.S.-sponsored conference opening on Tuesday with the aim of reviving stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, will "launch concrete negotiations for a settlement ... guaranteeing the Palestinian people an independent state that coexists with Israel in peace and security." He called for boosting ties between Italy and the UAE and expanding them to sectors "other than energy." Prodi said relations were likely to benefit from a free trade agreement which the European Union has been negotiating for several years with the six Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE -- but which has so far eluded the two sides.
Prodi also met UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan during his visit to Abu Dhabi, the official WAM news agency reported.(AFP)
Beirut, 25 Nov 07, 20:11

Religious leaders speak out against vacancy at Baabda, call for consensus
By Maroun Khoury
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 26, 2007
BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, from whose Maronite community Lebanese presidents are drawn, called on Sunday for politicians to agree on a new head of state in order to avoid chaos. "We are now in an interim period which may lead us to stability, or to chaos and confrontation," Sfeir said in his Sunday sermon at Notre Dame Church in Bkirki. "Therefore, everybody - especially those responsible for brokering an agreement - is asked to show seriousness and honest patriotism," he said.Earlier on Sunday, Hizbullah's number two, Sheikh Naim Qassem, criticized the decision of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government to take over presidential authority until the office has been filled ."This government is illegitimate and unconstitutional. It doesn't exist, so it can't rule and it can't exercise the role of the presidency," Qassem said. Former President Emile Lahoud left office at the end of his term at midnight on Friday after Parliament failed to elect his successor amid a long-running deadlock between the ruling majority and the opposition. Although politicians have vowed to reach an agreement over a consensus president by a parliamentary session set for next Friday, there has been no tangible progress to date. Also warning against chaos and instability which may result from the state of political vacuum the country is witnessing, senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said "political instability is likely to reflect negatively on the overall security situation in the country. "It is essential in such a crucial period to warn the Lebanese against infighting and it is imperative that the Lebanese join forces and unite against foreign interference in Lebanon's domestic issues because such intervention is likely to bring the country's downfall," Fadlallah said in a statement issued on Sunday.  The sayyed added that the crisis "does not affect only one Lebanese sect but rather all of the Lebanese.""The Maronites or Christians are not the only ones suffering from the vacuum but the Lebanese as a whole ... and it is important to note that such a situation will reflect on the political situation as a whole," he said.
The vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, urged the "immediate election of a purely Lebanese president."
"Groups from all across the political spectrum are urged to hold a dialogue until consensus over all pending matters is reached," Qabalan said in statement Sunday.
"Trading accusations is not the solution to Lebanon's impasse," he added.

Qassem accuses Washington of blocking consensus in Beirut
By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 26, 2007
BEIRUT: Hizbullah's number two blamed American interference on Sunday for Lebanon's presidential vacuum, accusing the United States of blocking attempts to reach consensus. "The hindering of consensus in Lebanon today ... is the result of American interference. America, after failing to impose its conditions, has blocked consensus and prevented the election of a new president," Sheikh Naim Qassem told a rally in Beirut. Qassem also said Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun was pivotal for any solution to the crisis. "The path to a solution is clear and well known, the position of Michel Aoun is the cornerstone of any solution and without returning to this cornerstone, there is no chance of transcending this crisis," Qassem said. He added that any attempt to circumvent Aoun's wide popular appeal is "absurd and a waste of time." Qassem said that Lebanon currently suffers from a "dual vacuum," one in the presidency and the other in Cabinet. "Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet is neither constitutional nor legitimate and it violates the pact of communal coexistence as the Shiite sect is unrepresented in it," he said.
"Lebanon is currently without an executive authority," Qassem said, in an apparent challenge to the Cabinet's decision to temporarily assume the powers of the presidency.
He called on the ruling coalition not to waste time nor the opportunity they have to reach consensus. "You need to reach an understanding with the opposition, as neither the majority nor the opposition can elect a president on their own," Qassem said, adding that the Constitution requires a majority of two-thirds of MPs to elect a president in order to preserve national partnership. Aoun, during an interview with New TV late Sunday night, also blamed the United States for the impasse in Lebanon. He added that former President Emile Lahoud's last statement before leaving office on Friday had paved the way for the Siniora Cabinet to remain in power.
Earlier this month Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, urged Lahoud to "assume his responsibilities" and take steps to keep the rul-ing coalition from monopolizing power. In an attempt to break the deadlock, Aoun on Saturday invited all Christian leaders to meet at his home in Rabieh on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss all options and the dangers facing the country as a result of the power vacuum.
Speaking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. (LBC), Aoun warned that the vacuum could threaten Lebanon's existence because the Taif Accord - which ended the 1975-1990 Civil War - is threatened and the presidency is being weakened. He added that Taif was only partially implemented to meet the interests of certain sects.
"International support today is more for Siniora than it is for Lebanon ... I cannot imagine a head of a government like Siniora assuming presidential powers," Aoun said, adding that his bloc would take "practical but peaceful steps" to oppose the current situation but only after consulting with its allies.
Former President Amin Gemayel, also in an interview with LBC, said there was no alternative to electing a president as quickly as possible. "It is the responsibility of MPs, especially Christian MPs. There is no excuse for those hindering the election," Gemayel said, adding that one name should be agreed on for the presidency.
"Adapting to this situation is the most dangerous thing. Just because people are not shooting at one another does not mean all is well," Gemayel said.
Commenting on Aoun's call for a meeting in Rabieh, Gemayel said "unilateral steps" never achieve results.
Aoun's bloc issued a statement on Saturday stressing that the Cabinet's assumption of presidential powers threatens the formula of communal coexistence in the country, as Christians now find themselves excluded from the power structure.
Siniora, after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Bkirki on Saturday, attempted to reassure the Lebanese that his government does not seek to assume extra powers, but rather aims to work with MPs from all parties to ensure the election of a consensus president "as soon as possible."
"No one at all takes the place of the president. This is an extraordinary period and as stipulated in the Constitution in the event a president is not elected presidential powers are delegated to the combined Cabinet. These powers do not reside in any one person," Siniora said.
He said there was no reason to worry as the army is in complete control of security in the country and is coordinating with all other security forces, reaffirming that no state of emergency exists, despite Lahoud's outgoing statement warning that the "conditions" for such a state were at hand.
"I sensed from Patriarch Sfeir his appreciation for what we are doing and his support for our efforts and our commitment to carrying out the election," Siniora said.
Siniora also received a call on Sunday from Jordan's King Abdullah, who expressed hope that the Lebanese will overcome the current crisis as soon as possible. Siniora also called Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to discuss the situation in Lebanon, as well as the results of the Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo.
Justice Minister Charles Rizk, speaking to Voice of Lebanon radio Sunday, warned against giving the presidential vacuum too much importance, adding that the office has "in practice" been vacant for over one year. He also pointed to the emergence of a "collective presidency" with the Cabinet's assumption of presidential powers.
"The Cabinet includes 10 Christian ministers and they are the majority," he said, "which should reassure the Christians in the country and allay any fears of Muslim hegemony." Lebanese Forces boss Samir Geagea, addressing a news conference in Maarab on Saturday, lashed out at Aoun's proposal that he pick a transitional president while the leader of the majority in Parliament, MP Saad Hariri, pick a premier to head a government of national unity.
"Aoun is not the biggest Christian leader, he is only one Christian leader," Geagea said of Aoun, who controls the largest Christian bloc in Parliament.
Geagea also stressed the need to elect a president as soon as possible. He added that the majority is committed to electing a president and that using a simple majority to do so was still a possibility. - With agencies

Fearful MPs 'stay put' at luxury hotel in Beirut

By Hani M. Bathish -Daily Star staff
Monday, November 26, 2007
BEIRUT: Majority MPs taking up residence at the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel for fear of assassination will remain there until a new president is elected or possibly even after a new president emerges, a security source said Sunday. "The area around the hotel remains a security zone with limited access," the source told The Daily Star, adding that MPs fear for their lives and live as prisoners at the luxury hotel. He said that as of midnight Friday, security forces went to "Plan B," after "Plan A" introduced tough security measures in the run-up to Friday's abortive electoral session. "Under Plan B extraordinary measures will be taken to ensure security until a new president is elected, whatever time that takes, maintaining a high alert status for all security forces in the country," the source said. Cabinet ministers are also afraid for their lives as the government assumes presidential powers. "If two Cabinet ministers are killed the government would lose its constitutional legitimacy as it would have lost a third of its members," the source said. Ministers are taking up residence in the Grand Serail. Rumors circulated Sunday of possible security breaches in and around Beirut, but the source said all of them were false alarms, adding that "people are tense and anxious."

International community urges Lebanese to fill presidency
Iran frets civil war, but France promises 'happy' developments

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, November 26, 2007
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi warned over the weekend that a civil war in Lebanon is imminent unless the Lebanese reach a consensus over pending political issues. Araghchi was one of many foreign officials around the world who commented on the latest twist in Lebanon's political crisis after rival Lebanese political factions failed to agree on a compromise president and the post was left vacant.
Araghchi told the French paper Le Monde that "if the Lebanese do not reach an agreement on a new president, I would expect a disaster in the country."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, whose country is assumed to have extended considerable support to Hizbullah during its long fight against Israel, said Sunday that Tehran would not interfere in Lebanon's presidential election or give its backing to any of the presidential candidates.
Stressing that any foreign intervention in the Lebanese presidential election would only create new problems for the country, he underscored the need for a Lebanese solution. "We emphasize consensus among various Lebanese personalities, parties and ethnic groups," he said.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who led intensive but unsuccessful efforts to broker a last-minute resolution of the Lebanese presidential impasse, predicted over the weekend that the next few days would see what he described as "satisfying" developments.
After talks with his Algerian counterpart in Paris on Saturday, Kouchner told reporters that he thought Lebanon "will see, in the days to come, developments I consider satisfying." He did not elaborate. The foreign minister also insisted that the failure to arrive at a deal on a president before the Friday night deadline was not a failure for French diplomacy. "I think that you will be happy with ... the effort that will be made for the stability of Lebanon in a few days," he added.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, in a speech delivered in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, urged rival factions in Lebanon to quickly elect a new head of state in order to resolve the political crisis.
The stability of Lebanon is "an essential and necessary condition for stability in the region," he added. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said that "Moscow views this development of the situation with regret and deep concern." "We are sure that the priority now is to avoid open confrontation, not to mention one involving the use of force, and continue to look for as broad a consensus, in line with the Lebanese Constitution, as possible," he said. "This is the only way to preserve Lebanon's political independence, sovereignty, and unity and save it from the replay of civilian strife, which would be pernicious to the country and the entire region."
"We are once again calling on all Lebanese figures to show themselves as wise statesmen and realize their responsibility for the future of their people," he added. "We are sure that the Lebanese themselves are capable of overcoming this serious ordeal with honor if nobody interferes in their affairs."
On Friday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he was "deeply concerned at the fragility of the situation in Lebanon."
Th UN chief urged "all parties to maintain calm as well as to further intensify efforts to reach a compromise as soon as possible" and "to act within the constitutional framework as well as in a peaceful and democratic manner." For its part, the United States urged "all Lebanese political groups to do their part to maintain calm and promote security for Lebanon's citizens," the State Department said in a statement issued on Friday. "There is a strong possibility for demonstrations and unrest during this period," the State Department warned. The United States also pledged support for Lebanon in the crisis, calling for continued talks to elect a new president.
"The United States and its allies will not waver in our support for the people of Lebanon as they defend their freedom against all attempts at foreign interference and intimidation," it said. Emile Lahoud left the presidency at midnight Friday exactly at the end of his term (extnded under Syrian pressure in 2004), without a successor chosen to fill the post, ending nine years of controversial rule marked by triumph and upheaval that are sure to reverberate long after he sets into civilian life.
Fireworks lit the sky Friday night and early Saturday morning as some Lebanese set off fireworks, dancing, beating drums and shouting "Lahoud out" as they gathered in a Sunni neighborhood to celebrate the president's departure. - Agencies

Score this round for March 14
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 26, 2007
Lebanon is looking into the abyss; it is in the throes of a political crisis that everyone has announced might bring on catastrophe. March 14 is on its final feet, wracked by division. If you think all this is true then here's a less apocalyptic account for what has just happened on the presidency.
March 14 has won this round. Senior leaders of the majority coalition had peddled the idea that a presidential vacuum was what Syria desired the most. As one politician put it to me last week, Syria fooled several gullible French envoys to ensure that no president would be elected, thus leaving a hole at the top that Damascus hoped to exploit to make the security situation more volatile. Indeed, when the official Syrian daily Tishrin last week threatened chaos in Lebanon because of the election, you knew the Assad regime was itching to raise the heat through the instability card.
However, that's only half the story. The fact that a presidential election did not happen may have been precisely what the majority, or certain leaders in the majority, intended - and justifiably so. They understood that Syria's priority was not a vacuum, but getting elected a president who would advance its interests. There never was an incentive for March 14 to hand the keys of Baabda over to a weak president, then surrender veto power to the opposition in a new government while Nabih Berri remained speaker of Parliament. The apparent divisions in the anti-Syrian coalition, between a Walid Jumblatt backing Michel Edde, a Saad Hariri backing Robert Ghanem, and a Samir Geagea enthused with neither, were likely not as sharp as they looked. Jumblatt didn't want Edde. He used him to create a bogus crisis with Hariri (who was perhaps complicit) to help block the reckless French initiative and turn the tables on Syria.
Here is what March 14 has gained. Fouad Siniora remains prime minister of a government without a president to hinder its activities and that the opposition cannot readily remove by force. Why? Because if it were to try doing so, this might lead to a destructive Sunni-Shiite clash that both Hizbullah and the Hariri camp want to avoid. Sunnis and Shiites cannot afford to come to blows over a Christian presidency.
Second, if the opposition were to resort to violence against the Siniora government, not only would this provoke an angry response in the mostly Sunni Arab world, the March 14 majority would be galvanized enough, and would receive the international backing it requires, to elect a president by an absolute majority. As one European diplomat put it: Whichever side fires first in the standoff is bound to be the loser.
March 14 can also rejoice that Emile Lahoud has finally gone, leaving behind a wet firecracker as his last act. Too many people mistakenly interpreted his farewell announcement Friday as a declaration of a state of emergency. It was nothing of the sort. Lahoud's statement was without effect, and was quickly nullified by the army's reaction, suggesting that the former president was already calculating that he or his family might pay a price for a reckless decision to leave bedlam behind him. Hizbullah urged him to form a second government, but in the end Lahoud got cold feet, no longer protected by his presidential immunity.
A third gain of March 14 is that, absent a presidential election, a conflict-ridden negotiation over the formation of a new government has been momentarily delayed. None of the majority's leaders were keen to give up the one branch of government they still control in favor of a protracted dispute over a new government, which would have provoked far more hostility than exists today - at least until they could get a president they consider reliable. There seems to be no middle ground today between Hizbullah and Michel Aoun on the one hand, and the March 14 coalition on the other. A new government would be a pretext for greater discord. That may explain why even the opposition parties, particularly Hizbullah, allowed the Friday deadline to pass without incident: It could be that everybody had an interest in calming the situation before the next phase.
So Lahoud is gone, Siniora is still in, and the opposition has few serious options to alter the stalemate without risking war. Is that so a bad result for the majority coalition? Not if the time gained can be put to good use, because the victory is only tactical. From the March 14 perspective, that time might allow the Hariri tribunal to be set up so that, if the latter gains momentum, it would provide the majority with a context required to gain leverage for the election of a new president closer to its ambitions.
More likely, the majority is banking on the outcome of the Annapolis conference tomorrow. There has been much talk in Beirut that the United States is rewarding Syria by inviting it to the conference. This is too shortsighted a reading. A Syria compelled to make peace is a Syria that must redefine its relationship with Hizbullah. Annapolis may become a trap for Damascus: If there is progress on its track with Israel, Syria might be locked into a process from which one can derive concessions on Lebanon. If, conversely, Syria does nothing to help Annapolis succeed, it will find itself more targeted than ever in the region. Some reports suggest that Jordan's King Abdullah recently warned President Bashar Assad that the peace conference was his last chance to break out of his isolation.
One thing is certain: The dynamics of the Lebanese presidential election have changed. The status quo is now to the disadvantage of the opposition. Very soon opposition groups will be the ones demanding a presidential election to be rid of Siniora. Once they do so they will be in a position of vulnerability, since March 14 still controls the parliamentary majority and will be inviting the opposition blocs to come down to Parliament for an open vote. At the least, March 14 has greater latitude today to agree to a compromise candidate it feels more comfortable with.
But there is a problem in the argument: The Syrians will not allow such a scenario to be played out if their pre-Annapolis flexibility leads them nowhere. Iranian intentions are also unclear, and quite worrisome. How long can Siniora remain in office before Hizbullah and the Aounists begin raising the heat? Violence, whether assassinations or demonstrations, can intervene to alter the calculations on all sides.
There is also the fact that an indefinite period without a president will rile up the Christians. Whether it is Michel Aoun or Michel Suleiman who takes advantage of this anger is irrelevant: Hariri and Jumblatt have to be careful not to discredit the Christians in their own coalition by leaving the presidency vacant for too long.
Whatever the outcome, March 14 had the last laugh last week, when French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and the other French emissaries offered Syria normalization in exchange for facilitating the Lebanese presidential election. It all came to naught and French diplomacy got burned, so that President Nicolas Sarkozy will now think twice before trusting Assad. The fact is that Syria, until now, has not been able to impose its man as president. Hizbullah's followers may have to spend another chilly winter in their tents under the gaze of the detested Siniora. Score this round for March 14, then brace for a reaction.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Hezbollah Adds New Demand in Lebanon
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Iran-backed Hezbollah on Sunday blamed U.S. interference for the Lebanese parliament's inability to elect a president and added a new condition for choosing the next head of state: The leader must support the powerful Shiite Muslim group's fight against Israel.
Hezbollah's demand is bound to further complicate efforts to elect a new president to replace Emile Lahoud, who stepped down midnight Friday, plunging the crisis-ridden country into a dangerous power vacuum after rival factions failed to agree on a successor.
"We want a president who believes in national participation and in the right to defend one's land and protect its people," Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, said in a speech in south Beirut. Hezbollah fought a guerrilla war against Israel's 18-year occupation of a border strip in southern Lebanon that ended in 2000. It sparked a 34-day war with Israel in the summer of 2006 after it killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others in a cross-border raid.
While Lebanon's U.S.-backed government does not have relations with Israel, it also does not seek to provoke fighting between the two countries.
Months of political haggling between Lebanon's rival politicians failed to find a compromise presidential candidate to succeed Lahoud, intensifying fears of street violence between Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's Western-backed government and the opposition led by Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran and Syria.
The departure of Lahoud, a staunch ally of Syria during his nine years in office, was a long-sought goal of the government installed by the majority in parliament who oppose Syria's influence in Lebanon. The government has been trying to put one of its own in the post and seal the end of Syrian dominance of Lebanon.
But Hezbollah and its opposition allies have been able to stymie the government's hopes by repeatedly boycotting parliamentary votes for a new president, as they did on Friday, leaving it without the required quorum. A new parliament session to elect a president has been set for Nov. 30.
In the absence of a president, Saniora's cabinet, which the opposition considers illegitimate, takes on executive power under the constitution.
"This government is illegitimate and unconstitutional. It doesn't exist, so it can't rule and it can't exercise the role of the presidency," Kassem said Sunday.
He also blamed U.S. "interference" for the lack of consensus in Lebanon. "American interference, through which they tried to dictate conditions (for the new president), is what blocked the consensus and kept the elections from being held on time," he said. The United States has said the new Lebanese president must be committed to implementation of international demands, a reference to U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for disarming Hezbollah, which Washington labels a terrorist organization. But Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah earlier this month vowed to keep the group's weapons, saying no army in the world can disarm Hezbollah.
Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 following Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination. Some in Lebanon accuse Syria of being behind the killing — a charge Damascus denies.

Lebanon situation "critical", Christian leader warns
Nov 25, 2007,
Beirut - The head of Lebanon's Maronite Christian community warned Sunday that the political situation in the country is 'critical' following the expiry of Emile Lahoud's term as president and the failure to agree on a successor. Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir during Sunday prayers urged all Lebanese leaders to put aside their differences in the interests of the country. Sources close to Sfeir meanwhile said that Lebanon's Christian community are concerned about the country's highest political office remaining vacant, especially as according to Lebanon's confessional power-sharing system it should be occupied by a Maronite.
'Lebanon during this political vacuum is at a critical juncture in its history,' one source said, adding that the situation would end in 'either stability or chaos.'
Such fears were echoed on Sunday by Christian worshippers across Beirut. 'The Christians are being marginalized and I fear there will not be a president for Lebanon,' said Christian Augette Sarkis. 'We are living in a country with no head and we face a dark future.'
Since the expiry of Lahoud's term on Friday and with Lebanon's rival political factions failing to agree on a consensus successor, the president's powers passed to Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, a Sunni Muslim. Prior to leaving office Lahoud had declared the transferral of his powers to the Lebanese army, but under the constitution the army commander must take orders from the premier if the presidential office remains vacant.
Lahoud and the opposition led by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement have considered Seniora's Western-backed government illegitimate since the resignation of all Shiite Muslim cabinet members last year. Michel Aoun, a Christian opposition politician, warned against the cabinet taking over the role of the presidency, and called on all Lebanese Christian political and religious leaders to meet for talks to resolve the matter. Meanwhile, the army's presence was increased on the streets of the capital Beirut and checkpoints set up to secure law and order. The stalemate has prompted fears of a power vacuum or the formation of two rival governments, as was the case at the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. The ruling coalition, which has 68 deputies in the 127-member parliament, vowed to proceed with a simple majority vote if no agreement is reached on a successor to Lahoud during a parliamentary session scheduled for November 30.
But Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement, has said that any such move would 'be tantamount to a coup.'
Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naeem Kassem warned on Sunday that a presidential election would not be held unless all parties, the opposition and the anti-Syrian majority, agree on the candidate. Political observers in Beirut see the crisis in Lebanon as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States against predominantly Shiite Iran and Lebanon's former powerbroker, Syria. Progress in the Middle East peace parley in Annapolis beginning Tuesday will help break the deadlock, analysts say.

Kidnappers And A Hostage
Elias Harfouch
Al Hayat - 25/11/07//
You can take someone a hostage because his fate has made him cross your path. You can also take a whole country, because its miserable circumstances put its fate into your hands. In all cases, the rules of kidnapping and detaining hostages are the same, whether they are people or countries. The basic condition is for your hostage to be weak and helpless and for your ability to bargain and cash in the price in exchange for his freedom is not apt to be bent or tame.
Lebanon is currently one of the countries that can be labeled as hostage. Its political frailty and internal break-up have predestined it to become a typical victim, which can be isolated or bargained with and eradicate the political and constitutional rules that govern its affairs. For this purpose, the kidnapper simply needs to trespass the recognized rules of political conduct and resort to his armed abilities in order "to convince" those reluctant and doubtful of his power to impair and wipe out the institutions, until the political solution he is seeking is adopted.
How else can one interpret the intentional paralysis situation imposed on the main Lebanese institutions, especially the cabinet and the parliament? This paralysis has led to the present void in the top seat of the state and to the severe rift over the legitimacy of the cabinet of Fouad Siniora and its prerogatives. How can one explain the unfeasible requests proposed to save this poor hostage out of his deadlock except that they are just meant to make him yield?
Last year was characterized by a proclaimed intention to kidnap the political act and transfer it from the realm of being practiced according to the established rules in democratic regimes to trespassing and abolishing these rules. This is in addition to resorting to other methods of parliamentary acts that are based on refraining from practice and publicly announcing the right to "impair. All this comes under a neat slogan that calls for respecting the rules of participation and the need to abide by the quorum, at a time when the masterminds of this impairment are the ones who are withdrawing from the institutions, hindering participation and impairing the quorum. They do that by refraining from attending the sessions to elect a new president for the country, despite the constitutional laws that compel them to attend.
The only restraint that "manages" the kidnapping of the hostages, their detainment, and the bargaining over their freedom is the ethical restraint. To what length is the kidnapper willing to go in his death threat should he fail to cash in his sought-after price for freeing his hostage? Do these ethics compel him to back out if the outcome of his deed is the inevitable death of his victim? These ethics are in fact what many are wagering on now if there is any hope to free the kidnapped and paralyzed institutions from their current situation and allowing them to reestablish the rules of a sound democratic act…the ethics of the kidnapper and his willingness to back out or bargain before the total annihilation of the victim.
Something of the sort happened in a past era. However, the kidnapping experience was still "primitive." But the "school" that was graduating these kidnappers has kept its doors wide open and qualified individuals were walking out of its classes armed with degrees that presage a prominent future. At that time, foreigners paid a visit to the country, some were dropping in out of friendship and love of the area, and some sympathized with national issues. Despite that, these emotions did not do them well and they ended us hostages. They vanished in vaults for years before the sought-after price to release them was received and which usually led to a "humanitarian" initiative to set them free in an official bureau in order to confirm that the mediation succeeded and the price was cashed! Only the lucky ones among the hostages have had such fate. However, the others died in the vaults before the mediation succeeded and the price was cashed.
We are witnessing something of the sort now, but on a more advanced and professional level, and wrapped in statements calling for nationalism and the ardent need to face the imperialistic projects. However, the objective of the kidnapping is still the same. No liberation of the country and its institutions and no return to a sound political conduct before the price reaches the known capitals…and Beirut isn't in any case one of them

The Conference To Release Palestine From International Isolation
Raghida Dergham
Al-Hayat - 23/11/07//
LONDON: One shouldn't compare the Annapolis Conference with any comprehensive peace conference, such as Madrid, or Palestinian-Israeli negotiation sessions, such as Camp David. The Annapolis Conference will be the first international gathering for the sake of establishing a Palestinian state on the basis of international resolutions and reference points, including the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002.
The world will head to Annapolis to tell the Palestinians that it places their cause at the forefront, and to tell the Israelis that they must now take practical measures toward a two-state solution, based on secure borders for both Israel and Palestine. This is important, regardless of the immediate results of the so-called conference of the fall, which will not be a negotiation session, a ceremony to inaugurate a new idea, or a festival. It is a conference to release Palestine from international isolation and from the cage of rationing terrorism. It is also a conference to launch a new qualitative type of negotiations, with international participation and supervision; it is certainly not a conference to distance Syria from the peace process. Syria has been invited, to support Palestine, if it wants to support Palestine, just like the rest of the Arabs, to pave the way for a similar conference, for the sake of the occupied Golan Heights.
The conference is not about acting recklessly on the Lebanese-Israeli peace track, since this is driven by UN Security Resolution 425, which is connected to the Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, while occupied Palestinian and Syrian territory fall under Resolutions 242 and 338. International interest in Lebanon will continue no matter what happens, since the international community is committed to establishing an international court to try those involved in political assassinations in Lebanon, no matter how long this takes. Internationalizing Palestine and Lebanon has another implication, and "internationalization" can no longer be used as a derogatory term by those who are politically bankrupt.
On Friday, Lebanon will begin a new phase, which some might view as final, or as marking the end of a certain course. The anxiety and fear might blind people to the obvious facts, namely that it is impossible to erase two basic items, whose opponents - Hizbullah and its allies Syria and Iran, and their smaller partners inside Lebanon - have been desperately seeking to eliminate: the creation of an international court for those involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and his comrades, and other terrorist assassinations that an investigation proves to be linked to this crime, and the implementation of Resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, including Hizbullah and Palestinian factions that act on the orders of Damascus and other militias. Whatever any agreed-upon Lebanese president does, at the end of the day, he will be unable to eliminate these two fundamental items. Whatever delusions the Iranian-Syrian axis and Hizbullah and its brethren have, the beefed-up UNIFIL forces will not continue to function as a shield to protect them from the resistance, which threatens them from a distance - and only from Lebanon - with the permanent presence of the national army and the other militias. Whatever this axis tries to do, it might be able to hinder measures here and there, to obstruct the formation of the court, but it will certainly fail to prevent the establishment of this body, whatever it does.
Even if this alliance manages a well-thought-out coup d'etat, after creating a climate of terror, and engineers the establishment of an allied military government in Lebanon, or through measures undertaken by the (finally) departing president, Emile Lahoud, this government will not last long in the face of international pressures, which will prevent Lebanon from becoming a Syrian-Iranian base, or in the face of isolation that it will certainly bring down upon itself.
Observers who are following this fear of the independent investigation committee into terrorist acts in Lebanon, acts that took the life of al-Hariri, and the other political assassinations, do not really know what this committee has arrived at, especially after its current head, Serge Brammertz, has surrounded the process wit complete secrecy. Brammertz will leave this post at the end of the year and be followed by Daniel Bellemare, from Canada. He will deliver his final report to the Security Council on Tuesday.
This report will not reveal what the investigation has arrived at, and will not name names. It will not present conclusions. It will not indict anyone, or clear anyone. Brammertz' exit from his post was an astonishing surprise, but not a knockout blow. If he does not end the investigation, a new commissioner will head the investigation. Meanwhile, Brammertz is headed for a new position in the UN, heading the court for the former Yugoslavia, succeeding Carla del Ponti, and will not speak out upon leaving one post for another. He sees himself as an employee and has no interest in or desire to add an outstanding item to his CV.
Therefore, Brammertz, on the one hand, has not disappointed hopes and promises, because he has not made promises to reveal what he has mid-way through the investigation, to either a certain party or to the UN Security Council. He has given absolutely no impression at any time that he will reveal names before the Security Council. Anyone believes such a thing is a prisoner of his own imagination. On the other hand, Brammertz' term might be considered a set-back for the investigation, as it appears that what he has done is return the investigation to where his predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, brought the proceedings. One could say that this was not Brammertz' business, and that he in fact politicized the investigation, while he wanted to not politicize it. This is because he ignored the importance and benefit of overt pressure on Syria and the issue of trust on the part of people in Lebanon; he believed that he was right to maintain this secrecy.
This might be the case. And it might also be the case that what is contained in the secret briefcase of Brammertz and his team might silence the critics, since he did well with the investigation and gathered evidence to present to the court, carrying out his tasks according to his concept of these tasks. Whatever the case, the final report by Brammertz will not constitute a historical event when he delivers it next Tuesday to the Security Council; he does not want to talk in terms of historical events and his legacy. He will hand over the file he has prepared with his team to the Security Council, in addition to what Mehlis and his team prepared since the investigation began a few years ago, to a new person - we will become used to hearing this name and about this personality, and he will also decide the type and pace of his investigation. This person will hand over the file to the International Court, and we will see if he considers himself charged with a historic task for a people and country, or if he will see himself, as Brammertz did, as a mere employee holding a bag and handing it over, not looking behind himself as he turns in his final report next Tuesday.
On this date, it will be the day of Palestine, if events in Lebanon move in the direction of salvation, even if temporary or phases, from a tactical or strategic civil conflict. Annapolis might send a united message through a position taken vis-à-vis Lebanon, but the goal of the gathering is to focus on Palestine. All of the participating countries will do well to head to Annapolis and say to Palestine: we are thinking about you.
The Annapolis Conference will not create a miracle or record a breakthrough in the negotiations, such as fixing a firm date to create a Palestinian state. It is another beginning and not an ending to the negotiation process, and because it involves high expectations, the Annapolis Conference won't be a shock or a disappointment - it will be one of the most normal conferences, despite the importance of the event itself. It might be called the meeting of the weak, since the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships are weak and because the host of the event is President George W Bush, a lame duck president approaching the end of his second term. However, the modest expectations of the conference in themselves do not mean that it will be a pale affair. Here are some of the reasons:
The marginalization of the Palestinian issue and the isolation and exclusion of the Palestinian Authority have constituted a harsh blow to the Palestinians. Thus, breaking this isolation and eliminating the marginalization have been very positive developments for their cause, and for those who believe that it is possible to establish a Palestinian state only through negotiations, since the option of armed resistance is not supported practically by states that use the rhetoric of resistance, and particularly Syria, which has borders with Israel that it refuses to open to resistance.
Bush administration's involvement as a direct party in forging a Palestinian-Israeli peace is no simple matter, whatever feelings there may be toward this administration and its team. Former US President Bill Clinton ignored the peace process for seven years, then awoke in his final year to search for his historical legacy. He undertook peacemaking in his own way and invited the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (the current defense minister).
The Camp David meeting was spun by those who took part in it, and these interpretations differed from what actually took place. Barak did not offer Arafat the deal of a lifetime. The offer that Barak made to Arafat came about seven months after the talks at Taba, after it appeared that he would lose to Ariel Sharon in the Israeli elections. Even Bill Clinton himself says today that Arafat should have accepted what Barak offered him at Taba (and not at Camp David), as he considered Camp David a summit "to break the psychological ice and create a psychological breakthrough) between the two camps.
For the record, Camp David produced a breakthrough; Barak did what no Israeli leader had done before him: put Jerusalem on the negotiating table. Sharon then led an Israeli "intifada" against him and defeated him in the elections. Barak had crossed the Israeli red lines and was informed that there would be an uprising against him. Therefore, Barak feels that he burned his fingers on the Palestinian issue, and thus prefers the Syrian negotiation track to the Palestinian one.
Another important aspect of Camp David was Arab leaders rejected Arafat's call to travel the path with him, hand in hand, of accepting negotiations over Jerusalem based on the Israeli offer. The Arab leaders told him, "Go ahead and we'll be right behind you," which Arafat interpreted as being told "go and commit suicide on your own."
This time, at Annapolis, the Bush administration has been insistent on a critically important issue: giving the Palestinian leadership the support of Arab and Muslim leaders enjoying important political weight, so that it can take decisions without being blamed, or committing political suicide, but rather with the confidence of enjoying Arab-Muslim-international partnership, instead of acting alone in US-Israeli meetings.
The invitation letter sent by Bush listed all of the reference-points for negotiations, including Security Council Resolution 1515, which unanimously supported Bush's vision for the establishment of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, and the Madrid Conference, based on Resolutions 242 and 338, the principle of land for peace, and the Arab Peace Initiative for coexistence and normalization with Israel, in return for ending the 1967 occupation of Arab territory. The invitation also mentions Resolution 194 regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and compensation for the "1948 Palestinians." This letter might be more important than a joint Israeli-Palestinian document, since it is the official invitation by the host of the Annapolis Conference.
In his letter, the US president does not vow that he will personally inaugurate the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is because, simply put, unable to make such a promise. However, in talking about his desire to see an agreement regarding the establishment of such a state, through a durable Palestinian-Israel peace, before the end of his term, he is making an overt commitment to work hard on seeing his vision succeed before his successor arrives, and in practical terms is setting down a time-table for these negotiations. Bush might succeed in this.
Bush might succeed despite all of the Israeli obstacles and attempts to sabotage the process that are being carried out by US groups and organizations, to abort the president's vision. Since this vision was announced, we have seen such attempts; the mere convening of the Annapolis Conference is a testament to the fact that these attempts have failed to block the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.
The president might succeed because he appears to be finally convinced that victory over terror requires getting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict off the table, if he wants to neutralize the anger of Arab and Muslim peoples because of American bias, due to Washington's blind support for Israel, however much land it occupies and seizes, and however much it violates international law. He might succeed because he is finally listening, it appears, to the advice of key Arab and Muslim leaders, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the UAE, that extremism will defeat moderation if US policy doesn't change, and that the key to solutions for various Arab issues, including Iraq, involves finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue, which is the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Bush's personal involvement in seeing the Annapolis Conference succeed has important implications and impact. Let us say, for example, that he has done this for the sake of the Golan: it's certain that "nationalist" voices will stop accusing others of treason, as is now taking place regarding the Palestinian leadership. Damascus hopes, and in fact is begging, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to return the US ambassador to Syria. This is the most important message delivered by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem from President al-Asad when he met with Rice. This is his right; however, he does not have the right to deride Bush and his team if they join the efforts to establish a Palestinian state and mock the importance of this development. In fact, no US president has put the establishment of a Palestinian state on the negotiation table, even though Bush has competed with his predecessors in how best to serve Israel; however, he remains the only American president to utter the words "establishment of a Palestinian state."
If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to engage in one-upsmanship with the Palestinian people, let him continue with his silly smile, while accusing others of betraying the cause and sabotaging the Palestinian leadership, as he promises liberation and resistance until the last Palestinian and Lebanese.
The presence of key Arab countries at the Annapolis Conference is necessary because an Arab absence as the world gathers to support the establishment of a Palestinian state will constitute a sign of disapproval. The issue of Arab-Israeli normalization cannot be subjected to desperate Israeli conditions or the traditional Arab political formulas. Many Arab states have ties with Israel. The most important commercial ties between Israel and an Arab state are not with Egypt, with which the Jewish state has a peace treaty, but with Qatar, which has no such agreement.
The Israeli government has made a procedural compromise for the Annapolis Conference, agreeing to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state instead of insisting, as it usually does, on the completion of security conditions for the negotiations. that in effect scuttle such movement. In return, the Americans do not want normalization between Israel and Arab states to be delayed until the end of the negotiations, as stipulated by the Arab Peace Initiative, but to move in parallel with the beginning of the negotiation process on the establishment of a Palestinian state. But this is merely a hope, and not a prior condition, especially since the form of this Palestinian state remains distant from an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
The Arabs have much to offer to the Palestinians and the Israelis at Annapolis, and after Annapolis. The Quartet's special envoy, Tony Blair, requires tangible Arab backing to assist in the building of Palestinian national institutions. The Arab states and key Muslim countries have a special responsibility to protect the Palestinians from the grandstanding that is taking place regarding their cause, by other Arab and Muslim leaders, such as those in Syria and Iran.
The European Union countries play an economic role that should be boosted by political pressure on Israel to halt its collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. According to the UN's under secretary for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, in an interview with al-Hayat, part of what the secretary general will bring to the Annapolis Conference is the idea of waking up those who dream of peace to the idea that "what happens on the ground has nothing to do with talk of optimism and peace," as long as the people of Gaza are experiencing "collective punishment because of measures by the Israeli authorities" and because of the "military coup carried out by Hamas.
The Annapolis Conference is not a miracle conference. But the mere gathering of world leaders to think about Palestine and lay the cornerstone of the establishment of a Palestinian state makes it a conference that demolishes the wall of international marginalization and isolation of the Palestinians

Bush lends clout to Mideast peace talks
By: AMY TEIBEL, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - President Bush will lend his clout Monday to help broker an elusive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on the contours of long-stalled peace talks the two sides expect to relaunch this week at a high-stakes international conference.
Resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been a priority of a succession of U.S. presidents, and late in his two-term tenure, Bush has made that long-coveted diplomatic victory his goal, too. Bush invited the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to separate meetings at the White House on Monday to prepare for the centerpiece of his Mideast gathering — an all-day session Tuesday in Annapolis, Md. "I remain personally committed to implementing my vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," Bush said Sunday in a statement on the international gathering that begins Monday night with a dinner.
"The Israelis and Palestinians have waited a long time for this vision to be realized, and I call upon all those gathering in Annapolis this week to redouble their efforts to turn dreams of peace into reality," he said.
Bush will open the Annapolis conference with a speech. He'll make clear that Mideast peace is a top priority for the rest of his time in office through January 2009, but he is not expected to advance any of his own ideas on how to achieve that, Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday.
"It is now time for the parties to get into this process by way of negotiation," Hadley told reporters. "And I don't think the president will conclude that the time is right to start offering ideas on outcomes on specific issues. ... This is not a negotiation session. It is to launch a negotiation, and for the parties then to take a lead."
Hadley also said the joint statement was not as important as it had initially appeared. The two sides had taken the unexpected step of agreeing to negotiations, so the document was no longer a vehicle necessary to bring them to that point, he said.
"If we get something, if they can agree on some things as an input to the negotiations, that would be fine," Hadley said. "But I think it is really no longer on the critical path to a successful conference."The run-up to the meeting has been fraught with disputes, skepticism and suspicion about the opposing parties' good faith. And expectations remain low. But Bush has been buoyed by Arab endorsement of the meeting and the possibilities for broader peacemaking. He will be asked to use his presidential heft to promote a joint blueprint for talks that are to follow, Israeli and Palestinian officials said Sunday.
Clinching a joint statement of objectives from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might prove to be an impossibly tall order because of the charged issues that divide the two sides. On more than one occasion, negotiations have splintered over the key questions of Palestinian statehood — final borders, sovereignty over disputed Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who lost homes in Israel following its 1948 creation.
The Palestinians want the statement to address those issues in general terms. But Israel wants to leave them for post-conference talks, and has pressed for a broader, vaguer statement of commitment to two states living side-by-side in peace.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wasn't able to bridge the gaps, even after eight missions to the region this year.
If the two sides can't even manage to come up with a shared statement of objectives, that could augur ill for the future of peace talks, which are to be renewed after seven years of still-simmering violence. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met late Sunday with Rice in a last-ditch effort to wrap up the task.
"We're confident there will be a document and we'll get to Annapolis in good shape on that," but bargaining may continue behind the scenes on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Still, whatever joint agreement the Israelis and Palestinians present at Annapolis will be a starting point and is likely to sketch only vague bargaining terms. The big questions that have doomed previous peace efforts would come later.
Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said Palestinians hope to work out a joint document, but that an agreement is not essential because of assurances received in the U.S. invitation to the conference. That invitation, he said, "includes all the terms of reference for the future negotiation" and "confirms that both sides are committed" to putting in place the peace process. "This is enough to launch negotiations after the conference."
Olmert made it clear that Annapolis is but a start. "I hope Annapolis will allow the launching of serious negotiations on all the core issues that will lead to a solution of two states for two peoples," Olmert said Sunday. The Arab League endorsement of the conference, while reluctant, is considered crucial because Abbas needs to be shored up, especially after Islamic Hamas militants routed his loyalists in the Gaza Strip in June and now rule there.
Syria, which has been in a state of war with Israel for six decades, agreed Sunday to attend the session, giving Bush full backing from all 16 Arab states who were invited, plus the Arab League. It hopes to use forum to press for the return of the Golan Heights, strategic territory Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading negotiations for her country, suggested a lack of Arab backing contributed to the failure of the last round of talks.
The Arab world, Livni told reporters Sunday, "should stop sitting on the fence."
"There isn't a single Palestinian who can reach an agreement without Arab support," she said.
Still, Livni added, "it is not the role of the Arab world to define the terms of the negotiations or take part in them."
**Associated Press writers Anne Gearan, Ben Feller and Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report.

Analysis: Lebanon's un-independence
By CLAUDE SALHANI (UPI Contributing Editor)
Published: November 26, 2007
WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The deadline set by the Lebanese Constitution for the country's Parliament to elect a new president expired at midnight Friday. No consensus was reached, and the departing president, Emile Lahoud, handed the task of insuring Lebanon's security to the army. He called it a "temporary measure." But in Lebanon temporary measures have a bad habit of being more than temporary.
To better grasp what is happening in Lebanon today requires a quick recap of the country's history.
After Anglo-French forces captured Syria from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, France was given a mandate over that part of the Middle East while Britain found itself administering Palestine, Trans-Jordan and Iraq.
Partially due to its geographic location as a major crossing point in the center of the eastern Mediterranean, since ancient times Lebanon has had to deal with foreign invasions and occupations. Throughout its history Lebanon has come to be occupied -- though never quite dominated -- by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Armenians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Ottoman-Turks, French, and more recently by the Syrians and Israelis.
France granted Lebanon independence in 1943, but in retrospect, it's difficult to judge if Lebanon was ever truly able to practice its independence, either from Syria or the West. Syria still harbors hopes to reclaim the territory that was tied to Damascus during a brief chapter in history. Since 1943 Damascus has repeatedly refused to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon on the basis that the two countries are too close to merit the exchange of diplomatic legations -- somewhat of a lame argument considering that sharing a border has never prevented dozens of other countries around the world from exchanging ambassadors.
If France and more recently the United States have been engaged in internal Lebanese political affairs -- some would call it interfering in internal affairs of another country -- that is because Lebanon once again got caught in the crosshairs of political bickering by larger, stronger nations that have decided to fight their wars mostly by proxy and on Lebanese soil. And the naivete and short-sightedness of Lebanon's politicians permits this outside interference to occur.
A prime example is the way Iran has become drawn into the quagmire that is Lebanese politics, using its proxy militia, Hezbollah, to counter the pro-Western government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
In the interim, the Lebanese have learned to wait and wait and wait. Lebanon has become the country where the temporary has taken on a new meaning. Here, days are drawn out into weeks, weeks become months, and months stretch out into years.
As Paul Khalife, a correspondent for Radio France Internationale, stated in his report from the Lebanese capital the morning after Lahoud left the presidential palace at the end of his mandate, assigning the security of the country to the Lebanese army on a "temporary" basis, that "temporary" risks becoming more than that.
Said Khalife: "In 1948 the Lebanese were told that Palestinian refugees flooding by the thousands over the border into southern Lebanon and beyond would only remain in the country 'temporarily.' Sixty years later, with their numbers inflated to 400,000, the Palestinian refugees now scattered over a dozen different camps from the north of the country to the south are still 'temporarily' in Lebanon. Today they make up 12 percent of Lebanon's population."
At the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, tens of thousands of refugees were told they could return within a short while to their villages in south Lebanon; in fact it took 18 years to make that a reality.
The Saudi-sponsored Taif Accords in 1990, which put an end to the civil war, included a clause that called for the immediate withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon. That took 13 years to materialize. The Lebanese presidential election, which has been postponed five consecutive times, was to take place at the latest Saturday, Nov. 24. This date, too, has been postponed by another week.
As the French radio correspondent pointed out, "The Lebanese have come to realize that in Lebanon only the temporary is permanent."
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)