Offer reform for Hizbullah's weapons
By Michael Young -Daily Star staff
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah often says that Hizbullah will never use its weapons against other Lebanese. Yet, we know the party did so in the past, and in his speech last Friday, Nasrallah made it plain that Hizbullah's disarmament was conditional on an overhaul of the Lebanese state. Assuredly, then, his arms are not there just to keep Israel at bay, but also to be used as leverage in a domestic struggle for power.

This, somehow, was never in doubt. Nor does it require transcendent familiarity with Lebanon to know that because of the way the society is structured, one party's remaining armed to the exception of all the others can only increase the insecurities of those others. And now Nasrallah has made formal his warning. As Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh bitingly observed last weekend, this is what Hizbullah effectively offered: Our weapons in exchange for transforming Lebanon into a virtual garrison state, where we wouldn't need our weapons anyway, since by then the state would be largely in our hands.

There were two jarring moments in Nasrallah's speech. His statement, directed against Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, that "tears don't liberate," was especially disingenuous. Siniora's tears began a process of ridding the South of Israeli soldiers whom Hizbullah's actions on July 12 had brought back into Lebanon. More disturbing, Nasrallah's twice-repeated support for the Syrian leadership could, he knew, only be interpreted in one way by followers of Rafik Hariri: as an endorsement of the late prime minister's assassins. How paradoxical was this behavior in light of Nasrallah's rebuke of Siniora and the government majority for their "heartlessness" in recently receiving British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It was Samir Geagea's moment last Sunday, when the Lebanese Forces held a rally in Harissa. Maronite nationalism can be as difficult to stomach as Shiite nationalism, and Geagea could have been more appeasing in his wartime recollections, given that his old enemies are today his staunch allies. The Lebanese Forces leader played a dual game of unity and polarization - unity with other forces in the Christian camp from which he had been alienated, such as Amin Gemayel's Kataeb Party and smaller shreds of the Lebanese Forces; and polarization, in an effort to use tougher rhetoric as a means of picking up ambivalent Christians increasingly displeased with Michel Aoun's ties with Hizbullah.

Yet for all his parochial calculations, Geagea laudably placed his response to Nasrallah in the context of the one document that retains legitimacy as a guide out of Lebanon's impasse: the Taif agreement. Few could argue with his logic in responding to Nasrallah's demand for a strong state: How could a strong state come about, Geagea asked, when one side undermined this through its creation of an armed state within a state?

Shoring up Taif was also the aim of Saad Hariri's response to Nasrallah on Tuesday, in the third of a triptych of responses from the March 14 coalition. Where Geagea, Hariri, and March 14 in general have shown considerably less imagination, however, is in their definition of Taif. As viewed today by the parliamentary majority, the agreement is mainly a device to disarm Hizbullah. Fair enough. But there is another aspect of Taif that must also be put on the table by the majority: political reform.

Nothing prevents March 14 from making the following proposal, as a backhand to Nasrallah's weapons bid: The Lebanese communities must open a new phase of national dialogue on the basis of Taif, involving Hizbullah's disarmament and political reform - reform that would aim to give the Shiite community, and whoever else deserves it, a greater share of political representation. The condition for initiating this grand bargain would be Hizbullah's first surrendering its weapons. Why? Because after what Nasrallah said last Friday, many non-Shiites have little confidence he will not use his weapons to impose Hizbullah's agenda on them.

There are complications involved. Taif outlines the creation of a deconfessionalized Parliament, which would alarm Christians. However, sooner or later the issue will resurface anyway, and just as Geagea insists that Shiites must accept the implacable logic of Taif, others will readily turn this around and remind Christians what Taif means for them. That's why it's preferable to start the ball rolling now, building on the goodwill inside the majority, through a parallel process of discussion among the March 14 forces, to reassure Christians. This reform process must include, as compensation to the community, promises of a new, confessional Senate, as Taif outlines, where Christians and Muslims are represented in a 50-50 ratio, and administrative decentralization. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir would be an essential participant in the effort.

Where would the Aounists fit into this? Nasrallah, Geagea and Hariri had their moment, now it's Michel Aoun's turn. October 13 fast approaches, and the general, in a spirit of conciliation, might use the anniversary of his removal from Baabda in 1990 to finally embrace Taif. What better way to do so than to invite his new comrades, those who had lustily applauded his ouster in Taif's name, to a ceremony attended by Emile Lahoud, who, in the name of Taif, too, led the Lebanese force against Aoun that day?

Taif has fallen victim to multiple coups, to borrow from former minister Albert Mansour. Nasrallah has no interest in an agreement that will disarm him, even if it means delaying expanding Shiite representation in the state. Better to increase Shiite power by leveraging his weapons, he thinks, than through a compromise that would damage the Iranian priorities defended by Hizbullah. Aoun cannot bear Taif because it reminds him of his past defeats. Nor will he accept a text that gives presidents less than the ample power Aoun would seek were he to return to Baabda.

That's why March 14 alone is in a position to breathe new life into Taif. Political reform in exchange for Hizbullah's guns. That's the deal. It would remind Shiites that they can only gain from the party's disarming, but also lose if it refuses to do so. The Shiite community and Hizbullah are two different things. Taif can prove just how much.
***Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.