Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: More than three weeks after his shock resignation plunged Lebanon into uncertainty, Prime Minister Saad Hariri Tuesday struck an upbeat note, saying he expected a breakthrough in the political crisis next week that would get the Cabinet back in business.
He stressed that the ongoing dialogue to hammer out a political agreement to resume Cabinet sessions following nearly four weeks of paralysis caused by his resignation as prime minister from Riyadh on Nov. 4 is based on compliance with the dissociation policy toward regional conflicts in deeds, and not just in words.
Hariri’s optimistic tone came a day after President Michel Aoun conducted “positive and constructive” consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs that have produced a consensus on major issues such as Lebanon’s commitment to the policy of dissociation from regional conflicts and noninterference in Arab countries’ internal affairs.
The agreement being thrashed out calls on all Lebanese parties, particularly Hezbollah, to comply with the dissociation policy, commit to the 1989 Taif Accord, and abide by noninterference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
It also calls for Hezbollah to halt its harsh verbal attacks on Saudi Arabia, and for the Future Movement and its allies to stop their media campaigns against Syria and Iran, a political source told The Daily Star.
Contrary to custom, there was no mention of Hezbollah or Iran in the statement issued Tuesday after the weekly meeting of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, which frequently blasts the party and Tehran, blaming them for tension in Lebanon and instability in the region.
“The current dialogue is based on the principle of dissociation in deeds, and not just in words. This is in Lebanon’s interest, not because this is what I want, but because Lebanon needs it and so do the Lebanese who live outside Lebanon,” Hariri said, addressing representatives of the Economic Committees [the private sector], the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, banks and businessmen who came at his Downtown Beirut residence to express support for him.
Hariri pointed out that a real dissociation from the region’s conflicts and crises would be in the interests of Lebanon and that of the Lebanese who live in the Gulf region or throughout the world. “Lebanon will have a problem if our policies are not directed on this basis [dissociation],” he warned. “Therefore, the dialogue going on today is on this basis and the atmosphere we are hearing is positive from all political parties,” Hariri said. “We may need more dialogue and next week will witness the beginning of relief, God willing, for all the Lebanese.”
While Aoun leaves Wednesday on a three-day official visit to Italy, Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri are slated to begin side consultations with their allies aimed at facilitating an agreement to resolve the crisis brought on by Hariri’s resignation.
“The side consultations to be held by Berri and Hariri are aimed at creating a favorable climate to positively deal with the crisis arising from Hariri’s resignation,” an official source told The Daily Star. The source said Berri, in view of his alliance with Hezbollah, would seek to convince the party to comply with the dissociation policy and stop its verbal tirade against Saudi Arabia.
“We will continue this dialogue in the coming days with full positivity and openness. This is a serious dialogue to find serious solutions to maintain our relations with all Arab friends, particularly the Gulf [states],” Hariri said.
“We will be stronger when we work together, respect each other and take the interests of each other into account, for Lebanon’s interest first, and then the Arab interests,” he added.
Referring to the Future Movement’s long-running dispute with Hezbollah over the latter’s arsenal and its deep involvement in the 6-year-old war in Syria, he said: “We try to solve the people’s problems in the Cabinet and put aside major divisive issues because eventually, neither will we agree with the other side [Hezbollah], nor the other side will agree with us.”
Hariri said Cabinet would return to work immediately if a resolution is found. “When we finish with the political issue next week, a representative from France will visit Lebanon to discuss with the ministers and the economic team the preparations for the Paris IV conference. There is also a commitment from the Italian prime minister to a hold Rome II conference. But all this depends on reaching real results regarding the dissociation policy in deeds and not words,” he said.
“We will work on completing the gas issue, electricity, dams and other projects that we were working on, but the important thing is that everybody knows the interests of Lebanon, the Lebanese and the Lebanese youth who are the future of this country, and this should be our focus,” he said.
Aoun also sounded optimistic about a solution to the crisis. “I hope next week will carry more positive developments with regard to tackling the political developments that arose from Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s announcement of his resignation and putting it on hold at the president’s request,” Aoun told visitors at Baabda Palace. “We are working to further strengthen the strong ties between Lebanon and Arab and foreign countries,” he added.
Berri said he also expected the Cabinet to meet next week, but he totally discounted the possibility of a government reshuffle. “We can hardly carry the burden of this government. How can we do with a Cabinet reshuffle, or the formation of a new government?” Berri told visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence. He said no one had approached him on this issue.
Commenting on calls by some politicians for holding early parliamentary elections, planned for May next year, Berri said he had proposed this before but his proposal did not gain enough support from various blocs.
“Had Hariri insisted on his resignation, I would have been one of the most avid callers for advancing the date of the elections in order to spare the country about six months of [a Cabinet] serving in a caretaker capacity to be followed by elections and the designation [of a prime minister] and the [Cabinet] formation. This means that the economy would have collapsed,” he said.
For his part, MP Walid Jumblatt criticized politicians calling for Lebanon’s neutrality toward regional conflicts. “Some are mixing up between dissociation and neutrality,” Jumblatt tweeted. “Dissociation is noninterference in the affairs of Arab states ... while neutrality is a futile theory which calls for Lebanon to renounce hostility to Israel and accept resettlement [of Palestinians] and [Israeli] occupation.”