From The Daily Star:
BEIRUT: The March 8 coalition is set to topple Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s national unity Cabinet Wednesday, a day after it declared the Saudi-Syrian initiative aimed at resolving Lebanon’s months-long political crisis had reached a dead end.
“The opposition ministers have agreed to resign. Their resignation will be announced tomorrow [Wednesday],” a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Tuesday night. He said 11 ministers are set to quit, which would automatically lead to the resignation of the Cabinet.
Despite the reported collapse of the Saudi-Syrian initiative, Hariri pledged to continue efforts aimed at resolving the political crisis. “We will seek all means to reach solutions that can guarantee stability, calm and maintain national unity, which is the only guarantee for all the Lebanese to confront the challenges,” Hariri said in a statement in Washington released by his office in Beirut.
Hariri, who is currently in the U.S., consulted by telephone with President Michel Sleiman on “developments relating to the Saudi-Syrian efforts to consolidate stability in Lebanon,” it said. He will continue consultations with Sleiman and other leaders upon his return to Beirut, the statement said.
Hariri thanked Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Syrian President Bashar Assad for their efforts to bolster stability in Lebanon. “Hope is pinned on all brothers and friends to help Lebanon pull through this difficult phase. Hope is also pinned in the first place on the wisdom of the Lebanese and their leaders. We all have sought to avoid being dragged to reactions,” Hariri said, in a clear reference to the March 8 coalition’s escalatory steps.
“This phase requires from all of us the highest level of wisdom and responsibility because the primary beneficiary from divisions among the Lebanese is the Israeli enemy,” he added.
Hariri flew from New York to Washington Tuesday for a scheduled meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at 5 p.m. Wednesday (Beirut time).
Hariri’s statement came following an escalation by the March 8 coalition, which has given him and Sleiman a Wednesday morning deadline to call for a Cabinet session to end Lebanon’s cooperation with the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (S.T.L.).
Following a policy coordination meeting at M.P. Michel Aoun’s residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut Tuesday night, the 10 March 8 ministers said they were waiting for a response from
Sleiman to their demands before deciding on their next steps after Saudi Arabia and Syria have failed to forge a deal aimed at defusing political tension over the S.T.L.’s impending indictment into the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Hizbullah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammed Fneish refused to answer a question as to whether the March 8 ministers would resign if their demands were not met. “Let’s not rush things… We will tell you tomorrow [the March 8’s next move],” he said.
The failure of the Saudi-Syrian initiative was dramatically announced earlier by Aoun, who is also the head of the Free Patriotic Movement.
The March 8 alliance has 10 ministers in the Cabinet. A minister close to Sleiman, Adnan Sayyed Hussein, will also submit his resignation, political sources said.
The Saudi-Syrian initiative has ended without any result, Aoun told a news conference at his residence in Rabieh. “Prime Minister Hariri’s team did not respond to the [Saudi-Syrian] efforts, which led us to a dead end,” Aoun, a close ally of Hizbullah, said.
Fneish stressed Sleiman’s role to convene the Cabinet. “The president, who is the one chiefly responsible for the country’s stability and unity, is required to revive the role of [state] institutions and ask the prime minister to convene the Cabinet,” he said. “Today or tomorrow morning, we will know the result.”
Fneish blamed “American intervention” for the failure of the Saudi-Syrian initiative. “These efforts were derailed by American intervention and the inability of the other [March 14] team to overcome this intervention,” he said.
A March 8 ministerial source said that a March 8 delegation that met Sleiman had asked him to convene the Cabinet Wednesday at the latest with the issue of the tribunal being the only item on the agenda.
Among other things, the March 8 ministers want the Cabinet to stop payment of Lebanon’s share toward the financing of the S.T.L., withdraw the Lebanese judges from the tribunal, end Lebanon’s cooperation with the S.T.L., and prosecute the “false witnesses” linked to the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s killing, the source told The Daily Star.
Saudi Arabia and Syria, main power brokers in Lebanon backing rival political parties, have been coordinating their efforts since late July to find a solution acceptable to the March 8 and March 14 factions for Lebanon’s months-long political stalemate over the S.T.L.’s impending indictment into Hariri’s killing. The indictment is widely expected to implicate some Hizbullah members in Hariri’s assassination, heightening fears of sectarian strife.
The announcement of the collapse of the Saudi-Syrian initiative followed high-level talks in Washington and New York on the Lebanese crisis involving Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, King Abdullah, Hariri and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Lebanese crisis was one of the topics discussed by Obama and Sarkozy at the White House Monday. Sarkozy later traveled to New York where he met separately with the Saudi king and Hariri.
The Cabinet has been paralyzed for months over political tension over the S.T.L.’s indictment and the rival factions’ dispute over the issue of witnesses who allegedly misled the U.N. investigation with their false testimonies. The Cabinet has met only once since November 10 and it failed at its last meeting on December 15 to settle the issue of “false witnesses” when the March 8 ministers demanded a vote for referring the issue to the Judicial Council, the country’s highest court, prompting Sleiman to defer the discussions.
“We have supported the [Saudi-Syrian] initiative because we cannot be against efforts seeking good. But the mediators have cautioned us that we must assume our responsibilities as Lebanese in order to reach a solution,” Aoun said. “We demand a Cabinet meeting at which we will propose all the ideas we want.”
Aoun said that rival Lebanese factions should work together to reach a Lebanese solution for the crisis. He said the failure of the initiative was not a failure for Syria, Saudi Arabia or the United States. “Rather, it was a Lebanese failure. Therefore, a solution has now become the responsibility of the Lebanese,” he said.
Progressive Socialist party leader M.P. Walid Jumblatt traveled to Damascus Tuesday where he met with Syrian officials to discuss the fast moving developments in Lebanon. Jumblatt had planned to talk about the Saudi-Syrian efforts at a news conference at noon Tuesday but the conference was cancelled. No reason was given for the cancellation.
This appears to be a bad move on Hezbollah’s part. Withdrawing from the government could strengthen America’s position in the country. Though Hezbollah has already begun to counter U.S. influence by blaming it for intervening in Syrian-Saudi affairs, it must push its propaganda to a new level to counter what should be redoubling of Washington’s attention.
The UN must really have something on Hezbollah to forgo its hard earned political power. If reports are true, and they seem extremely detailed not to be, we will have more analysis on this development as it unfolds.