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The Lebanese Government statement

By David Morrison, 28 August 2006

“… the Government statement, on the basis of which we participated in the Government, talks about the Lebanese Government’s endorsement of resistance and its national right to liberate the land and the prisoners.

“How could a resistance liberate prisoners? Go to George Bush for example?”

(Hezbollah Secretary General, Hasan Nasrallah, Al Jazeera, 20 July 2006)

On 18 April 2006, President Bush received the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, as an honoured guest at the White House. Bush told his guest that “the United States strongly supports a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon” [1]. He continued:

“We took great joy in seeing the Cedar Revolution. We understand that the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the street to express their desire to be free required courage, and we support the desire of the people to have a government responsive to their needs and a government that is free, truly free.”

A few months later, the US President did not demur when Israel’s Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, promised to “turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years” [2]. He was happy to see the sovereignty of the “free and independent and sovereign Lebanon” with “a government that is free, truly free” violated remorselessly by its neighbour, over a thousand of its citizens killed and a quarter of them driven from their homes - using armament supplied by the US and largely paid for by US tax dollars. It’s as well Lebanon wasn’t the US’s worst enemy.

Hezbollah in government

Bush and Siniora didn’t give a press conference when they met at the White House on 18 April 2006. It is a fair bet that they didn’t do so, because Bush didn’t want to face awkward questions about the fact that the “free, truly free” Siniora Government had a “terrorist” serving in it, as Minister for Water and Energy.

In the Lebanese elections in May/June 2005, Hezbollah won 14 of the 27 seats assigned to Shiites in the 128-seat parliament and, for the first time, it went into the Lebanese Government, taking the Ministry of Water and Energy. Mohamed Fneiche is the Minister. Hezbollah is on the US State Department’s list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” [3]. In September 2002, when he was Colin Powell’s deputy in the State Department, Richard Armitage said of Hezbollah that it “may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe al-Qaida is actually the B-team” [4].

This was an awkward issue for the US administration. They had lauded the so-called Cedar Revolution on the back of which Syria was forced to withdraw its 15,000 troops from Lebanon. The withdrawal of these troops was, we were told, the sine qua non of having free and fair elections in Lebanon. But when the troops were withdrawn and the elections held, although they produced a nominally anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, the government formed had a programme that wasn’t obviously anti-Syrian. And the government had a “terrorist” in it.

Welcoming Hezbollah

When the Siniora Government was being formed in July 2005, reporters gave State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, a hard time on this issue. He announced at a press briefing on 20 July 2005 [5]:
“We’re releasing a statement after the briefing today, welcoming the agreement between the President of Lebanon Emile Lahoud and the Prime Minister Designate of Lebanon Fouad Siniora on a proposed list of cabinet members for the next Government of Lebanon. We believe that this is a positive and an important step forward that reflects and is responsive to the will and desires of the Lebanese people as expressed through historic elections.
“This list needs to still be approved by parliament, but if and when it is approved, we certainly look forward to working with the new Government of Lebanon …”

The obvious question was: will you be working with the Hezbollah minister? It was asked:
“One of the innovations of this cabinet is a member of Hezbollah. Does your welcome for this cabinet extend to that individual? And will you be working with him?”
This rather spoiled Ereli’s enthusiasm for the new Lebanese Government, because he had to say:
“… we have a policy towards Hezbollah, it’s clear, it hasn’t changed and to the extent that there are active members of a foreign terrorist organization in a government, then our ability to interact and work with those individuals is circumscribed.”
Ereli was faced with this question repeatedly in various guises that day and the next at State Department briefings. And it can be guaranteed that the matter would have come up again on 18 April 2006, when Siniora was at the White House, had the press been allowed to ask questions. So, they weren’t.

Endorsement of Islamic Resistance

In fact, the American press could have made Ereli’s life even more difficult in July 2005, had they known the basis on which the Siniora Government was formed. For, not only did it contain a Hezbollah Minister, the policy statement on which it was put together and approved by the Lebanese Parliament recognised the role of Hezbollah’s military wing, Islamic Resistance, in combating Israeli aggression. This means that, in Bush’s terms, each and every member of the Government, including Siniora himself, supports terrorism. All of them are complicit, not just the Hezbollah Minister.

I first heard about this policy statement from an interview by Hezbollah Secretary General, Hasan Nasrallah, broadcast on Al Jazeera on 20 July 2006 [6] (of which more later). In this interview, he said:
“… the Government statement, on the basis of which we participated in the Government, talks about the Lebanese Government’s endorsement of resistance and its national right to liberate the land and the prisoners.”
I have been unable to lay my hands on a reliable English translation, but I have located what purports to be a rough translation here [7]. A section of this entitled Resistance and Foreign Policy contains the following:
“Protection of the [Islamic] Resistance and recognition that it is a genuine Lebanese manifestation of our right to liberate our lands from any occupation …"
The translation is not the best, but the general drift is clear (and it’s consistent with Nasrallah said). There is little doubt but that anybody who joined the Lebanese Government on this basis is, in Bush’s terms, a supporter of terrorism.

Lebanese Army

It is worth noting that the Lebanese Army website also recognises the role of Hezbollah in ending Israeli occupation and its continuing role today [8]:
“The national resistance which is confronting the Israeli occupation is not a guerilla and it has no security role inside the country and its activities are restricted to facing the Israeli enemy. This resistance led to the withdrawal of the enemy from the bigger part of our occupied land and is still persistent to free the farms of Shebaa. Preserving this resistance constitutes a Lebanese strategic interest [my emphasis] with the aim of relating the struggle with the enemy and regain all the Lebanese legitimate rights achieving and at the forefront the withdrawal of Israel from the farms of Shebaa and the return of the refugees to their land.”
Again the translation is not the best, but the drift is clear. Clearly, the Lebanese Army also supports terrorism, in Bush’s terms.

(The US has recently offered help to train and equip the Lebanese Army. Doubtless they will be equipping them with air defence systems capable of bringing down Israeli F16s, in order to make more business for Lockheed-Martin. Be that as it may, this proposition led to the following amusing dialogue with Sean McCormack at the State Department press briefing on 3 August 2006 [9]:
Q: You started by saying that you’re ready to help train and equip the Lebanese army.

SM: Right.

Q: Even if elements of Hezbollah elements are integrated into this army considering that it represents a large portion of the population?

SM: Hezbollah is a terrorist group. We’re ready to work with the Lebanese Government.

Q: So you’re saying that you are willing to train and equip and help a Lebanese army that is free of Hezbollah elements?

SM: We are ready to train and equip Lebanese armed forces when the conditions on the ground are right.)

Other aspects of statement

There are other interesting aspects to the Lebanese Government policy statement. On prisoners held by Israel:
“the commitment to continue follow-up on all Lebanese prisoners and missing in Israeli jails.”

On Palestine:
“A commitment to the Beirut Arab League Initiative (namely recognizing the State of Israel if Israel agrees to return to the 1967 borders) and the respect for all UN resolutions and international law and legitimacy.
“A belief in the right of return of the Palestinian refugees ….”
In a section entitled Lebanese-Syrian Relations:
“Rebuild excellent Lebanese-Syrian relations; excellent in its depth, strength, transparency, and equality; excellent in putting its common interests above all considerations; excellent in meticulously implementing the memoranda of understandings among both countries.
“A commitment to coordinate with the Syrians in negotiating any peace settlement with Israel.”

This is noteworthy because this Government is presented in the West as anti-Syrian, unlike its predecessors.

Hasan Nasrallah speaks

In his Al Jazeera interview [6], Hasan Nasrallah argued that Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners was in line with the Government statement, pointing out that it “talks about the Lebanese Government’s endorsement of resistance and its national right to liberate the land and the prisoners”.

In March 2006, a “national dialogue” began in Lebanon with 14 confessional leaders, including Hasan Nasrallah, taking part. In this interview, he described what he had told the other leaders during this process about Hezbollah’s intentions:
“Yes, I told them we would maintain the border calm. That was our policy. … I used to say there are four points, two of which can stand delaying, procrastination, and making reminders about them. No problem about that. The first issue was the continued occupation of the Shab’a farms. In this respect we can take our time. This is a limited piece of land. We do not want to go to war because of the farms, not a war like the one taking place now. The second issue is that of the air and maritime violations, and even the land violations. We can put up with these. Yes, violations of our sovereignty are condemned, but we would not raise hell because of them. However, there are two issues that can stand no postponement. The first is the prisoners’ issue, for this involves humanitarian suffering. The second is any attack on civilians.”
Specifically, on the prisoners’ issue, he said:
“I told them on more than one occasion that we are serious about the prisoners issue and that this can only [be] solved through the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Of course, I used to make hints in that respect. Of course I would not be expected to tell them on the table I was going to kidnap Israeli soldiers in July. That could not be.”
So, Hezbollah regarded its kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on 12 July 2006 as being in line with the statement’s commitment to securing the release the prisoners. What is more, Lebanese leaders were aware that Hezbollah was going to kidnap Israeli soldiers at some time in order to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners.

Syria and Iran

In this interview, Nasrallah also said that neither Syria nor Iran knew about the incident in advance:
“True, I had not informed the Lebanese Government, but neither had I informed my closest allies. Syria and Iran had not been informed. No Syrian or Iranian person had had any prior information. They had not been informed, and I had not consulted anyone of them. We are a resistance group operating on Lebanese soil. We have prisoners in Israeli prisons. It is our natural right to restore them. There is a major government statement that stresses this right, according to which we acted.”
He was also at pains to state that Hezbollah’s actions had not been carried out in pursuit of the interests of Syria or Iran:
“Are we that crazy, that I and my brothers want to sacrifice our souls, our families, our honourable masses, and our dear ones in order to have Syria return to Lebanon, or to postpone the international tribunal, or for the sake of the Iranian nuclear file. Can you imagine such statements! This is an insult. It is an insult to our patriotism and commitment.
"Yes, we are friends of Syria and Iran, but for 24 years we benefited from our friendship with Syria and Iran for the sake of Lebanon. There are others who benefited from their friendship with Syria for their own seats in power, houses, wealth, and bank accounts. But, for me, tell me where my bank accounts are? Tell me where is the palace that I built as a result of my connections to the Syrian officials in Lebanon?
“Never! Hezbollah has never taken advantage of these friendships except for the benefit of Lebanon. Today, Hezbollah is not fighting for the sake of Syria or the sake of Iran. It is fighting for the sake of Lebanon.
“Yes, the result of this battle in Lebanon will be seen in Palestine. If it ends in victory, it will be victory there too; and if, God forbid, it ends in defeat, then the Palestinian brothers will face difficult and tragic conditions. But, God willing, there will only be victory.”

The “international community”

And on the “international community”:
“Politically, the international community, first, has never been with us. So I cannot say that is not with us, isolating, and forsaking us just today. It has never been with us. Moreover, it has mostly been against. For example, we have been listed on the US terrorism list since they created the terrorism list. We are among the first to be listed on that list. Some European countries also list us as terrorists. The position of the international community is clear. Consequently, we are not surprised by the international community. We have never wagered on the international community.
“The international community adopts international resolutions of which Israel implements nothing. Even Resolution 425 [calling for withdrawal from Lebanon] was not implemented by Israel; we imposed it on Israel. It has implemented none of the resolutions concerning the Palestine question. It has implemented none of the resolutions concerning the occupied Arab territories. For us, this is neither a new factor, nor a factor of pressure.”
Never has a truer word been spoken.

David Morrison
28 August 2006
Labour & Trade Union Review












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