Lebanon News

Hezbollah will be part of govt, political sources say

The political scene in Lebanon after the parliamentary elections has been further shaken up by the recent U.S.-Gulf sanctions against Hezbollah, in addition to the long-standing listing of the party’s political and military wings as terrorist organizations. Lebanon’s internal politics were already heated after the announcement of the results of the May 6 general elections and the resulting reshuffle of local and regional cards.

Official sources told The Daily Star that the sanctions on Hezbollah would not impair the formation of a new government.

“It’s not the first time sanctions reach the leadership of Hezbollah, although this time the names are widely known and they deal with public affairs – but none of them are candidates to become ministers,” one source said.

The source noted that Hezbollah now had to choose members to put forward for ministerial roles – caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish is a likely contender, and could be joined by up to two other Hezbollah-backed picks – but none of the potential candidates has been listed in the sanctions.

Moreover, the sources said, a decision had been made by major powers, including the United States, to make it a priority for Lebanon to continue to enjoy political stability and security.

Sources added that a national consensus and unity government, which President Michel Aoun has said he is heading toward adopting, would foster political stability.

The same sources reiterated that a national unity government would require the participation of the Shiite sect. “You can’t exclude [Hezbollah or the Amal Movement] because the Shiite sect decided to be represented by the Shiite duo ... who won all but one of the sect’s parliamentary seats.”

The prime minister and the president will not attempt to eliminate this constituency, sources said.

Shiite representation in Cabinet is guaranteed, and the Shiite allies Hezbollah and Amal will decide who represents them.

The international community understands this, even if it has not been publicized, as evidenced by the fact that it has welcomed the words of Aoun with regard to a national unity government.

“Securing political and security stability will not happen by eliminating a primary Lebanese component [the Shiites] ... and this is impossible in the Lebanese system, which is based on sectarian representation for all,” a source said.

Faced with the hypothetical possibility of Amal representing the Shiite community in the government while Hezbollah is pushed out, Speaker Nabih Berri’s party would undoubtedly decline a role in the new government out of solidarity.

Meanwhile, sources said that determining which ministries Hezbollah receives will be studied carefully, “because it is not easy to assign a ministerial portfolio that requires communication with [foreign countries] if the minister cannot communicate with anyone or obtain visas to travel.”

Political sources pointed out that Hezbollah and its allies have asserted that there would be no direct impact from the sanctions on the smooth formation of the government. On the other hand, it is possible that the sanctions on Hezbollah could be expanded to include the names of leaders affiliated to other Lebanese political parties, which would make things more complicated.

Such a step – unlike the sanctions against Hezbollah – could not be tolerated, sources said.

The sources noted that the current international tone indicates a kind of invisible arm-wrestling between the Lebanese state and those behind the sanctions.

Nevertheless, the sources inferred that the trust between Aoun and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah was strong enough to overcome obstacles in order to form a new government headed by current caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

But all bets would be off if Washington and the Gulf countries should choose to confront Iran via Lebanon, in which case there’s no telling who the winners and losers would be.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 24, 2018, on page 2.

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