x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Only Lebanon can save itself from civil strife

Lebanon can't avoid civil war as long as Hizbollah is active in Syria, an Arab commentater says. Other topics today: Palestinian-Israel talks and Saudi-US relations

How much longer will Lebanon be able to withstand the negative repercussions of the Syrian war on its politics, security and economy? That was the question posed by Emile Al Khoury in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

Just last week, the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, ridiculed the Lebanese government’s decision to distance itself from the continuing crisis in Syria.

Meanwhile Saudi prince Turki Al Faisal warned that Lebanon is on the brink of a civil war as Hizbollah is prepared to risk the tenets of the Lebanese political system to prevent the collapse of the Assad regime.

Not even the US president’s statement on the commemoration of the attack on the US Marine headquarters in Lebanon in the 1980s, in which he renewed his country’s commitment to safeguard Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty, are enough to allay the Lebanese people’s concerns of the war spilling over from Syria.

How can the Lebanese be reassured that they won’t be entangled in the Syrian crisis if the international community still fails to put an end to it?

“In truth, only the Lebanese themselves can save Lebanon from the ramifications of the Syrian crisis, no matter how long or severe, if they show a united front, which is not the case at present,” he wrote.

A segment of the Lebanese people support the Syrian regime and actively participate in its defence. Another segment opposes the regime and its supporters. This leads to fears that these opposing segments would engage in inner fighting that eventually escalates into civil strife.

“The Lebanese have always fought among themselves for the sake of others because their dependence on external powers has brought nothing but sedition, wars and calamities upon them. They have yet to learn from their experiences,” he added.

The independence war in 1943 happened because they were divided between pro-France and pro-Britain camps. In 1958, division between supporters and opponents of Egyptian president Jamal Abdel Nasser led to civil strife. The last civil war, starting in 1975, lasted 15 years and was between supporters and opponents of armed Palestinian factions in Lebanon.

Saving Lebanon from the Syrian crisis requires the Lebanese to implement their policy of “self-distancing” from the Syrian crisis. Lebanon has always been used as a shield to protect Syria’s security, but not once did Syria intervene to shield its neighbour’s security in its many confrontations with Israel.

Another civil war in Lebanon would eventually destroy Hizbollah’s arsenal, but not before it destroys the entire country.

“Lebanese leaders must agree to implement the self-distancing policy to protect their country. They mustn’t wait until the country is ruined,” he stressed.

Palestinians must plan for the failure of talks

It is possible that the talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel will lead to some sort of settlement, especially because of the factors that seem to be pushing towards a solution, columnist Naji Sadeq Sharab said in the Sharjah-based daily Al Khaleej.

Nonetheless, failure remains more likely since the Israeli government pursues its illegal settlement-building policies and rejects the whole concept of a Palestinian state in a two-state solution, he added. And that, he went on. is why the talks should be perceived from the perspective of probable failure.

“This means that we should be prepared to deal with various possible scenarios for failed talks,” he observed.

The Palestinian Authority has a wide range of options once the negotiations reach a dead end. But internal Palestinian political and economic considerations may impede their ability to choose many of those options.

Among the options after talks fail would be re-engaging the international community’s responsibility and reactivating the role of the Palestinian state at the UN, as well as pursuing popular resistance.

“But the problem is the ability to implement the options. In the end, options are policies, decisions and actions that are made in complicated environments and are subject to many internal and external considerations,” the writer opined.

Candour needed by the US and Saudi

The two-hour meeting between the Saudi foreign minister, Saoud Al Faisal, and his US counterpart John Kerry is not sufficient to rectify the tension and the lack of trust between the two nations, suggested Raghida Dargham in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

Pretending that things are back to normal following the meeting in London doesn’t help. Last week, Saudi rejected a non-permanent place on the UN Security Council to mark its opposition to the failure of the US and the UN to stop the war in Syria. The divergence in positions has become too deep, and requires serious review.

The US is entitled to make a strategic decision to change its traditional alliance with Saudi if it serves the country’s interests. But the Saudis are also entitled and even required to investigate the reasons for that decision, to ensure that it does not harm Saudi and wider Arab interests.

“Honest disclosure is crucial as long as it is serious. There are issues that both sides need to delve into, especially regional matters such as Syria and Palestine in addition to issues relating to the roles of leading countries in the balances of powers in the Middle East,” she said.

However protest alone is not a potent policy, and both countries have many ways to express content or dissatisfaction.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem