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    Middle East
     Jan 11, 2011

Creative solutions sought for Lebanon
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Anti-Syrian voices in Lebanon's ruling March 14 Coalition were disturbed by a recent WikiLeaks cable from the United States Embassy in Beirut, dated May 2008. In it, the United Nations' top judge in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Daniel Bellemare, was quoted as saying that he "has no case" against Syria.

That might explain why March 14 are feeling down - they had bet heavily on the 2005 murder of Lebanon's ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri being carried out by the Syrians. When that failed, they tried to pin it on Hezbollah, almost certain that the STL's upcoming indictments would implicate members close to its


 secretary general, Hasan Nasrallah. That too is now in serious doubt as Syrian-Saudi Arabian diplomatic efforts kick off, again, heralding a win-win solution between Hariri and Hezbollah that might see the light - if media talk proves to be true.

The upcoming indictments in the STL, originally expected for September 2010, are now reportedly due this January. Earlier, the Hezbollah-led opposition made it clear that any deal would have to be reached with Prime Minister Saad Hariri prior to this whereas March 14 figures had said: indictments first and deals - if any - later.

A basket of solutions had been floating on how to deal with the STL. One was to force Hariri to resign, before being ejected from power by the 11 ministers of the opposition. Another was for the opposition to bring him down, either through the Hezbollah-commanded street or through a vote of no confidence. The reasoning was that Hariri would only understand how valuable power was once he lost it. After he was forced him to step down, the opposition could restore him to power, with conditions on what to do with the STL.

Now a new creative idea has surfaced - which Hariri also drowned in a recent interview with the London-based al-Hayat. This would see Hariri "quietly" dissolve his cabinet and "quietly” called on by President Michel Suleiman to form a new government, with the full backing of Hezbollah.

In the new cabinet, there would be no March 14 or March 8 (as the opposition is called in Lebanon) but rather, an equal distribution of posts between both camps, regardless of parliamentary numbers obtained in the 2009 elections. The premiership would remain in the hands of Hariri, so as to keep the Saudis happy.

Among the ideas being discussed is giving the Shi'ites the Ministry of Finance, the Maronites the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Sunnis the Ministry of Interior and the Greek Orthodox the Ministry of Defense. These would be permanent positions, similar to the 1943 gentleman's agreement that granted Sunnis the premiership, and Maronites the presidency.

Since 1989, the finance ministry has almost constantly been held by a Sunni, Maronite or Greek Orthodox, going only twice to the Shi'ites in 1989 and 1992. By giving the Shi'ites such a crucial post in the cabinet as a natural and permanent right, March 14 would theoretically guarantee that the Hezbollah-led opposition would think twice, or more, before walking out on any cabinet, as they did under ex-premier Fouad al-Siniora in 2006.

The network of seniority, between the portfolios of Finance, Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs, held by all major religious communities, would guarantee if one party tries to bring down the government, others would resist because all of them are equally represented, and the damage would be collective.

Speaking to al-Hayat, Hariri said that such a scenario was "completely" out of the question, adding that he would "never" abandon his allies in March 14. The opposition, after all, had repeatedly implied how wrong it was for Hariri to be allied with Nasrallah on one front, and anti-Hezbollah figures like Samir Gagea and Amin Gemayel on the other.

Hariri had no business, they said, in working with men who had facilitated Israel's 1982 invasion of Beirut while he was still allied to the man who had expelled the Israelis from south Lebanon in 2000. To date, there is no progress on that front, and there is much talk of yet another creative solution. In this scenario, Hariri distances himself from the STL in exchange for the opposition calling off the "false witnesses" case that targets the prime minister's top media, political, and security advisors.

To date, neither Hariri nor any member of the Hezbollah-led opposition has revealed whether these ideas are fact or fiction. At least, the two sides are talking and exchanging ideas, under the auspices of both Syria and Saudi Arabia, both of whom want to prevent catastrophe from occurring in Lebanon if the STL releases its indictments against Hezbollah.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst and editor in chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

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