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September 13, 2007
Breakthrough in Lebanon Political Crisis
In an apparent breakthrough in the political crisis that has paralyzed the Lebanese government for nearly a year, the ruling March 14th governing coalition has accepted a compromise proposal offered by Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri:
The ruling March 14 alliance on Thursday accepted a proposal by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to resolve Lebanon's deep political crisis and called for cancellation of reciprocal conditions. The outlines of the proposal offered by Berri, a member of the opposition's Amal party, are the dropping of Hezb'allah's demand for a "unity government" while the pro-government forces agree that Lebanon's president - elected by parliament next week - will be a "consensus" candidate, agreed to by all the major parties.
"March 14 Forces urge the opposition … to spare the country the dilemma of reciprocal conditions which hampers the dialogue and does not guarantee avoiding a presidential vacuum," said the statement read at daybreak by MP Saad Hariri.
"March 14 welcomes the principles of dialogue and agreement and stresses that dialogue is the Lebanese' only salvation and (the only way) to rebuild trust in their nation, state and institutions," the statement said at the end of a late-night meeting of March 14 leaders at the residence of former President Amin Gemayel in Bikfaya.
It said March 14 considers the upcoming presidential election a "fundamental point" in restoring political stability and implementing decisions previously adopted by all-party national talks as well as U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Each side gave up something significant in this compromise. Hezb'allah's year long insistence that it have veto power over cabinet decisions by substantially increasing its representation has now been shelved - temporarily at least. Meanwhile, the pro-government forces will probably have to accept a less than desirable man in the presidency.
It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Siniora can coax Hezb'allah back into the cabinet or whether Hezb'allah leader Hassan Nasrallah is even ready to deal. The cabinet crisis has frozen action on numerous national problems including using the $7 billion in aid voted by the international community in reconstruction funds in order to rebuild Lebanaon's pulverized infrastructure following Hezb'allah's war with Israel last summer.
The agreement looks solid - in principle. But solid things in Lebanese politics tend to get mushy as details are discussed and hashed out. Let's hope things hold together long enough that the government can avoid a serious crisis by electing a president on time.