There is a story that immediately after the conclusion of the 2006 July 2006 war waged by Israel against Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar Assad asked his allies in Lebanon, via Hezbollah, to do everything in their power to change the government of then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The March 14 coalition had the majority in the government, based on the results of the 2005 parliamentary elections.
Immediately after the war ended, the request came as follows: “You should bring in a government and get veto power in it.” The objective was to block the anti-Assad majority in the Cabinet that was on its way to helping establish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which would try those responsible for assassinating the former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri. A broader goal was to pave the way for changing the balance of power in Lebanon that followed the withdrawal of Syrian forces more than one year earlier.
Hezbollah and the allies of Damascus, especially Speaker Nabih Berri, considered the timing that Assad had requested to be considerable. He wanted to see this take place in September of that year. They resorted to a Lebanese scenario for this mission, especially since only days had gone by since Berri himself described the Siniora government as one of “political resistance.” The allies needed to resign from the government (on the pretext of objecting to Lebanon’s submitting a request for the establishment of the STL to the Security Council). When the resignations failed to have an effect, Hezbollah and its allies resorted to the famous open sit-in in downtown Beirut, which lasted for more than 17 months. When the sit-in failed to bring down the government, they resorted to a military invasion of Beirut on 7 May 2008, which ended in enshrining veto power in the Cabinet, via the famous Doha Accord. This agreement lasted until even after the rivals of Assad and Hezbollah won the majority in the 2009 parliamentary elections, whose results were “canceled” when the veto brought down the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the beginning of 2011. This coincided with the STL’s indictment of four Hezbollah members in the assassination of Hariri, who was “brought down” on 14 February 2005, because he was preparing to win in the parliamentary elections and set up a government of “full executive powers.”
It is no coincidence that the efforts of Assad and Hezbollah in 2006 to gain veto power coincided with the former’s attack on Saudi Arabia at the time, when he famously spoke of “half-men.” It was no coincidence that the toppling of the Hariri government of 2011 coincided with the attempt to topple the agreement with Saudi Arabia, or the “S-S” (Syria-Saudi Arabia) initiative, to remove that country from Lebanon’s political equation. And it is no coincidence to see the insistence on wielding veto power in the government, which Tammam Salam is now trying to form, coincide with talk about a return of Saudi influence in Lebanon, with the resignation of the Najib Mikati government in March.
But more importantly, it is no coincidence that talk of veto power in Lebanon’s Cabinet is coinciding with the continued search for a way to implement the famous part of the 30 June Geneva communiqué on the Syrian crisis. This provision stipulates the establishment of an authority with full executive powers to lead the transitional phase in that country. The essence of this search, which has been underway for more than 15 months, involves the question of whether Assad will hand over power to this government, to oversee new elections, and rehabilitate the army and state institutions, and conclude a national reconciliation, after the release of several hundred thousand detainees, etc. Or, will the transitional government be made up of loyalists and opposition members selected by the regime, so that Assad retains the fundamentally-important prerogatives of security and foreign policy?
Currently, Washington and Moscow are working behind the scenes to prepare a working framework for Geneva 2, with an agreement to permit the implementation of the contentious provision of Geneva 1. Also, Washington continues to believe that Assad’s responsiveness to the Russian-American agreement to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons does not mean that the US has abandoned its stance that Assad should leave power. Meanwhile, the Syrian president, Iran and Hezbollah believe that an international agreement will result in Assad’s staying on, and thus a transitional government with full executive powers in Syria is not an option. This means that the only political solution for an alliance of the regime with Iran and Syria is to see Assad continue in power. The alternative is the continuation of the war in Syria, with calculations about the regime’s ability to hang on after the specter of a US military strike has disappeared entirely.
The same situation exists in Lebanon. There is no room for the establishment of a government with full executive powers, and veto power is a means to block such powers. If the government relies on its parliamentary majority, the threat to block the Cabinet’s actions in the street is the alternative.
It is not in vain that there is a threat of a vacuum in the entire “executive authority” of Lebanon, and not just the Cabinet. There are hints about a presidential vacuum next May as well. As long as the formation of an executive branch with full authority remains rejected in Syria, the same goes for Lebanon.
Assad insisted on veto power in 2006, to prevent the formation of a Cabinet with full powers in Lebanon after Syria’s departure. He is now trying, with Hezbollah and Iran, to prevent the formation of such a government in Syria and in Lebanon, to avoid being chased out of Syria.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arab Today.