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It was wrong of Lebanon to reject the call from U.S. Special Envoy Senator George Mitchell, to participate in the ongoing peace negotiations, currently in their second stage, under the auspices of the United States, with the participation of Egypt and Jordan, and of course the Palestinians. The renewed rejection was an error, especially because Mitchell had suggested that participation would lead to progress on other paths. He had confirmed the United State’s respect for “Lebanon’s sovereignty and its role in the comprehensive peace effort”, and had clarified that “the United States does not and will not support the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon”.

The Lebanese error lies in the way it handled the situation. The Lebanese government’s official excuse, namely that it would not go to the negotiations “except within an integrated Arab framework”, and ‘under the roof’ of an internal consensus, is simply inconceivable. Regarding an ‘integrated Arab framework’, it is well known that the negotiations are indeed proceeding under Arab supervision. As for an internal consensus, we all know that when the Syrians go to the negotiations, [the issue of] Lebanon will be one of the points that they will use for negotiating. Therefore, when Syria instructs Beirut to join the negotiations, very few people would have the courage to say no. Therefore, an ‘internal consensus’ is not a convincing excuse.

It is true that the Lebanese government, working in an atmosphere of intimidation and blackmail, courtesy of Hezbollah and others, is afraid to assume a position of this kind. It is afraid to agree to participate in the peace negotiations, even though progress has been made in some paths, as they were told by George Mitchell. However, it was incumbent on the Lebanese government to take advantage of this opportunity to firstly restore what remains of the Lebanese territories occupied by Israel, and also to put the ball in the court of Hezbollah and other groups.

It is expected that the Lebanese government would say that it would go to the negotiations if Syria were also to go, thus the roof over Beirut becomes a Syrian roof. It is not Iranian blackmail through Hezbollah [that is influencing Lebanese decisions]. The Lebanese government would undoubtedly benefit from the liberation of Lebanon, however that matter is in the hands of the Syrians, and others. Why are the Syrians allowed to negotiate, which is of course their legitimate right, whilst the Lebanese are not?

The other point of concern is Hezbollah. It claims that its weapons are ‘weapons of resistance’, in order to liberate the occupied land. All past events confirm that Hezbollah’s weapons are first and foremost for internal use, and secondly to support the Iranian agenda. The state of peace protects Lebanon from becoming a region of conflict, both in relation to outside forces, and the power of the internal militia. Therefore, these peace negotiations are a calculated endeavor, much like going to war, and are not simply a misadventure. If Hezbollah genuinely cared about the integrity of Lebanon, and its unity, then it must not be detrimental to the peace process. Hezbollah did not dare say its opinion of Syria’s clear desire to resort to a peaceful option in dealing with Israel, either through Turkey or France [in the past], or through America today.

Therefore, we can say that it would have been useful for the Lebanese government to use this opportunity, to define the limits of its powers and its sovereignty. Furthermore, it must cease to be primarily concerned with avoiding Hezbollah’s blackmail, which is never ending.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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