Tunisia, Asharq Al-Awsat – Former Lebanese President Amin Al-Gemayel defined the issues that should be resolved before normalizing relations between Syria and Lebanon as being: the ‘missing’ Lebanese in Damascus prisons, mutual diplomatic relations, and establishing embassies in both countries.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Gemayel stressed that Syria, so far, has only given verbal support to Lebanon to establish its right to the Shaba Farms – regarded as Syrian under international law – and has not presented to the United Nations the documents that prove Lebanon’s right. Al-Gemayel attacked Hezbollah’s weapons and regarded Hezbollah’s authority as being more powerful than that of the state, which he said has become “hostage to Iranian strategy.”
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At his reception of the liberated prisoners, Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah said that all problems are capable of a solution. Some interpreted this as meaning that Hezbollah’s weapons are no longer a problem. What in your view is the formula for overcoming this obstacle?
[Gemayel] Hezbollah is insisting that the government recognize the legitimacy of its weapons in the government policy statement. It then insists that the issue of weapons is not open for discussion, and that what is on the table, is the issue of building a defense strategy in isolation of the party’s weapons. So much is so far clear.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this prevent understanding among the Lebanese parties?
[Gemayel] Our position is clear. We say that all issues should be on the table for discussion. We cannot sit round the table with the issues already determined in advance. For then the question would be, what are we sitting for if the issues were already settled in the government policy statement?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With whom will the president of the republic be negotiating and on what grounds?
[Gemayel] We would have liked to have dialogue first, but Hezbollah is insisting on the other way round to make gains in the government policy statement and then have the dialogue on that basis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does Hezbollah’s position affect the Doha agreement?
[Gemayel] As long as there is a party in Lebanon willing to use force against other parties, stability will continue to be fragile and the truce agreed in Doha liable to break at any moment.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But what was agreed in Doha is an agreement, not a truce?
[Gemayel] The central issue is Hezbollah’s weapons; everything else is secondary. The weapons impact on the elections, on the work of government and on the president of the republic because it stands as a power by itself on the margins of the legitimate Lebanese authorities. Any agreed solutions, whether relating to the presidential elections, or the formation of government, or any other matter, would remain subject to intransigent interpretations by the more powerful party. This will continue to be the case, as long as that party’s authority exceeds that of the state; is possessed of more financial, military and political capabilities than the state; and is prepared to use that power, not only against other parties, but also against the constitutional institutions of the state. This happened when Hezbollah attacked Beirut, killing and destroying. This indicates that Hezbollah is not deterred by anything. It has a scheme, programs and aims, and is insisting on achieving them, whatever the price or the consequences.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Hezbollah played a major role in liberating southern Lebanon; it succeeded in liberating prisoners; and is always asserting its concern for the interests of the Lebanese state and other issues?
[Gemayel] I do not want to enter into details of the war of July 2006 or who made the decisions on war and peace and who paid the price of that war. In principle, there is UN Security Council Resolution 1901 separating Israel and Lebanon with a buffer zone entrusted to the United Nations; there is a Lebanese army and UNIFIL forces, to whom that zone is entrusted and which we consider as a UN trust. Consequently, any provocation on Hezbollah’s part in the south amounts to provocation to international forces and international legitimacy, contrary to Resolution 1901, and takes away from Hezbollah the pretext for using weapons for resistance.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some politicians are saying that the Shaba Farms and the hills of Kufr-Shuba are still under Israeli occupation and the resistance is part of Lebanon’s policy to complete the liberation of Lebanon. What do you say to this?
[Gemayel] We cannot demand something and its opposite at the same time. Hezbollah was part of the government when it accepted resolution 1901. Moreover, it was the Lebanese Government that asked for Resolution 1901, which entrusted the border region to the UN and UNIFIL forces. How could we agree to this international arrangement and at the same time claim the right to resistance? As for the Shaba Farms, all agree that the issue should be solved by diplomatic, not military means. Moreover, that region, according to international law is under Syrian, not Lebanese sovereignty. This is recorded in UN documents, and accordingly, it is subject to UN Security Council Resolution 242.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean that Shaba Farms are Syrian or subject to Syrian Authority?
[Gemayel] I mean both. It is subject to Syrian authority according to UN records; and it is Syrian land subject to UN Security Council Resolution 242, being land occupied in the 1967 war. Consequently, responsibility for its liberation is Syrian not Lebanese.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This position of yours runs counter to the position of all Lebanese parties, which insist that the Shaba Farms are Lebanese?
[Gemayel] This is acknowledged by all; and I am not alone in this view, and it is a fact not denied by anyone.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah affirmed more than once that the Shaba Farms are Lebanese and should be liberated.
[Gemayel] Hezbollah says that the Shaba Farms are Lebanese and I say so, but international law has a different opinion because, it is recorded in the United Nations as Syrian land and subject to Resolution 242. If Syria really wanted to help Lebanon liberate that land, the first step it should take, is to send the official documents establishing the land as Lebanese to the United Nations. When this is done, the Shaba Farms become subject to UN Security Council Resolution 425 requiring Israel to withdraw from all Lebanese land. Lebanon will then have a stronger claim under international law, instead of the weak pretexts we have at present. Syria declares verbally that the Shaba Farms are Lebanese in order to give Hezbollah the pretext to keep its weapons while at the same time refrains from presenting the documents to the United Nations. This indicates ill intention, and that the Shaba Farms are just an excuse for keeping the Lebanese situation tense and explosive, as it stands at present. The purpose of Hezbollah’s weapons is not the liberation of the Shaba Farms; it is linked to a regional strategy transcending the situation in Lebanon. The statements made this week by the Iranian vice president confirm this. He said: “Stability in Lebanon will be helped to the extent the West understands and relaxes its position on the issue of the Iranian nuclear reactor.” Consequently, the Shaba Farms are merely a pretext we hide behind and raise on all occasions to pull wool over the eyes, so that we all fall into the ‘trap’ of the Shaba Farms when it comes to Hezbollah’s weapons.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have a formula for solving the problem of Hezbollah’s weapons?
[Gemayel] The Lebanese are capable of finding formulae that would be clear and ambiguous at the same time. But that is not the problem and we are wasting time. Lebanon is hostage to Iranian strategy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there in your opinion an Iranian ‘veto’ on Syrian-Lebanese rapprochement?
[Gemayel] There is no Iranian ‘veto’ on anybody. The issue is that Hezbollah is regarded as part of Iranian strategy. If Iran is reconciled with the West, the situation will become different. Lebanon is hostage to a strategy that has nothing to do with it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What in your view are the priorities for which the Lebanese Government is waiting?
[Gemayel] First of all, is the deliberate violation of the sovereignty of Lebanon; and in a climate of stability, all issues could be dealt with successfully, including the Lebanese economy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even in the present bad economic situation?
[Gemayel] Give Lebanon stability and you will find it capable of dealing with all issues. Stability means respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence, and the destiny of its people not in the hands of parties and groups outside the purview of national legitimacy.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How in your view would the chances of peace between Syria and Israel impact on the stability of the situation in Lebanon?
[Gemayel] Every step towards peace consolidates stability in the region, and Lebanon is part of this region. We wish the negotiations well, and we wish Turkey success in its initiative. After that it remains for the United States to intervene at a later stage to push the negotiations forward. The Syrian-Israeli negotiations are a good omen and we hope they will culminate in peace, because that would have a great impact on stability in the region; encourage the Palestinians and Israelis to make progress in their negotiations; and would lay the foundations for a new phase in the Middle East.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you visit Syria when the differences are over?
[Gemayel] No doubt. I have visited Syria more than once; it is a neighboring sister state; and it is natural that we have good relations. This is what I wish, and I have said that on more than one occasion. It remains for Syria to cool the atmosphere, because the relations between the two countries have been through difficult times, and many thorny problems are still pending. When Syria is convinced that it is time to open a new page in the relations with Lebanon, it will become easy for all problems to be solved, visits by officials from both countries intensified, and for life to take a normal course. Surely, there are people in both countries longing for these visits, which is natural because families and interests in both countries are interlinked. We are ready to go in that direction and we hope Syria has the same readiness and approach. We have heard President Michel Suleiman saying that he is “fully confident of overcoming all obstacles” and that he has been assured by the Syrian officials he met, but the proof is in the carrying out of these assurances.