Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to Former Lebanese President Amin al-Jumayyil | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Between a picture of his late father, Pierre al-Jumayyil, which hangs over his desk in the Lebanese Phalange Party’s Beirut headquarters, and a picture of his son, Pierre al-Jumayyil, who was assassinated during the crisis a few years ago, sits former President Amin al-Jumayyil, oppressed by worries about the critical Lebanese situation on whose horizon nothing is visible that points to possible solutions or to guarantees of a long extension of the existing political “truce” in Lebanon, a country that al-Jumayyil describes as “kidnapped” or “captive,” and a truce that has produced a government with whose effectiveness President al-Jumayyil does not appear to be completely satisfied, especially when it comes to issues of sovereignty.

In a conversation with Asharq al-Awsat, al-Jumayyil spoke in Beirut about the dangers posed by the existence of “two societies and regimes that are parallel but do not meet.” He warned of the dangers of the continuation of the present situation in Lebanon, given the existence of a faction able to make decisions about peace or war and about political negotiation apart from the Lebanese state, which is “the last to know.”

On relations with Syria, al-Jumayyil appears to support the effort of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in his dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad. He sees himself as represented in this dialogue through his representation in the government. However, al-Jumayyil, who reveals his desire for good relations with Syria, states that a visit by him to Damascus “is not currently in the works.” He believes that there is much that needs to be dealt with in Lebanese-Syrian relations — most prominently, the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council that was established by the Fraternity, Cooperation, and Coordination Treaty that the two countries signed in the nineties. He calls for raising the issue of the council before the International Court of Justice, to decide the council’s fate if there is disagreement about it between Lebanon and Syria.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the current regional situation? And how does it affect Lebanon?

[Al-Jumayyil] The situation in the region is abnormal due to the multitude of crises. We used to be in a single crisis, the crisis of the Arab-Israeli conflict; now we have come to be in multiple crises. The Iranian nuclear dimension has entered into the picture for us, the Iranian conflict with the nuclear community. Then the Iraqi dimension, where the situation is unstable, has entered the picture. Anyone who focuses exclusively on the Iraqi national dimension is wrong, because the problem goes further than Iraq. The explosions that take place in Iraq are clear indications. In addition to all this, there is the dangerous increase of fundamentalist movements. All this puts the region in a precarious situation. The crises interpenetrate; it is difficult to deal with each one separately. For example, the situation in Lebanon is connected to the issue of the Iranian nuclear program — which is no secret, given the connection between Hezbollah and Iran. Hence, the anxiety over the region’s future, because the treatments are not comprehensive — if we assume that a comprehensive treatment is possible.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Lebanese situation? Is what we have today merely a truce to mark time, or a real project for cooperation?

[Al-Jumayyil] It saddens me to say that Lebanon is a captive country, a kidnapped country. The majority of Lebanese want nothing but peace, stability, and normal coexistence among all the sectors of the Lebanese people. The factor that preserves Lebanon in normal times is this coexistence. However, Lebanon is being pushed by local elements into becoming a stage for larger and broader conflicts. We do not want history to repeat itself, as happened in 1958, when the Nasserist tide tried to influence the situation in the region through Lebanon. Similarly, the Palestinian factor in the seventies was the basis for exploding the Lebanese situation. The Lebanese dimensions of the crisis in the seventies were very modest, compared with the regional and Palestinian dimension. Therefore, the truce now existing among us is directly connected to the general situation in the Middle East. Sadly, Lebanon is not sufficiently fortified to distance itself from any explosion that might occur in the region anywhere for any reason.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You say that Lebanon is a kidnapped country. Who is the kidnapper?

[Al-Jumayyil] Simply because there are two authorities on Lebanon’s territory, the country has been kidnapped. Each of the two authorities has made a series of independent sovereign decisions. Who can decide about war and peace in Lebanon? Who can make decisions about diplomatic negotiations? Examples of both things can be seen in what happened in the fighting of July 2006. The domestic fighting of 7 May 2008 shows who can make the decisions about war and peace. As for decisions about diplomatic negotiations, one can get a glimpse from the negotiations that took place between Israel and Hezbollah for the return of the hostages: official Lebanon was the last to know about these negotiations. When unconditional sovereign decision-making is impeded, the country has been kidnapped.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you saying that the kidnapper is Hezbollah, with Iran behind it?

[Al-Jumayyil] Because of Lebanon’s loss of unified sovereign decision-making, Lebanon has become kidnapped.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Things may be different this time. If the domestic factor was modest in 1975, the situation is different this time due to the presence of a strong domestic factor, the domestic Lebanese faction. You personally have spoken of your fear that there might be two societies in Lebanon. Do your fears still exist?

[Al-Jumayyil] They still exist. The basis of national existence and unity is education. There are two different educational systems on the ground now, and this is building two parallel societies that do not meet. Particular education is growing inside the schools in Lebanon. Even in clothing, we have come to see different appearances, and even the Arabic language has been invaded by new ways of speaking.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] With an Iranian flavor?

[Al-Jumayyil] There are developments on that level. If we talk about the situation, they deal with us as if we were announcing discrimination. On the contrary, we believe that we need to understand each other. We have not been able to agree on a common denominator in civics education and a history text or on certain things relating to culture. If this issue is not settled quickly, things will move to a dangerous place. They used to accuse the Christians of concentrating too much on links to the West, but today things are in another mold.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Doesn’t this herald a dark future?

[Al-Jumayyil] My approach is positive — in the direction of warning about the dangers and calling for a program of a minimal amount of mutual understanding. This is in everyone’s interest, because it is in everyone’s interest that we come together on common principles and certain “national sanctities,” if one may use the expression. There is a denial of each other’s history, and this is dangerous. We are not building a country or fortifying an existence.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Mutual denial?

[Al-Jumayyil] It may or may not be mutual. I won’t go into details now, but it is something that really exists. I am not accusing anyone. The Lebanese history textbook is still unclear, as is the civics book. Heresies are taking place. If we first don’t come to an understanding about educational matters, about what can we come to an understanding?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] If decisions of war and peace are strategic and not in the state’s hands, is it pointless to hold dialogue about the defense strategy?

[Al-Jumayyil] Our approach to defense policy is a political approach. First let us come to an understanding about the Lebanese entity and how we cooperate with each other, and on that basis we can look to the external world and weave a fabric of relations, alliances, and links with others. What is happening at the present time is like what happened in the past, when relations were established with the PLO at the expense of national unity. We then became divided nationally over a basic issue related to the country’s security and stability. Similarly today, we are disagreeing about Lebanon’s relations with some of its neighbors. Presumably, we should agree internally about Lebanon’s role and mission, and weave a fabric of relations with others on that basis. This is to everyone’s benefit. Leaving the Christians aside, can we say that an Islamic-Islamic understanding exists about foreign relations? I don’t think so.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you be present at the dialogue meetings about defense strategy at the coming session?

[Al-Jumayyil] Yes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have no travel plans?

[Al-Jumayyil] I was clear from the beginning. I demanded that it was required, before getting into defense strategy, which is an applied matter that we go to the heart of the matter to reach mutual understanding about the words “loyalty” and “sovereignty.” After reaching mutual understanding about these two words, it will become easy to reach a defense strategy. Unfortunately, there is disagreement over the Palestinian military base in the Qusaya area of the Lebanese Beqaa. Some consider it a violation of national sovereignty; others think otherwise. How can we think about a defense strategy when there isn’t a single view of the principle of sovereignty and the principle of loyalty?

[Asharq Al-Awsat] There was agreement in the dialogue about a number of issues, including Palestinian weapons outside the camps. Why has there been no implementation?

[Al-Jumayyil] This government, the solidarity government of national unity, was supposed to implement the matter, but nothing happened. As long as there is no sincerity in approaching the issues of sovereignty and loyalty, it is difficult for us to come to an understanding on the subject of defense strategy. I raised the issue from the first day of the start of the dialogue. There were those who heard and those who claimed not to have heard. If we follow an ostrich policy and do not confront the matter, our efforts will be in vain.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why haven’t these decisions been put into effect in the government?

[Al-Jumayyil] Because there is a faction in the government that believes it premature for us to reach an understanding about these terms. It thinks that it is content: it has sovereignty independent of the state, independent decision-making power in sovereignty issues, and an autonomous domain over which to spread its own sovereignty. Some are operating on the principle, What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours and mine. There is a parallel administration, like the independent telephone network — the Hezbollah network — and the state network. The state network is for it and for others; its own network is for it alone: no one can meddle with it, ask where it goes, to what countries it extends, how this network is employed commercially, or anything else. There is no right to monitor.

Hezbollah says that its network is for its own security and isn’t a commercial network! Who guarantees that? Who allowed whom to monitor whom? What are the powers of whoever exercises oversight over citizens? There are two states, two telephone ministries, with one of which we have no relation.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How are your relations with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri? How do you view his move toward Syria?

[Al-Jumayyil] Our relations with him are excellent. We are from one team, and he has full support from us, even in his visit to Damascus.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why does one get the impression that the Christians of the majority are outside of the regional understanding that led Prime Minister al-Hariri to go to Damascus?

[Al-Jumayyil] We support Prime Minister al-Hariri’s move. We had important demands in this context, part of which have been realized: diplomatic exchange, the opening of two embassies, and the withdrawal of the Syrian army, as well as establishing contacts between the two governments to deal with unresolved matters. We view the matters positively and constructively, but there are other still unresolved issues that we need to deal with and for which we need to find solutions.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Such as?

[Al-Jumayyil] The Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council. I think that if there is a disagreement between us and Syria about the Higher Council, there is nothing wrong with referring the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. I am speaking objectively. There are provisions in the agreement on whose basis the council was established that conflict with general principles of constitutional law.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is your relation with Syria severed?

[Al-Jumayyil] It is not severed. In all honesty, we want there to be good relations with Syria. Since my father’s days, we have had many historic affairs, but we kept the doors open between us and the dialogue continued. The dialogue with Syria remained open until the last moment of my term, and it continued afterward between myself and President al-Assad. I do not know President Bashar al-Assad, but my relations with his father were continual. Our concern is that the matters of disagreement with Syria be dealt with. We therefore support Prime Minister al-Hariri’s move and the dialogue taking place between him and President Al-Assad and the Syrian government. We are interested in reaching solutions. At this particular stage, we view our relations with Syria through the actions that the government is taking, because we are part of it and have a minister in it.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] No visit soon to Damascus?

[Al-Jumayyil] No visit is in the works.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] No invitation has been extended to you?

[Al-Jumayyil] There is no talk of a visit to Syria at the present time.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How are relations with MP Walid Jumblatt?

[Al-Jumayyil] The personal relationship is excellent. There is a friendship that has grown up between us. There are family relations. However, this does not negate the fact that on the political level Walid Bey’s position has not finally crystallized so as to make an evaluation. After he his dramatic exit from 14 March, he has not settled on definite positions. He is still in a transition phase. On the one hand, he wants very good relations with the prime minister; at the same time, he is opening up other avenues. We feel that he is still pleased with the 14 March team.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Phalange’s place in 14 March after the freezing of its presence in the general secretariat?

[Al-Jumayyil] We were 14 March before there was any 14 March. We are at the heart of this movement. We didn’t go to it; it came to the Phalange. As early as 1943 we entered the battle for sovereignty and independence against the French, and we remained defending sovereignty and independence in their normal sense. We remain on course. You ought to ask where 14 March is now, and ask the pillars of 14 March where they are. What happened during elections for the head of the physicians’ union was a scandal in terms of coordination and solidarity within 14 March.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean the position of the Lebanese Forces to vote for General Aoun’s candidate?

[Al-Jumayyil] We are an active force in the union, and we operated with complete sincerity. Why, then, did what happened happen?