[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the chances of the Arab initiative?
[Qabbani] No doubt there are many parties working constantly to get Lebanon out of its crisis. There is the Arab initiative that Amr Musa is following up, and he will arrive at the weekend to convene a quadruple meeting, perhaps like the one he held previously to overcome the obstacles. It should be acknowledged that there are obstacles, but there is a faint glimmer of hope. If good will prevails, the glimmer of hope becomes brighter and we may get out of the crisis by the end of this month. Additionally, there are the efforts of some friendly states supporting the Arab initiative, such as the European Union and particularly France, which is playing a positive role in facilitating the adoption of the Arab solution. This solution is fair and balanced because it is based on a fundamental golden rule where by the majority does not exclusively dominate the political decision making process; and the minority does not have the power to prevent decision making in the council of ministers (the cabinet). At the same time, it gives the president of the republic the balancing vote to enable him to play the role of arbiter between the majority and the minority.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about David Satterfield? Some opposition parties in particular regarded what he said as an American obstruction to adopting the Arab initiative and solution.
[Qabbani] I do not know whether this American position is the real American position. At any rate, we are concerned with Lebanon’s interests, which are to get out of the crisis and immediately start the process of electing a president of the republic, in accordance with the Arab League’s plan. This is the gateway to the solution; it leads to the conclusion that the government has ipso facto resigned, and hence to the formation of a of national unity government in a balanced manner and in conformity with consultations of the members of Parliament. This, in turn will resurrect the defunct constitutional institutions, take the Lebanese problem off the streets and into the constitutional institutions to be dealt with there. We cannot leave the matter to the charges and counter charges of the parties, because that leads to more internal tension and obstructs the course of the solution proposed by the Arab League. The future of Lebanon is not decided by one person or by a statement from this or that state; it is decided by the Lebanese people, who uphold the unity of their country: land, people, and institutions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As a jurist, how would you determine that the “three-tens-formula” is consistent or in contradiction with the Taif Agreement?
[Qabbani] I believe that these proposals, however numerous or detailed, would take us away from the essence of the problem, that is, finding a solution. We have to abide by the constitution, because it constitutes a kind of real salvation. If we all abide by the constitution, we avoid entering into interpretations that would take us away from the rules of law, which the Lebanese have accepted for themselves. The proposals that contradict with this constitution are more of a political than legal nature. They all lead to conditions and counter-conditions and prevent us from reaching a reasonable solution. The constitution lays down rules and mechanisms for the formation of a government. Any precedent outside these rules is a disservice to the constitution, and may even constitute an obstacle for reaching a reasonable solution. We are capable of reaching solutions that neither obviate the rules of the constitution, nor lay down new rules that take us out of the purview of the constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the way out of this crisis?
[Qabbani] Lebanon is not an inland, isolated from its Arab, regional and international environment. Regional and international conflicts affect it positively or negatively. It is a democratic state that guarantees civil liberties, and this makes it open to receiving all shades of political thought and ideologies. Therefore, it is influenced more than other countries by what goes on around it, of conflicts or account settlements. The solution lies in fortifying our internal front, but this presupposes solidarity among the Lebanese, the strengthening of dialogue among their various political forces, and abstention from resorting to the streets as a means of solving problems.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why are the youths of “the Future” on a state of alert in a great number of sensitive regions?
[Qabbani] All parties are in a state of “alert.” It is a result of the sharp and unhealthy political climate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Practically speaking, what is the best way to keep those youths under control?
[Qabbani] The political leaderships are quite aware of the dangers implied in these confrontations and local alignments, and they are working consciously and with great effort to stop it happening. Allowing it to continue may lead to troubles no one in Lebanon wants. There are some who would like to exploit such climates to spread the seeds of discord, whether between Muslims and Christians or between Sunnis and Shiites. I can assure you that the political leaderships do not want any troubles, and I do not think the Lebanese will be drawn into a civil war, that only those with evil intentions for Lebanon, especially Israel, are trying to foment.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where did all of the weapons in the street come from?
[Qabbani] The present political climate and the delay in reaching a solution make people worry about the return of civil war. However, the Lebanese have learned a lesson from the war that ruined the country, undermined the state institutions and wasted life. There is not a single Lebanese who would want the return of that war, and there will not be a new civil war. The political leaderships are alert to preventing any incident from developing into civil war. Weapons are available; no one denies that. Armed alerts usually take place when divisions get sharper, or when there are direct confrontations, but they lose their role when the internal arena cools down and the language of dialogue returns.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did the third anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri arrive amid sharp divisions in the street? Are we witnessing a step forward toward confrontation?
[Qabbani] The anniversary of the martyr, Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, is a national anniversary, and the Lebanese are unanimous in honoring it. The best evidence on this is that no troubles occurred on that day, 14 February, but the delay in finding a solution and the complexity of the situation are likely to increase the tension. That is why we called for dialogue and for all parties to respond positively to the Arab initiative, abide by its provisions and implement it them in good faith. I believe that if we manage to reach a solution quickly all these armed alerts in the streets will decrease.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did we reach a state of repulsion and suspicion between the Sunnis and Shiites?
[Qabbani] The reasons for that are internal tension and a climate of mistrust between the parties. Nevertheless, I assure you, there will not be a war between the Sunnis and Shiaa in Lebanon. The political leaderships are quite alert to this issue, and are absolutely determined not to allow a civil war to occur between Sunnis and Shiaa, or between Muslims and Christians — because that would be the end of the meaning of Lebanon and its independence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How would the International Tribunal be a unifying factor among the Lebanese while some describe it as being politicized?
[Qabbani] In my view, the Tribunal has taken its own path; consequently, we should not involve it in our political conflicts. I am also of the view that all Lebanese want justice and want to know the reality of what had happened.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the Lebanese crisis require a new national pact to establish a new system of government?
[Qabbani] I think the crisis imposes on us the duty to hold more firmly than at any time before, to the Taif Agreement, which has transferred Lebanon from war to peace, and which provides an ideal formula for participation in government and decision-making. This does not mean that the Taif agreement is sacrosanct; it has not actually been given the chance to be implemented properly. Moreover, it is not a proper time at all to talk about a new pact, because that could be regarded as a rebellion against the Taif agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the purposes of the tour abroad of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and why is it shrouded in secrecy?
[Qabbani] This tour is not a secret, and it is not part of the prime minister’s character to work in secrecy. He is working hard to get the country out of its crisis. He is traveling all over the Arab world and Europe, and communicating with all Arab kings and presidents and friendly states openly, in order to save for Lebanon, its formula of living together.