The lessons of Hariri’s resignation should not be unlearned

December 03, 2017

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s suspension of his resignation, his office said, may soon be­come permanent. How­ever, the undue haste with which all are moving risks leaving the fundamental issues that brought them to this apparent impasse unaddressed.
Hariri’s conciliatory stance ma­terialised after Lebanese President Michel Aoun assured the prime minister that adequate measures would be taken to address his main grievance — the urgent need to re­turn to a clear policy of dissociation from regional conflicts.
Lebanon’s practice of dissocia­tion has been a central pillar of its foreign policy. It was the basis of the settlement brokered between Hariri and Aoun almost a year ago in which Aoun would be elected president and Hariri named prime minister, charged with leading a national unity government that included Hezbollah.
This supposedly unwavering commitment to dissociation evapo­rated. Increasingly, through Aoun’s actions and statements, echoed faithfully by his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a policy direction was established that clearly favoured Iran’s aims over those of a relatively united Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It was this, as much as anything else, that led to Lebanon’s regional aliena­tion and the theatrics in Riyadh of Hariri’s resignation.
Much ink has been spilt trying to analyse and understand the intrica­cies of Hariri’s decision to resign, a process that has seen the volume of speculation only matched by the morass of misinformation. Yet, what is certain is that, contrary to the line Hariri and his allies are peddling, the crisis is far from over. Mere lip service is unlikely to ap­pease an edgy GCC determined to confront and check Iran’s expan­sionist plans.
Thus far, in return for Hariri’s quiescence, Hezbollah promised to withdraw its advisers from Iraq and its fighters from Syria once victory has been assured. No indication has been given as to the extent of that withdrawal. Neither has there been any reference to the group’s in­volvement in the conflict in Yemen or acknowledgement that Hezbol­lah’s deployment to these areas ran counter to Lebanon’s policy of dissociation. It’s hardly a dramatic break with past policy. Moreover, neither has there been any under­taking that Hezbollah won’t be deployed so again. None of this can be lost on Hariri.
It’s a fact that the Lebanese generally, and Hariri specifically, would prefer to ignore. Instead of tackling the elephant in the room, they are opting to paper over it, loudly proclaiming their alleged commitment to the concept of dissociation while maintaining the practices that led to their predica­ment. While Hariri might be intent on shielding Lebanon from the financial and political wrath of the Saudi-led coalition, Aoun’s bloc has yet to show remorse for its part in creating the crisis.
On the contrary, during a recent visit to Italy, Aoun felt it wise to antagonise his critics by declaring Hezbollah a strategic ally in the fight against terrorism both locally and abroad.
Even supposing we give Aoun’s intentions the benefit of the doubt, it’s a surprisingly reckless state­ment to come from such a veteran politician, one sure to embolden an armed militia deeply implicated in the anarchy engulfing the region.
The fact is that Aoun has never missed a chance to give legitimacy to Hezbollah and, by doing so, has lent credence to accusations hurled at Lebanon by its benefac­tors in the GCC. It’s not surprising that they and others are begin­ning to view Lebanon, including the political future of Hariri, as an unsalvageable mess.
Hariri has failed to produce a blueprint to extricate Lebanon from the crisis at hand. Rather than project the image of a statesman intent on preserving the interna­tional legacy of his father, he has chosen to deepen his unholy alli­ance with Aoun.
When examined closely, this has failed to do much to redeem Hariri’s faltering political career, one damaged by continual attacks on the prime minister, led not least by his current partners in govern­ment. Equally, Aoun has nullified provisions of the Taif Accord, which bestow on the prime minis­ter constitutional powers equal to those of the president. However, rather than use those powers, Hariri ignored Aoun’s transgres­sions and shared in the spoils of state.
Hariri’s statement to a French newspaper that “Hezbollah does not use its weapons on Lebanese territory” is not only a colossal fal­lacy but ample proof that depend­ing on him to steer Lebanon out of its political storm is costly and unwise.
A month after Hariri’s resigna­tion announcement, little has sub­stantially changed. What is certain from these recent weeks is that Hariri and his allies are so eager to return to “business as usual” that they have gambled recklessly with the economic safety net Lebanon’s wary allies had previously provided.