– National dialogue meetings will be held on September 16, 2008 despite Aridi’s assassination
– Hizballah will not concede its arms, nor will the March 14 Coalition recognize Hizballah’s right to maintain its weapons indefinitely
– A solution to Hizballah’s arms will be postponed until after the 2009 parliamentary elections
The September 10, 2008 assassination of Lebanese Democratic Party and opposition member Saleh Aridi came in the midst of government and opposition-led efforts toward political reconciliation on multiple fronts. The first political assassination of an opposition member since the October 2004 assassination attempt on former minister Marwan Hamadeh, Aridi’s assassination ended a seven month hiatus from political assassinations and came at a time when reconciliation efforts between the rival Druze parties and Sunni and Alawite groups in Tripoli were beginning to bear fruit.
The primary facilitator of a peace agreement between historical rival Druze families in the Shouf—the Jumblatts and the Arslans—Aridi’s death is a blow to those who seek reconciliation, peace, and national security in the Lebanese parliament.
Aridi’s death, however, will not derail reconciliation efforts, but rather spur Lebanese political leaders to seek a secure, negotiated end to the nearly four year Lebanese political crisis that has claimed the lives of many of Lebanon’s most honorable and influential leaders.
Dialogue and Talk of Reconciliation
On September 11, 2008, a day after Aridi’s assassination, President Michel Suleiman announced national dialogue meetings would begin on September 16, 2008. The talks will focus on issues of national security and Lebanon’s national defense strategy. The “role of the resistance and the Lebanese Army will also be discussed,” according to Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.
Concern over the resistance’s role in enhancing or impeding national security was heightened following Hizballah’s cross-border operation in July 2007 that resulted in a large-scale Israeli bombing campaign against Lebanese targets, including national infrastructure and civilian targets. Despite the issuance of United Nations (UN) resolution 1701 calling for the spread of the authority of the Lebanese Army throughout all of Lebanon, Hizballah has refused to disarm. In fact, when the group’s arms and security infrastructure were threatened in May 2008, Hizballah seized control of 60 percent of West Beirut in addition to other vital political strongholds.
However, recent peace agreements between Jumblatt’s Lebanese Socialist Party and Arslan’s Lebanese Democratic Party, and between Sunni and Alawite militias in northern Lebanon, as well as the May 2008 Doha Accord, have raised hope in parliament that the government and the opposition will be capable of compromise.
• In the end, dialogue between the parties will not succeed unless the parties are willing to address disagreements over Hizballah’s right to bear arms, Hizballah’s militia’s relationship to the Lebanese Army, the conflict in the Beqa’a, and arms smuggling across Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria.
The March 14 Coalition, the majority party in parliament, demonstrated its capacity for compromise in both the Doha Accord and in the resistance’s inclusion in the cabinet’s 2008 policy statement. Hizballah, for its part, has shown itself unwilling to budge when it comes to its right to arms or private security and communication networks. Unfortunately, as long as Hizballah is armed and unsubmissive to the authority of the Lebanese government, Lebanon risks being dragged by Hizballah into another war with Israel as a result of unilateral Hizballah operations. The September 16, 2008 talks are, therefore, unlikely to yield a national security pact that has any hope of providing long-term national security for Lebanon and its people.
Lebanon in 2008
By the close of 2008, the Lebanese government will have successfully implemented the normalization of relations with Syria, but will not have smoothed over its domestic political tensions. With Hizballah’s public image damaged by its May 2008 seizure of West Beirut, the group will seek to improve its image ahead of the 2009 parliamentary elections by engaging in national dialogue with its peers but will make no real concessions.
For its part, the March 14 Coalition recognizes Hizballah’s intentions and will not back down from its primary objectives of implementing the Hariri tribunal and spread the authority of the Lebanese Army to all of Lebanese territory.
Therefore, there is little threat of protracted sectarian violence in Lebanon in the near term. Additionally, there is little hope of a lasting political solution for Lebanon in the near to mid-term. Once again, a political resolution to Hizballah’s arms will be postponed until after the 2009 elections, in which both sides hope to secure a mandate for their political agendas.