Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lebanon's election results as seen from Jerusalem

No joy for Lebanon


Dancing in the streets, chanting "ya'ala Hariri" and discharging weapons into Beirut's night sky, the Sunni-led (nominally) pro-Western "March 14 Coalition" celebrated its victory Sunday over the pro-Hizbullah, pro-Syria and pro-Iran "March 8 Coalition."

Sa'ad Hariri's Sunni-led alliance captured 71 of parliament's 128 seats, versus 57 for the Hizbullah-led grouping. Voter participation was high at 55 percent. Both sides spent huge sums to purchase support and fly in expatriates to bolster their numbers.

It is good that Hizbullah did not achieve a better outcome. Yet Israelis would be deluding themselves if they viewed the results as a substantive defeat for the Islamists.

The harsh reality, the latest election results notwithstanding, is that Lebanon's radicalized Shi'ites are growing stronger and will need to be accommodated by the "victorious" forces of relative moderation.

No official census has been taken in Lebanon for decades. But the working assumption is that Shi'ites comprises 50% of the population; Sunnis 18%; Christians 15%; and Druse 17%. Nevertheless, elections in Lebanon are a set piece - a guaranteed 50:50 split between Christians and Muslims. This adheres to the 1943 National Pact, modified by the 1989 Taif Accord. Christians and Muslims then further divide the electoral results along confessional sub-groupings.

Election districts are gerrymandered. A given ward might be authorized to send, say, two Druse and one Sunni representative to the legislature. Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, has the right to select from among the competing Druse and Sunni candidates. In other words, a Sunni running for a "Sunni seat" could still be aligned with Hizbullah.

Both sides understand that regardless of the results, Lebanon is in for more of the same. After his electoral achievement became clear, Hariri declared: "There are no winners or losers in these elections; the only winner is democracy in Lebanon."

Hizbullah's Hassan Fadlallah readily agreed about no winners or losers, saying: "Whoever wants political stability, the preservation of national unity and the resurrection of Lebanon will find no choice but to accept the principle of consensus." He meant: Hizbullah's consent.

Walid Jumblatt, the Druse leader ostensibly aligned with Hariri, said Hizbullah should be included in the next government. Before the results were in, he told a meeting of Druse elders: "The Shi'ite reality has imposed itself" via demography, money, ties with Iran, and the support of the wealthy Lebanese Shi'ite diaspora in Africa. Lebanon's future, Jumblatt was saying, is Shi'ite; the Druse struggling to survive will have to adjust accordingly.

That said, the Hariri forces will still have the most influence over the composition of the next government. Prior to the election, Hariri said he was not disposed to form a government with Hizbullah. Whatever the case, as a price for its support, Hizbullah will demand that Lebanon stop cooperating with the international tribunal investigating (already fingering, some reports say) Hizbullah's role in the assassination of Hariri's father, Rafik.

For this reason, Sa'ad Hariri may opt not to become premier, citing "national unity."

IT GOES without saying that Shi'ite leaders will not honor their pledge to view the election as a referendum on continued "resistance" against Israel.

Indeed, one may deduce that Hassan Nasrallah's fingerprints are all over yesterday's infiltration attempt from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel. The Hizbullah chief instigates attacks that are not easily traceable back to him, so as not to complicate the delicate political situation inside Lebanon.

On the other hand, in the unlikely event that Nasrallah should lash out openly against Israel out of frustration over his electoral setback, Lebanese factions should know that the Land of the Cedars will be held responsible for any aggression emanating from its territory.

So long as the West continues to kowtow to Iran, its Hizbullah proxy will continue to hold sway over events in Lebanon. Hizbullah will continue to field the country's strongest army and smuggle in weapons from Iran and Syria. It will bide its time; buy up more land; engage in more narco-terrorism; counterfeit more currency, and wait for demographics to determine Lebanon's fate.

Can Lebanon's fate yet be salvaged? Only if the West is prepared to do the heavy lifting required to block Teheran's drive for regional hegemony, and enforce UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701 to stem weapons smuggling into Lebanon.

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