Lebanon: justice at the price of peace?

Beirut – In Lebanon, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005 remains a mystery. Many expect it to be solved by the UN-sponsored Special Tribunal for Lebanon [STL] in the coming weeks.

The nation’s anticipation of the upcoming indictment has been overwhelming in past months as the country faced a fragile political “stability” that many believe was imposed from outside powers. Although some hoped that a Saudi-Syrian alliance would sustain the so-called political stability, the resignation last week of 11 ministers from Hizbullah’s political alliance – the March 8 bloc – toppled the government.

The resignation came after a failed compromise to avoid the STL’s indictment. The compromise failed and the government fell. Can the country now avoid internal strife?

Lebanon’s history has been tainted by slain political figures and its people have been sentenced to constant political turmoil. Unresolved assassinations have become a regular phenomenon. Powerful officials, the politically savvy or economically influential have become victims of political murder. Irrespective of religion, background or political affiliation, these influential individuals shared the same fate: death by a gunman, a car “accident” or a massive explosion.

Lebanon is a mosaic of sectarian communities, and people strongly align themselves with religious leaders. Although cooperation is today’s theoretical aim, at the practical level, leaders still avoid and reject collaborative action. Religion remains the most important identity of most Lebanese, and each sect claims what it sees as its right over Lebanon.

The assassination of Hariri and the STL have divided Lebanon. The potential involvement of Hizbullah members in Hariri’s murder has made politicians from both Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s “March 14” and Hizbullah’s “March 8” camps cautious in their statements regarding the indictment. Even fierce critics of Syria and opponents of Hizbullah undertook a political u-turn, hinting at the cancellation of the tribunal and its replacement with a compromise that would avoid any public indictment charges.

Calling on the support of foreign powers has become a traditional characteristic of Lebanese politics as a means to re-balance internal power disparities. Since 2009, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States, supporting the March 14 camp, have embarked on a path of rapprochement with Syria, which supports March 8, as Iran tries to regain diplomatic engagement with Lebanon.

Syria claims to be innocent. Hizbullah and its allies blame Israel for Hariri’s death and want a compromise. The March 14 coalition and the United States want the STL to go forward. Saudi Arabia and Syria have been trying to promote a way to calm the political upheaval in Lebanon after the indictment. Qatar continues to uphold the Doha Agreement which calls for internal stability. And Lebanon is waiting for the international arena to decide on its fate.

Saad Hariri rallied for the STL and his no-deal, no-compromise policy highlights a dedication to the judicial truth. If and when the indictment is released, expected to name specific Hizbullah members, Hariri will be faced with three options.

The first one rests on accepting the indictment and thus risks bringing Lebanon into turmoil. His second option is to support Lebanon’s withdrawal from the STL – knowing that the withdrawal will not stop the STL’s progress – and withdraw from politics. The third option, the Saudi-Syrian goal, is to question the STL’s evidence.

Legally speaking, there is no way to stop the STL indictment, which will undoubtedly expose more than one player. The viable solution then rests on disengagement, patience and cooperation.

A compromise can only be reached when the STL results are made public. Such patience will pave the way for cooperation.

If the evidence is inconclusive, it will unite the various Lebanese parties in calling for more proof. If people have been unjustly accused, the trial will give them the opportunity to prove their innocence.

The solution must come from within. The greater extent to which political parties involve foreign powers, the bigger pawns they become in external agendas, turning the Hariri case into just another unsolved murder in Lebanon’s history. Justice at the price of peace.

The parties’ common ground lies in their interlocking dependence for survival. Leaders should aim for peace and justice through dialogue and compromise. It is the only solution to ensure the survival of all.

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* Maria-Rita Kassis is a political analyst focusing on the Middle East and counter-terrorism. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

 

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