Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon

Does Hizbullah Want to Lose the Election?

[Updated] See below for an extended analysis by Joshua Landis posted in the comment section of the last post.

aoun_nasrallah

Angry Arab has this report on his blog:

“I can report this: many in the Lebanese opposition are grumbling about Hizbullah and its stance in the upcoming parliamentary election. There is a suspicion (among the allies of Hizbullah, or some of them) that a strong trend in Hizbullah calls for…losing the election. Apparently, some in Hizbullah don’t want to win the election. (There is some evidence of that in the last speech by Hasan Nasrallah in which he said that it is not a big deal if the opposition loses the election). The logic is that Hizbullah feels that winning is too burdensome: that economically, the Hariri family has left a mess with a massive public debt, and politically, Lebanon may be forced into Arab-Israeli negotiations. Hizbullah does not want to be in a position to be pressured to “deliver” on both counts. Hizbullah argues, according to those allies who talked to me, that it would be better for it to stay in the opposition because they keep their weapons and they can block whatever they don’t like. Hizbullah didn’t interfer in the feud between Murr and `Awn and is giving Birri a room to negotiate with Jumblat, which upsets allies of Hizbullah in the opposition.”

I’d like to add my voice to As`ad’s and say that this is also an impression that I’ve gotten quite a few times over the past couple of months. A few weeks ago, al-Akhbar carried a piece about Nabih Berri’s electoral calculations in the South, and how they might impact Michel Aoun’s winnings (particularly in places like Jezzine), to the tune of five seats. There was also a discussion on the Aounist forum a couple of months back in which various participants were indeed grumbling about the deals that were being cut between AMAL/Hizbullah and the Future Movement/PSP in places like Saida and Beirut 2.

And there was the recent conversation that I had with my friend “Abbas” (the Hizbullah member whose views are much sought after by the Israeli readership on this blog).  I was talking to him about Hizbullah’s relationship with AMAL, particularly vis-a-vis the upcoming election, and this is what he had to say:

QN: “How is Hizbullah’s relationship with Amal these days?”

Abbas: “Our relationship is good enough. We have common interests. We are not going to jeapardize the relationship for the sake of a few seats.”

QN: (Noting that this was not what i asked him) “What do you mean?”

Abbas: “I mean that it’s not our style to make a big thing out of a seat here or a seat there. Berri will do that. He will contest every seat that he can. We don’t care… why should we make a big thing out of it?”

QN: “The two parties have had problems in the past.”

Abbas: “Yes, but that was the result of the Syrian policy in Lebanon. The Syrians would try to play AMAL and Hizbullah off each other. So, when they supported Berri, it was not out of love for Berri, it was out of an effort to weaken the muqawama.”

QN: “So you’d say the March 8 alliance is strong. There are no internal problems?”

Abbas: “We have no interest in making problems. They can go contest the seats all they want. That’s just not our style.”

***

Update: (Comment by Joshua Landis)

As AIG suggests in comment #9, Hizbullah and its allies are gaming out the US, Israeli and March 14 response to any attempt to form a government.

US officials are, no doubt, making it plain to both Syria and the March 8 members that they do not want to win elections and should not contemplate doing so.

Even without an LAA,

1. It would mean a cut off of aid to the Lebanese Military.

2. Worse, Group 8 commitments of financial aid would be retracted.

3. The US would have to boycott Hizb cabinet members.

4. Britain has tentatively begun talking to Hizb, perhaps to open the way for acceptance of a March 8 victory at the polls, but many in the US administration have let it be known that they will not be following the British and will fight this gambit to open Western lines of direct communication and eventual peace.

5. France is reiterating at every turn that it believes Doha is working and stands behind it, i.e. France wants the status quo to continue.

6. Syria too has taken a similar line, but insists that whatever the election outcome, there must be a unity government – theoretically this means that Syria wants Hariri to accept to play second fiddle in a Lebanese government led by the opposition, which would make an LAA much harder to push through congress (If Hariri lobbied against it.)

7. Hariri has publicly denounced such a possibility, claiming that he will play no part in an opposition led government. In fact, Hariri has begun denouncing Doha as well, suggesting that he may retract support for a “blocking third” mechanism if his group wins elections.

8. This brings us back to a continuation of Doha, which the French are supporting as the best option to avoid upsetting the Lebanese applecart and keeping any one faction from trying do do an end run around the others or trying to “exploit” elections to gain more power. (Certainly makes a mockery of elections but not of the Lebanese concept of sectarian power sharing.)

9. Syria has refused to name an ambassador to Lebanon and insulted the Lebanese when they opened theirs in Damascus the other day by pretending to get the day wrong. Some unnamed officials claimed that Syria would not name an ambassador until Lebanese politicians are more polite – meaning Geagea and Jumblat. Syria is letting March 14 and the US know that the normalization process between Syria and Lebanon that the French have set out will not go through unless the election process goes smoothly, Doha is respected, and Syria’s and Hizbullah’s opponents do not go back on the war path to try to disenfranchise it or disarm it. In other words, normalization is a two way street.

In conclusion, I suggest that Hizbullah will remain in the opposition but try to make clear that it is doing so out of magnanimity and forbearance. Thus, if Lebanon’s problems get worse, they can be blamed on March 14’s stubbornness and its loyalty to Israel and the West.

If Israel and America can deliver for the Lebanese under these conditions, March 14 will come out the winner and will grow in popularity.

If Lebanon stagnates and popular anger grows at the treatment of the Palestinians, America’s inability to improve conditions in the region, and continued fragmentation and paralysis in Lebanon, then the Lebanese will grow weary of the “Western-Israeli” solution and will swing further toward the opposition.
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Discussion

33 thoughts on “Does Hizbullah Want to Lose the Election?

  1. I think you are mistaking “don’t care if we win” with “wanting to lose”.

    There are some assumptions here that I think shouldn’t be made by us (the voters) and I doubt are being made amongst M8.

    The primary one here is, as I understand it, there is nothing to force M14 to re-instate M8’s blocking vote if they were to win. And I think Hizballah will be very limited in what it can do if it isn’t given that veto power – They certainly cannot resort to the tactics of 2007 and 2008. So they cannot rely on sitting in opposition with a veto. And without that veto, any “pressure” on Lebanon to enter peace talks will be much better handled for them by having allies rather than opponents in power.
    Secondly, even if they were to win, by all thats been said so far, it seems that their participation in any cabinet is going to be minimal; So i doubt they are too worried about inherting the economic mess.

    Secondly, they are in a damned if they do scenario. Had they tried to interfere in any of their allies manouverings you would have had their opponents screaming about how it proves that they “run” the opposition.

    As far as I am aware no one has announced any deals so grumblings are based on rumour and counter rumour.

    And the experiences of being stung by their last electoral alliance in 2005 will still be with them.

    So I agree that they have never chased after seats and do not much care about “winning” themselves, I seriously doubt they would rather M8 lose the elections.

    Posted by mo | March 18, 2009, 5:26 pm
  2. QN,
    Hizballah is probably divided on what its future will be, so they would like having to postpone the decision about what they really are. If they are part of the winning coalition, they understand that outside of Lebanon it will be perceived as a “Hizballah led government”. They see the Hamas predicament and they don’t want that. Being in power means being pragmatic and much less ideological. Some organizations can survive such transitions, some can’t. Hizballah is not yet willing to take its chances.

    Posted by AIG | March 18, 2009, 6:07 pm
  3. I have taken the liberty of copying my comment from the last post here, as I discover I have fallen behind your postings. The following was written before I had read this post about Hizbullah wanting to win, but came to a similar conclusion, if my causes are somewhat different.

    Hizbullah and its allies are gaming out the burdens of winning an election and don’t like them. The US, Israeli and March 14 will punish March 8 and Syria for any attempt to form a government.

    US officials are, no doubt, making it plain to both Syria and the March 8 members that they do not want to win elections and should not contemplate doing so.

    1. A March 8 win would mean a cut off of aid to the Lebanese Military.

    2. Worse, Western commitments of financial aid to Lebanon would be retracted.

    3. The US would have to boycott Hizb cabinet members as terrorists.

    4. Britain has tentatively begun talking to Hizb, perhaps to open the way for acceptance of a March 8 victory at the polls, but many in the US administration have let it be known that they will not be following the British and will fight this gambit to open Western lines of direct communication and eventual peace.

    5. France is reiterating at every turn that it believes Doha is working and stands behind it, i.e. France wants the status quo to continue.

    6. Syria too has taken a similar line, but insists that whatever the election outcome, there must be a unity government – theoretically this means that Syria wants Hariri to accept to play second fiddle in a Lebanese government led by the opposition, which would make an LAA much harder to push through congress (If Hariri lobbied against it.)

    7. Hariri has publicly denounced such a possibility, claiming that he will play no part in an opposition led government. In fact, Hariri has begun denouncing Doha as well, suggesting that he may retract support for a “blocking third” mechanism if his group wins elections.

    8. This brings us back to a continuation of Doha, which the French are supporting as the best option to avoid upsetting the Lebanese applecart and keeping any one faction from trying do do an end run around the others or trying to “exploit” elections to gain more power. (Certainly makes a mockery of elections but not of the Lebanese concept of sectarian power sharing.)

    9. Syria has refused to name an ambassador to Lebanon and insulted the Lebanese when they opened theirs in Damascus the other day by pretending to get the day wrong. Some unnamed officials claimed that Syria would not name an ambassador until Lebanese politicians are more polite – meaning Geagea and Jumblat. Syria is letting March 14 and the US know that the normalization process between Syria and Lebanon that the French have set out will not go through unless the election process goes smoothly, Doha is respected, and Syria’s and Hizbullah’s opponents do not go back on the war path to try to disenfranchise it or disarm it. In other words, normalization is a two way street.

    In conclusion, I suggest that Hizbullah will remain in the opposition but try to make clear that it is doing so out of magnanimity and forbearance. Thus, if Lebanon’s problems get worse, they can be blamed on March 14’s stubbornness and its loyalty to Israel and the West.

    If Israel and America can deliver for the Lebanese under these conditions, March 14 will come out the winner and will grow in popularity.

    If Lebanon stagnates and popular anger grows at the treatment of the Palestinians, America’s inability to improve conditions in the region, and continued fragmentation and paralysis in Lebanon, then the Lebanese will grow weary of the “Western-Israeli” solution and will swing further toward the opposition.

    Posted by Joshua Landis | March 18, 2009, 7:47 pm
  4. I can offer nothing on the speculation on whether or not Hizballah has such an interest. I can just say it sounds logical. Participation in government, particularly in this environment will necessarily erode their brand & maybe even their power.

    A question I have is what does this manoeuvre do for the Lebanese system.

    I read such a position as determining that parliament or government is not the most effective avenue to power. It may be useful to have a legislative presence in the same way that it is useful to have a seat in the UN General Assembly. It is not anything in to worry about too much though.

    I’m wary about coming off as if there is some sort of Israeli obsession on this topic (there probably is, & there are some historical/political roots to this). There is a long thread from a week ago inspiring a “A Lebanon Accountability Act” to be published. In terms of anyone else dealing with Lebanon, it does tend to mean that

    You deal with power centres. If the official Government is only one of many power centres, it is undermined.

    Posted by netsp | March 19, 2009, 1:54 am
  5. First, I generally agree with Mo. But I want to add some additional points.

    The most important of which is that Hizbullah has no incentive to wait for public opinion to “swing further toward the opposition”, as Landis says. What can they really gain by doing that? We are not talking about some country where representatives are freely chosen, such that waiting creates a stronger governing block. Hizbullah is now at its peak of potential governing ability. They are not going to win more representatives in the next election unless the system is deconfessionalized. And unless M8 wins, there is no prospect of that happening. So I don’t think it has anything to do with their popularity.

    Also, Amal and FPM are probably at their strongest points right now. FPM isn’t a natural member of the alliance, but has gained a lot from being part of it. Amal is increasingly trumped by Hizbullah, and can’t really expect to grow in popularity against Hizbullah. So if Hizbullah allows those two parties to pursue electoral victories, while Hizbullah remains in the background, that’s in everyone’s interest. (even for M14, considering that they know they are looking like idiotic puppets, and it might help them develop an independent path if they are not the governing party any more. Though, it would probably also crack their alliance too).

    Additionally, Hizbullah knows that now is a fairly important period in regional relations. I am sure they expect a lot of movement in the next 5 years on issues important to them. So, while they are not particularly concerned with being in control of the government, they know that losing their strong position can significantly hurt them and other regional interests.

    As for AIG’s idiotic point that Hizbullah having power will eliminate the difference between Lebanon and Hizbullah in the eyes of the fascist powers, good! Let them continue to act unreasonably toward lebanon and let that stupid policy fail. Let Israel try to attack the whole of lebanon, and let the USA sanction lebanon. This policy failed so miserably under Bush that now is the perfect time for Hizbullah to feel confident in confronting it. Yet, they don’t have to confront it directly by appointing Nasrallah as Prime Minister (if he were Sunni), but they can delegitimize it by appointing a reasonable prime minister and waiting for the international community to further normalize Hizbullah (as the brits show…). Within 2 years of a M8 government, all of europe will have reestablished relations with Hizbullah, and Israel will be the outlier. The USA will not break relations, but may lower them or stop their meager military aid. Big deal! the benefit would greatly outweigh that cost.

    Also, netsp makes an interesting point, that has a lot of value. But, Hizbullah can address take advantage of this by either winning or losing. Hizbullah is a dominant enough political power that it can overpower the state when it wants (like it did when Jumblatt tried to shut their communication network down). So, Hizbullah doesn’t need to dominate the government, and it doesn’t need to be excluded from the government either. It can just exist independent of the government. But Hizbullah does gain a lot by having a “veto” in the state’s decisions. So I am not convinced that it suits Hizbullah to allow there to be too many independent power centers (witness the 1701 fiasco, from Hizbullah’s perspective).

    That said, “Abbas” and Mo are absolutely correct that Hizbullah has no interest in electoral politics in the James Carville sense. Why would Hizbullah care whether they have 3 or 4 ministers? they are secure in their position as long as they can not be overpowered, and are not forced into compromising positions. Thus, Hizbullah’s electoral strategy is not to “win” the election, but just not to lose it. And let their partners take the spoils. As long as they are not threatened, this is ideal for them.

    Those who report to the Angry Arab, and those who fear Hizbullah is trying to “lose” the election are too narrow minded about how Hizbullah plays its hand. They think that winning and losing are mutually exclusive, black and white. For Hizbullah, they are not. As long as Hizbullah does not get blown out of the water, like what happened in the war with Israel, they win. It is a sign of confidence that they don’t electioneer like the other parties. Since the other parties have much more to lose, they get scared when Hizbullah does not follow their path.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 19, 2009, 2:42 am
  6. Joe M. Brings up some interesting points I think its natural they do not electioneer. I don’t think I would interpret it as confidence though. More as lack of confidence in the official system of government.

    It is only one of their avenues to power & influence with limited wiggle room. There is little point making the concessions necessary to increase power there marginally.

    Imagine the opposite. If Nasrallah was Prime Minister while Hariri (or Siniora) took Nasrallah’s place. It’s not unimaginable that some countries would choose to deal with a shadow government.

    Posted by netsp | March 19, 2009, 3:08 am
  7. Yes, i agree. But when I say that Hizbullah has “confidence”, I mean confidence that they can achieve their agenda within or without the state. That is something no other faction in Lebanon can do. Basically, we agree.

    As for your counter-analogy, the big difference is that Hizbullah is an organized, program based political movement. That’s why they have power regardless of whether they are within or without the government. No other faction has that. Thus, i would clarify your point that: “It’s not unimaginable that some countries would choose to deal with a shadow government.”

    By saying that, you have to recognize that Hizbullah can also maintain its own program while getting outside support. The other factions are not a movement in the same sense. When Jumblatt gets support, he has to conform his political program. That is why elections mean so much more to other factions than they do to Hizbullah.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 19, 2009, 3:45 am
  8. Joe,

    I hear what you are saying, but how long do you really think that this limbo option is realistic for Hizbullah?

    Right now, sure, they are happy enough to exist alongside and independently of the government. But as we have seen over and over again since the Israelis withdrew in 2000, and especially since the Syrians withdrew in 2005, this kind of arrangement is not exactly stable.

    As Mo pointed out, March 14 is not obligated to give March 8 a veto if they win. In fact, doing so would be unconstitutional. March 8 could secure a de facto veto by playing their cards right and bargaining astutely so as to capture more than one third of the cabinet ministries (which, if resigned, would bring down the government), but even this would be a much clumsier kind of veto… in order to halt legislation that is displeasing to M8, they would have to force the resignation of the entire government. And what happens if Aoun opposes something but the Hizb doesn’t necessarily? (In that case, they might be willing to veto it but not bring down the govt.)

    My point is that the current situation is not tenable in the long term.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 19, 2009, 11:07 am
  9. Mo,

    I wanted to ask you about this point that you made:

    there is nothing to force M14 to re-instate M8’s blocking vote if they were to win. And I think Hizballah will be very limited in what it can do if it isn’t given that veto power – They certainly cannot resort to the tactics of 2007 and 2008.

    When you say “the tactics of 2007 and 2008,” I presume you are talking about the sit-in and the attacks in West Beirut and the Chouf. What, then, do you think Hizbullah will do if March 8th does not win and March 14th does not cough up a veto for the opposition? Your point about the necessity of winning is a fair one; but what do you imagine to be the consequences of losing?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 19, 2009, 11:20 am
  10. Hizballah historically does not act without being able to provide justification, or at least what it regards as righteous justification. They would have justified the sit-ins on the basis that M14 had betrayed them after the 2005 elections and the passing of the legislation against their commuinications network as a direct assault.

    But I think at least from Hizballahs pov, if not M8’s, the reaction to a loss was pointed to in Nasrallah’s last speech where he said something along the lines of if we lose it won’t be the end of the world.

    They will not have “justification” to demand recognition and will push for a veto but I am pretty sure that there will not be any direct action.

    Since everyone seems to agree that win for either side will be slim, any cabinet will have to walk a fine line anyway so we are unlikely to see a repeat of the communications network fiasco and the resulting reaction.

    Perhaps, more importantly for Lebanon, the question we should be seriously pondering may be not so much what Hizballah does in reaction to a defeat but what M14 do in reaction to a victory.

    Posted by mo | March 19, 2009, 11:49 am
  11. sorry to be cynical, but this reeks to me of HA attempting to lower expectations.

    this election was being played up as the end-all-be-all by M8 until they reassessed a couple of months ago and realized a victory wasn’t guaranteed anymore. so now, they are making these statements and spreading these rumors so if they do lose, or if it’s a draw, it isn’t seen as a referendum on the coalition. ya know, because they wanted to lose, anyways…

    Posted by c | March 19, 2009, 2:25 pm
  12. “I hear what you are saying, but how long do you really think that this limbo option is realistic for Hizbullah?”

    It can remain realistic for Hizbullah for a long time. They represent pretty close to the (if not more than a) majority in Lebanon, and they have a significant military advantage against any other party that were to try to overtake them, or try to weaken their position. So they can keep it up for a significantly long time if the conditions require.

    That said, I do not think Hizbullah wants to maintain that “limbo” status for the long term. For example, they have no interests in being confrontational with the other parties in Lebanon, and know that it’s not an ideal to have that consistent confrontation. It weakens them, even if they can withstand it.

    The question of Israel is the “X” factor. If Hizbullah believes that they need their weapons and independent political base to protect Lebanon (and themselves) from Israeli terrorism and military aggression, you will see them maintain this limbo for a long time. If the other Lebanese parties start to show a willingness to defend Lebanon (and Hizbullah) militarily from external enemies, then Hizbullah will be much more willing to integrate politically, as well as give up their weapons.

    But, when you have situations like the 2006 war, where the Lebanese army brings tea to Israeli butchers, and the political establishment conspires with Israel and the “international community” against Hizbullah’s efforts to defend Lebanon, you are not going to get much willingness on Hizbullah’s part to fully participate in politics. And especially where the system doesn’t allow them to be fully represented (or proportionally represented). Why should they?

    Right now, i think Hizbullah’s politicial strategy is to eliminate the threat that the political sphere poses to them, not to take over the system. And that is why peole think they are trying to lose, because they have different goals than dealing with politics through electioneering. So, the limbo suits them perfectly now. But also, a national unity government, that provides them protection and influence, is their ideal solution at the moment. It’s shockingly short-sighted that M14 would reject this, and by doing so they are less likely to achieve their own political goals.

    But, we know that Hizbullah is remarkably flexible, and has acted with great humility in the past. So I doubt they will be unreasonable, and they are clearly sensitive to the ravings of even jumblatt in his most crazy moments. So, don’t think of it as strict opposition to being integrated into politics, but as a process….

    Of course, I am just guessing. As this is just how i would respond if I were in Nasrallah’s shoes.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 19, 2009, 10:58 pm
  13. I think Israel might be Hizballah’s X factor for more reasons then that.

    Is conflict with Israel what allows them to avoid having a domestic raison d’etre? If that assumption is correct, then there are two ways for a Lebanese group to take power from Hizballah.

    (1) Military participation in the conflict/defense with Israel. This is the only real choice for gradual or accumulative process of this kind.
    (2) Paradigm shift via diplomacy. The Israel-Lebanon conflict is, in many ways manufactured. It is very far from unsolvable. Removing it from the political scenery would force a redefinition of Lebanese politics. It’s not a ticket that’ll sweep anyone to power though.

    But I guess it’s not really on the cards.

    Posted by netsp | March 20, 2009, 2:54 am
  14. netsp,
    I agree with your first point. And I think that if M14 showed a serious willingness to confront Israel militarily, through the use of the army, that Hizbullah’s hostility to becoming politically integrated would significantly diminish. For example, if the Lebanese army, under the command of a M14 defense minister, were to shoot down an Israeli overflight, or were to significantly defend some of the Lebanese border towns from Israeli terrorism… Hizbullah would not feel so defensive against the rest of the Lebanese political parties.

    Of course, the problem is that these parties get a significant amount of their support from the USA and Europe, and thus are trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they confront Israel and defend Lebanon, they lose their international support. If they fail to do so, they come into conflict with Hizbullah.

    Hizbullah has the advantage in this confrontation because of it’s massive domestic support, which is grassroots and programatic, and their history of honesty, legitimacy and fighting for justice.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 22, 2009, 2:03 am
  15. Joe M., It seems that your position could be restated as, “If M14 went to war with Israel..”

    Posted by netsp | March 22, 2009, 9:10 am
  16. Joe,

    You’ve made a point over the past couple of days that I want to press you on. You say, for example:

    I think that if M14 showed a serious willingness to confront Israel militarily, through the use of the army, that Hizbullah’s hostility to becoming politically integrated would significantly diminish. For example, if the Lebanese army, under the command of a M14 defense minister, were to shoot down an Israeli overflight, or were to significantly defend some of the Lebanese border towns from Israeli terrorism… Hizbullah would not feel so defensive against the rest of the Lebanese political parties.

    I’m with you on the need for a credible air defense, but that requires … a credible air defense, which we don’t have. How are we supposed to shoot down an Israeli plane without a missile that can even get near their jets? And what do you mean by “significantly defending some of the Lebanese border towns from Israeli terrorism”? How is this supposed to happen? For that matter, is Syria defending the Golan from Israeli terrorism? Why are we allowed to make excuses from expediency for other parties but not for “March 14”?

    Then you say:
    But, when you have situations like the 2006 war, where the Lebanese army brings tea to Israeli butchers, and the political establishment conspires with Israel and the “international community” against Hizbullah’s efforts to defend Lebanon, you are not going to get much willingness on Hizbullah’s part to fully participate in politics.

    You are painting with an awfully large brush here. It wasn’t “the Lebanese army” bringing tea to the Israelis, it was one commander, who was later court martialed. And it’s not fair to say that the political establishment “conspired with Israel”, even if Hizbullah likes to say this. We have to accept that, among the Lebanese, there are many different views on what a national “defense” means. Taking issue with Hizbullah’s strategy does not have to amount to “conspiring with Israel”, any more than Hizbullah’s critiques of others’ strategy amount to “conspiring with Iran”. I mean, Nasrallah himself said that they miscalculated! But when others say that they miscalculated, this means that they are “conspiring with Israel”?

    I don’t see why your conditions for political integration make sense.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 22, 2009, 9:26 am
  17. netsp,
    They don’t have to go to war with Israel or the USA, but they have to show that they are independent and willing to defend Lebanon. They don’t show that at all. And I realize they would argue that they want to disarm Hizbullah to “protect” Lebanon from Israeli attack and create internal stability (or some argument like that), but their actions make that ring hollow, and make it seem too politically motivated (even if we assume they are genuine concerns).

    Hi Qifa Nabki,
    As for the issue of 1701, I am partisan on this issue, and I completely agree with Hizbullah on it. I think that it would have been very easy for the political establishment to demand a better deal, and to have defended Hizbullah. So I simply don’t accept the argument that are many different views on it. As I see it, the Lebanese political establishment conspired with Israel and the USA, against Hizbullah on that. And other than using the word “conspired”, I bet M14 people would generally agree. Also the tea example was more of a metaphor than a reference to just the tea incident. it is the question of why didn’t they send the military to fight the Israelis, even during the war, and why Hizbullah is the only force willing to defend Lebanon militarily…

    That said, let me engage on your general point. My conditions for political integration make sense because Hizbullah is not going to integrate just so that other factions can have influence over them. Why should they integrate into the political system when they can accomplish their political goals without the system? But I think Hizbullah would be willing to integrate into a system that advances their program. And the military aspect is the most fundamental part of their program. More that just a part, 1) they legitimately consider Israel an active threat to Lebanon (and not just a passive threat, for good reason), 2) it is the part of their program at greatest variance with the programs of the other political blocks.

    So you’re Hizbullah. You have successfully freed most of South Lebanon from Israeli occupation, you have developed the most successful political movement in the history of the Arab world a movement based on this goal, you have used that movement to empower the most marginalized segment of Lebanese society… And you look at the political landscape in Lebanon and ask, should we join the political system?

    What’s to gain? They have popularity, they have power, they have support, they have legitimacy… All they can do is integrate into a burning house.

    Ok, so as of the last 3 years or so, not there is some internal Lebanese pressure to integrate. Hizbullah has a really strong record of showing humility and respect to Lebanese concerns (more so than any other faction, by far), so they are willing to integrate. But what reason do they have to trust the other factions? You have these Christian factions that openly support Israel, you have the Hariri’s that seem to just seek power and money at any cost, and you have these crazy factions like Jumblatt that will do any stupid thing so as to have some voice… And it is all within the context of a confessional system that inherently weakens them compared t their legitimate popularity. What incentive does Hizbullah have to want to join that? So, if you are Hizbullah, what demands would you make on this environment, to show that it was serious, and not just a means to weaken Hizbullah for their own benefit?

    Well, if I were Nasrallah, I would demand resistance. For many reasons, but particularly because 1) the high cost of resistance shows a seriousness that can’t be thrown out very easily, 2) because this has been a traditional weakness of these political factions, 3) because they face a real threat from Israel and the USA on a daily basis, 4) this is Hizbullah’s bread and butter. I could list other reasons, but this is enough for now.

    So, now we are at this point, where we see how this is the best way to integrate Hizbullah. And we both admit that we don’t want to see another war (even Nasrallah admits it), so how do you do it? There are dozens of ways. An obvious example would be to cut ties with the USA and Europe unless they provided Lebanon with weapons sufficient to shoot down Israeli jets. I mean, this is just a diplomatic move, and doesn’t necessarily have to come to anything, but even this threat would show a seriousness to addressing Hizbullah’s legitimate concerns that has never been shown (without war netsp). That is very realistic from Hizbullah’s perspective (and mine). But how about some other alternatives, maybe provide Hizbullah with more security guarantees and military support, or how about taking the weapons issue off the table for the time being and showing Hizbullah the military respect they deserve? Why not, at least, demanding more from the USA and Europe, rather than letting the USA dictate M14 foreign policy?…

    I could go on with ideas, but the point is that when M14 takes a political stand that is simultaneously self-serving to M14 and politically threatening to Hizbullah, you can not expect Hizbullah to want to join the political system that has almost nothing to offer them even in the best of times. So if you want to see Hizbullah integrate politically, M14 has to show its willingness to defend Hizbullah on some grounds, and the military ground is clearly the most legitimizing in Hizbullah’s eyes. (basically, that’s what they demanded of FPM, and Aoun agreed. And as a result, they formed an alliance that we would never have believed 5 years ago. So it just goes to show that Hizbullah is amazingly sensitive to these issues, and sincerely wants to be respected as a Lebanese national party, defending not just the Shia, but all of Lebanon)

    Posted by Joe M. | March 22, 2009, 11:17 am
  18. One other important point. Just look around the Arab world. Look at the leaders and factions that have accepted the USA and Israel. Look what they have become. So, even aside from the internal political matters, if you are Hizbullah, and you see how willing M14 is to compromise with Israel and the USA, you will be very suspicious. So even on that level, Hizbullah has an upper hand.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 22, 2009, 11:25 am
  19. Holy moly this is a long comment and I disagree with almost all of it. Let me address points one by one, and if there hasn’t been another war by the time I finish, maybe you can respond.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 22, 2009, 12:23 pm
  20. I have been trying & failing to respond to properly Joe M.. A big chunk of my disagreement with Joe M. is similar to what I find is my argument with my own countrymen, an argument about the shape of reality (usually history), but that isn’t the core here. I tried beginning by challenging your concept of resistance, but it seemed to slip into cliches. I tried by going for the concepts of “support” or “respect”. That didn’t work out either.

    So I’ll take a slight tangent instead. I just went through this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_parties_in_Lebanon

    Notably missing is a section for ‘ideology,’ or ‘policies’ or even ‘platform’ (one notable exception ; but even there it’s quite simplistic). It’s extremely difficult for me to grasp political paradigms without this section, at least nominally . So when Joe M. talks about “their program” I don’t know what to me of it.

    In any case, we may have to get used to this down south as this is the direction we are headed.

    Posted by netsp | March 22, 2009, 12:33 pm
  21. Joe,

    1. On 1701: You wanted the Lebanese government to “get a better deal” for Hizbullah? What kind of deal? And why would they want to do that? As you said yourself, these guys (M14) want Hizbullah to disarm! And this is exactly my point. Not everybody in Lebanon supports the resistance. This is a fact. I’d say that 50% of the country wants Hizbullah to disarm, yesterday. And the other half wants them to keep their weapons, but many of them don’t want them to use them in a reckless way (like in 2006). In that second half, I don’t hear that many people complaining about 1701. People are happy to have some temporary peace and stability.

    2. Why didn’t they send the Lebanese military to fight the Israelis?: Are you serious? The simple answer is that they would have been slaughtered. Why would you send an ill-equipped and inadequately prepared army to fight the IDF? Do you realize that these guys have to ration bullets to the point where they are not allowed to fire more than 15 rounds per year? Plus, I’m sure the Hizb wanted the Army as far away from the theatre of conflict as possible, so as not to screw up their own carefully laid plans. It is completely ridiculous to expect the LAF to engage in military adventures against Israel, and so this should not be your litmus test of a government’s loyalty to the resistance.

    3. Political integration: Your argument is that Hizbullah should not integrate unless there is a quid pro quo. I agree. But for me, it needs to be on the level of political reform. The Hizb should integrate once the system changes so that the Shi`a have the same political rights, NOT when the Lebanese government agrees to adopt Hizbullah’s military program as its official defense strategy.

    You believe, on the other hand, that Hizbullah should demand “resistance” on the part of the Lebanese government. What does this even mean? Your ideas don’t sound like “resistance” to me; they sound like window dressing. You don’t want another war: all you want is for the Lebanese government to coddle Hizbullah, do some resistance sloganeering, denounce the U.S. and Europe, demand military support for Hizbullah (which they’ll never get, but hey), and give some “respect” to Hizbullah’s military program, and then this will make the Hizb want to integrate?

    To me this is a complete facade, and I don’t think Hizbullah would buy it any more than March 14 would sell it. And anyway, they tried that in the past (from 2000-05) and the Hizb did not integrate at all. I wouldn’t integrate if I were them either… UNTIL I could force the necessary political reforms.

    There are many different theories on what Lebanon’s national defense should consist of. Let me lay out two of them, at either end of the spectrum:

    1. Perpetual “resistance” against Israel, not halting until the Zionist state is eradicated. There are Salafists and some Shi`i hard-liners in Hizbullah who espouse to this position. It is a tiny minority.

    2. Sign a peace deal with Israel, dismantle the resistance, get aid from the U.S. and Europe to build up the LAF for internal security. There are more and more people who feel this way, but this is the position derided as “conspiring with Israel” by many, including yourself. 🙂

    And there are a million positions in between. The reason that it doesn’t really scare partisans of the second position to “look around the Arab world” is because those societies have become what they have become largely as a result of their security regimes. Lebanon is not in any danger of becoming Egypt or Jordan.

    That said, I don’t think that it is possible or profitable to sign a peace deal anytime soon.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 22, 2009, 12:58 pm
  22. PS: I think that one reason for the gulf between our two positions is that you look at Hizbullah as a nationalist movement in the service of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, and so this is why it makes sense to you that the Lebanese government should want to “protect” and “defend” Hizbullah, as though it were some kind of resource.

    I, on the other hand, look (maybe naively) at Hizbullah as a Lebanese movement with Lebanese goals. And, like the rest of the Lebanese parties, it needs to be held accountable, first and foremost, to the Lebanese people and what they want for themselves.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 22, 2009, 1:05 pm
  23. QN,
    Just to be clear with you, I don’t disagree with much of what you are saying. It’s not that I think the political situation is easy. I am just presenting what seems like a reasonable position for Hizbullah to take. And a middle ground approach from (my view of) Hizbullah’s perspective.

    I know there is a split in Lebanon about whether Hizbullah should keep its weapons. But the question is, if you were Hizbullah, why would you disarm and make yourself susceptible to the liars and thieves populate the Lebanese establishment?

    For the moment, let’s even start with the assumption that Hizbullah wants to integrate (generally speaking). If you are Hizb, how can you trust the M14 forces? We both know Hizbullah has good reason to think Israel is a mortal enemy, and they have legitimate fears and grievances about Israel, that M14 consistently downplays those concerns, and that M14 acts with more deference to the foreign policy concerns of the USA than Hizbullah.

    What seems to me like the fundamental cause of the differences in our positions is that you start by thinking that Hizbullah needs to integrate (maybe for the sake of legitimacy and Lebanon’s safety, in your view). But you know Hizbullah doesn’t see it that way. And you also know Hizbullah doesn’t need the system as much as the system needs Hizbullah.

    Again, from Hizbullah’s perspective, why should they integrate into a burning house? Ok, let’s assume they want to. But right now, there is only cost for them to do so. My point is that they would need to see more before they would integrate. And M14 taking the resistance part of Hizbullah’s program seriously would be the best place to start. (and I agree that Hizbullah would see through empty gestures, that’s why Hizbullah is not going to integrate this week. remember, Hizbullah also saw through the empty gesture of trying to directly confront them by taking down their communications network).

    Posted by Joe M. | March 22, 2009, 8:15 pm
  24. Just to make clear, it is my assumption (but also Hizbullah’s) that Israel is a strategic threat to all of Lebanon (i mean, i don’t think it matters whether you see Hizbullah as a nationalist or regional force). I realize that Hizbullah places a higher priority on the threat Israel poses than many of the other Lebanese factions. OK. But probably all Lebanese agree that Israel should stop the overflights, provide landmine maps, free the Lebanese land they currently occupy… (they agree on they agree on the program, and differ on how much effort it is worth putting toward these ends).

    So, if that’s the case, if you are Hizbullah, it’s not much to ask that the political establishment does more to protect Lebanon (they already agree in theory). Because, obviously, Hizbullah sees through the current empty talk about being the last country to sign a peace deal with Israel… and such. These are empty words. If you are Hizbullah, you want to see the political establishment show some real effort first. To quote Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responding to Obama’s Nowruz message, “Change only in words is not enough.”

    Posted by Joe M. | March 22, 2009, 8:29 pm
  25. a couple last points on this:
    you agreed that “Hizbullah should not integrate unless there is a quid pro quo.”

    The reasons I would start with the military position rather than systematic changes in the political structure are that 1) Hizbullah takes the military aspect of its program most seriously, 2) it could be a unifying nationalist argument (which is what Hizbullah says constantly), 3) breaking down Lebanese confessionalism is currently a zero sum game. You give the Shia more power, the christians get less… (and obviously, lebanon is still working within the confessionalist framework), 4) Israel is a legitimate threat, 5) it would be a massive confidence building measure…. and other things too.

    also you said, “these guys (M14) want Hizbullah to disarm!” True enough. But the question is how? it’s not going to happen through confrontation with Hizbullah. And I think Hizbullah has shown a lot more flexibility on these issues than M14 has. That is why the good faith should start there.

    So, for example, what do you think would happen if M14 demanded weapons capable of defending Lebanon from Israel as a condition of friendly relations with the west? well, there are three options, all of which would be good for Hizbullah. 1) the west agrees and everyone except israel is happy, 2) the west doesn’t agree and relations between M14 and the west are harmed, but M14/Hizbullah relations improve, 3) a third party like Russia or China fills the void, which is good for everyone except the USA and Israel.

    Of course, M14 would have to be willing to follow up on such a move, but you get the idea…

    One other point that I have made before, and just want to clarify, is my reference to 1701. When I refer to it, I do not refer to the outcome. I think Hizbullah accepts the outcome. I refer to the way it was negotiated, and the lack of effort put forth by the Lebanese government to make it a balanced resolution. And I think this is a key point. Because, I think one of Hizbullah’s prime motivators for wanting to join the government is to be able to protect themselves from the implementation of laws that are biased against them. 1701 is a good example. Jumblatt’s communications fiasco is another.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 23, 2009, 12:41 am
  26. Joe,

    Every time I respond to one of your long comments, you come back with one three times as long! 🙂

    I’ll have to get back to you tonight, after I do a full day’s work for a full day’s pay…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 23, 2009, 10:27 am
  27. Joe,

    What do you think of my latest crazy-idea: The Palestinians should immediately and declaratively drop their national aspirations, dismantle all governing mechanisms in the West Bank (and if possible, Gaza), and demand to be incorporated into the internationally-recognized State of Israel. The PA, on behalf of the Palestinians, should “hand over the keys.” Finito.

    What do you think, isn’t this a more effective way?

    (QN, sorry for going off-topic for a minute…)

    Posted by Shai | March 23, 2009, 10:53 am
  28. I think that would be a great idea. Then, what happens to the Palestinians becomes an “internal matter” to Israel, and according to Arab logic, the world has no right to interfere in that.

    Israel would then become a federal government with two states, what is Israel now in the 67 lines, and what is Israel outside of those lines, thereby granting the Palestinians autonomy but the federal government will always be elected 70% by the “Jewish state” of the federation. We will stop conducting any census as they are a waste of money. If in Lebanon this kind of system is not considered apartheid, why will it be apartheid in Israel?

    Posted by AIG | March 23, 2009, 1:00 pm
  29. Shai,
    Even Abu Mazin floated your latest crazy idea, just after Hamas won the legislative election. Of course, he did it to threaten Hamas, it has been seen.

    Of course, I prefer anything rather than the status quo, where Palestinians work as Israel surrogates, and reduce Israel’s burden while providing no advantage to us. But also, it won’t happen because there is too strong of a system of these buffoons sitting embassies and staying in fancy hotels, which the officialdom of the PA gives credibility to. Also, I hate that the PA “leaders” believe they can sign deals in the of the Palestinian people. So I am all for dismantling the PA.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 23, 2009, 11:56 pm

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