Lebanese dialogues in 2014 managed conflicts instead of solving them

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Lebanese leaders from all political factions participate in a National Dialogue session on September 14, 2008. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Hiyam Kossayfi

Published Tuesday, December 16, 2014

There have been repeated assurances that the first dialogue session between Hezbollah and the Future Movement will be held before the end of the year. In contrast, a gap has emerged in the internal dialogue between Christian factions. So will this atmosphere of openness only be employed to manage conflicts or to find effective solutions?

The rapid and unexpected direction of internal dialogue initiatives among various political parties reflects the depth of the crisis in Lebanon. It shows that the parties concerned realize two things: first, the impossibility of electing a new president in the foreseeable future, and secondly, the constant fear of a Sunni-Shia conflict, whose embers are still burning under the ashes.

Between the Sunni-Shia dialogue, the dialogue between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Phalanges Party (al-Kataeb), and the possibility of holding a meeting between leader of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea, there are indications of attempts to defuse the congested political climate, which may pave the way for solutions to the current crisis.

So far, it has been confirmed that dialogue negotiations are underway between Ma’rab and Rabieh, and that a meeting between Aoun and Geagea will take place. But the date of the meeting and its agenda are yet to be confirmed.

The mediators, who are working on mutual ideas, are independent. This means that no direct negotiations have been held between the two parties. In principle, the two men are ready to meet, but the main points of discussion have not been specified. The LF is waiting for productive ideas that would allow for holding the meeting. Geagea has expressed willingness to hold any dialogue under any circumstances, because dialogue for him is “an option, not a seasonal event held during local or regional crises.”

The meeting should aim to produce results, rather than be a mere spectacle. So far, it seems that there are “positive and serious accumulated efforts on both sides,” according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

This openness is not related to the talks between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, but the two coincide, especially since the Future Movement and the LF – whether at the level of Geagea and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who communicate on a regular basis, or at the secondary leadership level – exchange information on prospective bilateral meetings, which are expected to discuss a wide range of issues. The Christian dialogue will address the presidential election and various political topics that are focal points in the current debate within the Lebanese Christian political circles.

On the other hand, informed sources directly involved in the dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah do not exclude the possibility of holding the first meeting between the two parties before the end of this year. The sources – who refused to reveal the dialogue agenda, which is in its final stages – pointed out that the main objective and headline of the dialogue, as it has become known, is to defuse Sunni-Shia tensions, under which other sub-headlines related to the daily lives of the Sunni and Shia communities may be discussed. This begs the question: How can these sub-items possibly ease sectarian tension given that the fundamental points of disagreement have not yet been resolved?

The formation of the government, as acknowledged by the two parties involved in the dialogue, has contributed to easing the tense atmosphere that prevailed in Lebanon, and which was exacerbated by the developments in Syria. However, the participation of the Future Movement and Hezbollah in the government is no longer sufficient to control the tense street, given the deterioration of the internal security situation, particularly in Ersal and its surrounding areas, the kidnapping of the Lebanese army soldiers, and the growing threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In light of the internal tension and the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, it was necessary for the two parties to the conflict to take advanced steps and sit face to face, especially since a direct meeting would defuse tensions in a number of areas with diverse communities.

The two sides are not pinning high hopes on the dialogue in terms of achieving concrete steps towards a real reconciliation given the continued disagreement on major contentious issues. According to sources directly involved in the mediation, disagreement over major issues seems to have become less severe. Talk about Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria has changed given the evolution of ISIS’ practices, unlike the way the situation was three years ago. Thus, the current dialogue, despite its limitations, may be an indication of a possible development in the bilateral relationship in terms of mapping and narrowing the boundaries of the dispute.

Will a picture of the meeting be sufficient to create an atmosphere of reassurance, considering that the events between Labweh and Ersal following the death of the soldier Ali al-Bazzal almost terminated the undeclared truce between the two sides and re-sparked the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Bekaa Valley?

Circles within the Future Movement acknowledge that the prospective dialogue faces serious challenges, namely that the party’s supporters do not approve of the dialogue and believe that it will not yield any substantial results, and they barely accept the participation of Hezbollah in the government. Also, the meeting does not have any real prospects other than promoting calm during a critical time, especially if the parties at least agree to stop all media campaigns and decrease public tensions.

Above all, greater attention and serious decisions must be taken by Hezbollah. According to these circles, Hezbollah needs the dialogue more than the Future Movement due to sectarian reasons related to its status at the Lebanese and Arab levels, especially after the party’s intervention in Syria and its current predicament there. The Future Movement has responded to the call for dialogue because it is aware of the serious level of tension between the two parties and its impact on the Lebanese situation.

According to Future Movement sources, the dialogue may be partly related to discussions on the presidential elections during the preparation of the agenda. Although the sources denied conducting political discussions related to other parties or general political affairs, they indicated that a calm and direct discussion about the presidential election may be held if the two parties manage to address the points of contention between them regarding the Sunni-Shia conflict.

However, according to sources involved in the mediation, the two sides will limit the discussions within a narrow scope, and there is no intention to expand this scope or hold a dialogue with a wider agenda that tackles major political issues.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar English's editorial policy. If you would like to submit a thoughtful response to one of our opinion pieces, send your contribution to our submissions editor.

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