Update: The New York Times reports that, after Hezbollah and its allies resigned from the cabinet, the government has effectively collapsed.
Lebanon's government is on the verge of collapse as Hezbollah, the paramilitary group and national political party, threatens to withdraw from the shaky government coalition. At the heart of the political dispute is Hezbollah's objection to an ongoing United Nations investigation that is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hariri's son, current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, met today with President Obama to discuss the political crisis. Obama is getting involved after negotiations, sponsored by Syria and Saudi Arabia, failed to resolve the dispute. As is so often the case with Lebanon, the situation is tenuous and the dangers of escalation are high. Here is what Lebanon-watchers are saying.
- The Grand Bargain Opinion editor of the Beirut Daily Star Michael Young tells the Council on Foreign Relations:
We are in a political deadlock in Lebanon because what is effectively taking place is an effort to work out 'a grand bargain' over the tribunal where Saad Hariri would be asked essentially to discredit the tribunal or take steps to discredit the tribunal officially in Lebanon. In exchange, Hezbollah is saying that if that happens there will be stability in Lebanon [and that] otherwise, there will be great instability. But this is a complex negotiating process and there are a number of states, including the United States, that will not accept any kind of compromise on the tribunal. We are effectively in a political deadlock, and I think this will last.
- Lebanon Caught in Proxy Battle The New York Times' Nada Bakri explains the larger conflict. Saudi Arabia and Syria "backed rival camps in Lebanon since 2005," she writes. Lebanon "has seen only brief periods of calm since Mr. Hariri's killing and has often found itself perched between the competing agendas of Hezbollah allies--Iran and Syria--and Mr. Hariri’s supporters, in particular the United States and Saudi Arabia."
- The 'Creative' Compromise That Could Fix It Asia Times' Sami Moubayed writes that "a new creative idea has surfaced--which Hariri also drowned in a recent interview with the London-based al-Hayat. This would see Hariri 'quietly' dissolve his cabinet and 'quietly' called on by President Michel Suleiman to form a new government, with the full backing of Hezbollah. In the new cabinet, there would be no March 14 or March 8 (as the opposition is called in Lebanon) but rather, an equal distribution of posts between both camps, regardless of parliamentary numbers obtained in the 2009 elections. The premiership would remain in the hands of Hariri, so as to keep the Saudis happy." Moubayed lays out some of the possible appointments.
- This Is About Hezbollah and Allies Securing Political Power Lebanese blogger Qifa Nabki writes, "The current crisis has its roots in Hizbullah and AMAL's cabinet walkout of late 2006, which led to over a year and a half of government paralysis, a huge downtown sit-in and protest, escalating street violence, the May 7 clashes, and, eventually, the Doha Agreement. The opposition's principal demand at that stage was greater representation in cabinet ... so as to be able to meaningfully block legislation proposed by Hariri's majority March 14 coalition. More fundamentally, the opposition was seeking a 'nuclear option': the ability to bring down the government in precisely this kind of situation." He adds, "If the opposition resigns later today, they will have finally exercised the option that they fought to gain between 2006 and 2008."
- Much Ado Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, tweets:
Brouhaha in Lebanon is full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Things are what they are. Nobody wants to start another war.