Lebanon’s new president supports fight against Israel

The United States along with most other countries enthusiastically supported the ascent of army Chief of Staff Michel Suleiman as president of Lebanon.

To many, he appears to be a beacon of stability for the country. But don’t expect the Maronite Christian to change the country’s position on the staunchest of U.S. allies in the Middle East, Israel.

In his inaugural speech to parliament today, he affirmed the right of the Hezbollah-led “resistance” to confront Israel and obtain a disputed piece of property under Israeli occupation called the Shebaa Farms:

The continuing occupation of Shebaa Farms and the breaches and threats by the enemy [Israel] compel us to find a defense strategy that protects the nation coupled with a calm dialog to benefit from the competence of the resistance so that the achievements of the resistance are not consumed in internal struggles. And this way we can preserve its values and its national position.

He also said Lebanon would continue to refuse to grant the 400,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon passports in order to keep alive their dream of returning to a viable Palestinian state:

Our rejection of giving them nationality is not a rejection of hosting of our brothers the Palestinians and caring for their human rights, but an establishment of their right of return when a viable state is formed.

But much of Suleiman’s speech was focused on healing the country’s recent self-inflicted wounds.

Editor’s Comment — In brokering the agreement that led to Suleiman’s inauguration, much has been made about Qatar’s instrumental role. “Qatar emerges as diplomatic powerhouse,” read an earlier headline in the LAT. And Barbara Slavin writes:

You know something interesting is happening in the Middle East when a major peace agreement is brokered by Qatar. This tiny emirate (population 900,000) has accomplished what the United States, France, the United Nations and the Arab League failed to do: get Lebanon’s chronically feuding factions to agree to a deal that will at least give the country a temporary government and allow Qataris and other Gulf Arabs to spend their summer in Beirut without worrying about being caught in another civil war.

The big diplomatic victory for the little emirate makes for a good narrative, but to be realistic, how successful would Sheikh Hamad have been had he tried to intervene in Lebanon just three weeks ago? The end of the political stalemate didn’t hinge on Arab League or Qatari intervention; it came about through Hezbollah’s show of force and the reality that its power is unmatched by any of its opponents. The Lebanese government briefly imagined that it could push Hezbollah into retreat, and then just as quickly the government and its allies were disabused of that notion. The task of the peacemakers was to get all parties to formalize the balance of power in a written agreement – no small task, but one certainly made easier by virtue of the fact that no one had any illusions about the fact that Hezbollah had already won.

Price of quiet in Lebanon is Hezbollah in power

The smiles, handshakes and congratulations that followed the election of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman yesterday were unable to erase questions and fears over what Hezbollah has in store for the country, and the region as a whole. That is because the lovely principle of “no victor, no vanquished,” as the emir of Qatar described the deal reached in Doha that allowed for Suleiman’s election, does not reflect reality.

Lebanon did manage to engage the emergency brake before spiraling into civil war, and can even look forward to a period of relative quiet. But the price is liable to be Hezbollah’s long-term de facto control of Lebanon.

Suleiman’s election is not the product of a democratic compromise between a majority and an opposition; it is the product of threats and violence. The fancy swearing-in ceremony yesterday could not have taken place without the agreement of Hezbollah, which delayed the selection of a president by seven months. Hezbollah conditioned its acceptance on the establishment of a national unity government in which it and its partners will have 11 ministers. This grants Hezbollah veto power over key government decisions, since the Lebanese constitution requires important decisions to be approved by a two-thirds majority.

How we can really honor our veterans

How strange that today in our country, in a time of war, battles are raging over the need for medical care, educational benefits, employment opportunities and assistance for those who’ve served honorably and come home to begin new lives in a nation they risked their lives to defend.

The shameful thing is that most of those battles are being waged against the very government, the very bureaucracies, the very politicians who sent those young men and women to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe the right word here isn’t shameful, but criminal.

Not everyone is hailing the chief at this commencement

President Bush was probably expecting a warm welcome at Furman University, a small Baptist-rooted school in Greenville, S.C., where he is delivering the commencement address on Saturday.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way.

More than 200 faculty members and students signed a letter this month criticizing the Bush administration’s policies on the Iraq war, secret interrogations, the environment and other issues. The letter says that although it would ordinarily be “an honor” to host a president, “these are not ordinary circumstances.”

Sistani forbids feeding Americans; warns against security agreement; hundreds of Sadrists arrested

…if Sistani is laying the grounds for a Gandhi-style non-cooperation movement, he certainly could put a crimp in the American military’s style in Iraq. I can’t imagine US troops could function in the Shiite south or much of Baghdad without Shiite cooperation. Sistani still has a great deal of moral authority, and would be backed by less cautious clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Jawad al-Khalisi.

The return of Iraq’s Ayatollah

Maliki’s visit Thursday to Najaf, where he met with Sistani, seemed to be acknowledgment of just that change in status, one that the Ayatollah did not appear to shrink from. “Sistani emphasized that everything should be done to get back total sovereignty on all levels,” said Sheik Abdul Mehdi al-Karbala’e, who summed up Sistani’s meeting with Maliki in a speech to Shi’ite follower attending Friday prayers in Karbala.

Amid calm in Sadr City, officials and cleric’s backers swap charges of weakness

As some semblance of normal life began to return to the Sadr City area on Sunday, the Iraqi government and followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr accused each other of being weak. The verbal sniping occurred despite a cease-fire that had finally brought calm to one of Baghdad’s most volatile areas.

Jimmy Carter says Israel had 150 nuclear weapons

Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday, while arguing that the US should talk directly to Iran to persuade it to drop its nuclear ambitions.

His remark, made at the Hay-on-Wye festival which promotes current affairs books and literature, is startling because Israel has never admitted having nuclear weapons, let alone how many, although the world assumes their existence. Nor do US officials deviate in public from that Israeli line. Carter, who has immersed himself since his presidency in Israeli-Palestinian relations, was highly critical of Israeli settlers on the West Bank, and of Israel’s refusal to talk to elected officials of the Islamic party Hamas, although he said that Israel’s security was his prime concern.

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