Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, November 29th, 2006
Firas Maksad, Middle East analyst, for the Eurasia Group still believes there is room for a last minute compromise in Lebanon: He writes:
29 November 2006
Lebanon's pro-Syrian forces are gearing up to ramp up pressure on the government after an 11th hour initiative failed to break the deadlock.
Despite the negative headlines and the possibility of limited violence, however, the government's collapse remains unlikely, and a cash injection to shore up Prime Minister Foad Seniora is expected in the first quarter of 2007.
Hizbullah has effectively dismissed a last-minute proposition by former President Amin Gemayel that would give pro-Syrian forces one cabinet seat short of veto power and anti-Syrian forces one seat short of a two-thirds majority. With that move, the group has made clear that its chief aim is to secure its ability to cripple the Seniora government and impede the Hariri tribunal.
The governing anti-Syrian coalition has unequivocally refused to entertain this proposition, so a solution now depends on favorable regional dynamics that could facilitate an understanding between the patrons of both camps. The Saudi and Iranian ambassadors to Lebanon are still very active on that front and a decision by the international community to engage Iran or Syria would also contribute to defusing
Taking to the streets is a risky option for Hizbullah. Accordingly, before moving on to mass protests, the group may announce several measures such as limited demonstrations on the outskirts of Beirut, a boycott of parliamentary committees by opposition MPs, and instigating labor associations to protest. Such a strategy would allow them to gradually turn up the heat without risking violence and completely shutting the door to compromise. A massive anti-government rally in Beirut could then be announced if a week-long pressure campaign does not bring about any compromise.
Yet even if street protests do commence, the collapse of the current government will remain unlikely. The government is weakened by the assassination of Pierre Gemayel and the resignation of Shia ministers, but it still retains the support of a solid parliamentary majority as well as the Sunni, Christian, and Druze communities. Furthermore, Hizbullah understands that it cannot form a new government if it forces the current cabinet's collapse–and that it would eventually have to return to negotiations. In this latter scenario, the current cabinet would remain as a caretaker government, leaving Hizbullah and the opposition right where they started.
Finally, a cash injection designed to prop up the Seniora government remains very likely in first quarter 2007. This is especially critical, given that a continuation of the current crisis may make it uncertain whether the 25-26 January Paris III donor conference convenes as planned. Financial support for Seniora is a strategic imperative, and Presidents George Bush and Jacque Chirac have both affirmed their commitment to prepare for the donor conference and to provide financial support to Seniora. The Saudis are of the same mindset and will be ready to provide around $2bn in aid, just as they did during this summer's war, to assure Lebanon's financial stability.
The next 48 hours will be critical and I am always glad to discuss further.