|جنبلاط للسعودية: الحل الوحيد في لبنان بـ«ألف ـ سين»|
This time, the Progressive Socialist Party leader wanted Riyadh to listen to what he had to say rather than the other way around. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)
For the first time, MP Walid Jumblatt travelled to Saudi Arabia carrying more than just an empty briefcase to be filled with cash. He brought along ideas for a solution to the political crisis in Lebanon. Jumblatt believes that the Saudis may have been late to receive him on a political visit, but better late than never.
Mukhtara – the Jumblatts’ historic residence – does not pursue policies based on personal calculations, but rather on interests. Jumblatt has no permanent friends or enemies. The only thing that is constant is “Mukhtara’s face,” to use the words of a Saudi diplomat closely involved in Lebanese affairs.
Informed sources said there were several indications that Jumblatt’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia differed from previous ones. This time, the Progressive Socialist Party leader wanted Riyadh to listen to what he had to say rather than the other way around. But this begs the question: Will the Saudis accommodate his proposals?
First, Jumblatt – in an unprecedented manner – initiated contacts with Hezbollah, sometimes personally, to coordinate his visit to Saudi before travelling there. A few hours before the visit, PSP MP Akram Chehayeb met with Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad and Wafiq Safa, the head of Hezbollah’s Coordination and Liaison Unit, to discuss the electoral law and Jumblatt’s political efforts at home and abroad.
With his visit to Saudi, Jumblatt intended to push toward a solution of the Lebanese political crisis centered on the electoral law, and the characteristics of the political phase that would follow the general election. Jumblatt’s vision for a solution is based on the premise that holding any election in Lebanon requires regional sponsorship.
So, given Syria’s inability to play this role, the Druze leader believes that the so-called S-S equation, that is, of Syrian-Saudi accord in Lebanon, may be replaced by an I-S equation, with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Linking the Three Crises Together
According to informed sources, Jumblatt came to develop this proposal during his recent visit to Moscow, where he heard ideas about a new initiative underway to resolve the crisis in Syria.
Jumblatt saw that the current international behind-the-scenes efforts for resolving the Syrian conflict focus on a Russian-Iranian bid for a new diplomatic initiative that Russia would propose to Washington.
Furthermore, the initiative would fully link three crises together as well as their potential solutions: the Syrian crisis; the controversy over the Iranian nuclear program; and the crisis in Bahrain.
The Lebanese MP is wagering that he can benefit from this in two ways: First, by having some positive fallout for Lebanon from any potential deal; and second, by securing a special and worthwhile role for him at home.
To achieve this, Jumblatt is volunteering to midwife a regional resolution of the crisis in Lebanon that erupted after the assassination of Lebanese security chief Maj. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan.
Accordingly, Jumblatt has planned for his next political moves to focus on Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran – the latter via Hezbollah. This is why Jumblatt linked his two recent visits to Moscow and Riyadh, and why he has been keen to upgrade the level of his engagement with Hezbollah.
According to reliable information, Jumblatt told Saudi officials that the kingdom would stand to benefit from having a role in the new Russian-Iranian bid with Washington to resolve the Syrian crisis.
One way Saudi can achieve this would be to accept a bilateral partnership with Iran to oversee the situation in Lebanon. The idea is to salvage the country’s elections and support political participation by the primary factions. This would fortify Lebanon, especially against the contagion of Shia-Sunni strife.
A Solution With or Without Hariri?
It is no longer a secret that former prime minister Saad Hariri has recently intervened to ease Riyadh’s antipathy towards Jumblatt. This marks a departure from his past attitudes, when Hariri conditioned any intervention on Jumblatt’s behalf upon the latter’s submission to Hariri’s requirements – particularly in terms of his stance on Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government and the relationship between the PSP leader and Hezbollah.
In Syria, President Bashar Assad is being warned by international parties that a transitional phase is about to be initiated with
or without him. This may help explain Hariri’s softer stance on Jumblatt, as he perhaps fears the same might happen in Lebanon, with or without his participation.
Regionally, and even internationally, it is understood that if a transitional phase in Syria is going to be led by Assad until 2014 – when presidential elections are set to take place – then Lebanon will have to undergo its transition without Hariri.
The goal behind this would be to secure the continuation of Lebanon’s current policy of self-dissociation from the conflict in neighboring Syria, if only at the official level, pending the outcome of conflict resolution efforts.
To counter these propositions, Hariri is attempting to market himself as a leader who is capable of curbing the current fundamentalist polarization of the Sunni street in Lebanon.
Western diplomatic sources point out that most Western powers are unenthusiastic about Hariri’s role, believing that his policies within the Sunni community have contributed to sectarian tensions.
This, they say, has given radical Islamist groups the chance to occupy a forward position in Lebanon, particularly in the North and the areas adjacent to Palestinian refugee camps in the cities of Saida and Beirut.
Given these facts, there remain two possibilities related to who will lead the so-called transitional phase in Lebanon. Either Prime Minister Mikati will retain his post or former prime minister Fouad Siniora will return, governing on behalf of Saad Hariri.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.