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‘Either Me or Assad’

‘Either Me or Assad’

Monday, 12 April, 2021 - 06:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Has Lebanon died? Has it lost the reasons for its existence after it lost its role? Is there a real opportunity to renovate Lebanon that is built on coexistence, balance and openness or are we heading towards another Lebanon, one that bears the scars of its wars and the wars of other in it and against it?

Can the angry Lebanese youths create unity for a country that has been fragile from the moment it was born? Can the Lebanese house be renovated and can its windows and doors be respected so that they are no longer open to all sorts of violations or suicidal dreams?

Is it also true that the Lebanese people must grow accustomed to another Lebanon, which is like a poor province that plays no role or shows any innovation? Is it true that Lebanon has been killed once during the Lebanese wars and constantly in the wars of others?

The Lebanese have never been as afraid for their country and children as they do today. The corrupt ruling class has robbed them of their savings and fragmented their movements. It has opened all sorts of wounds so that it could prolong its corruption, control and hegemony. The Lebanese have fled Lebanon as if it were a plague that looms large over them and their children. People are immigrating or thinking of immigrating. Others find themselves destitute, so they rummage in garbage to end their hunger.

The Lebanese have never been as humiliated as they are today. The forensic audit farce will not vindicate the current presidential term. Michel Aoun should have acted as a president from day one. He should not have entered the presidential palace through a series of contradictory vows and odd developments. I do not like to dwell on these wounds, but I have just remembered that tomorrow marks the anniversary of the beginning of the war that killed grandfathers and currently hunts their grandchildren.

It was April 13, 1975. At his residence in Ballouneh, Jean Obeid was welcoming his guests: Prime Minister Rashid al-Solh, Khaled Jumblatt, Abbas Khalaf, Mohsen Dalloul, Toufik Sultan, George Hawi, Mohsen Ibrahim and others. It was evident that it was a leftist affair that included figures who are close to Kamal Jumblatt.

The country was not living in the luxury of its independence. Signs of its fragility emerged when the Lebanese authority was forced to sign the Cairo Agreement with the Palestinian resistance in 1969. The resistance would continue to seek refuge in Lebanon after clashes in Jordan in 1970.

It was no secret that after the 1973 developments in Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Palestinian factions that the Lebanese National Movement, headed by Kamal Jumblatt, had turned to the Palestinian rifle to boost its presence in confronting the Lebanese authority. No one at the time had predicted that a never-ending war was about to erupt in Lebanon. The war saw several battles, shifting alliances, a series of assassinations and numerous funerals.

The day of the banquet began with the assassination of the companion of Kataeb Party leader Pierre Gemayel in the Chiyyah – Ain al-Rummaneh area. The incident was followed with the attack on a bus transporting Palestinians, including several gunmen. The spark was lit on the day of the banquet. The spark would light a fire that would appear to be doused by various agreements and mediations, but it would soon burn again and is now nearing the point of mass destruction.

Later that night, Hawi recalled that Palestinian groups were preparing to retaliate to the bus incident and wanted to storm Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood – a Christian and Kataeb stronghold – which would have led to a major massacre among civilians. Hawi said that such a drive could not have been reined in without a major political move. He revealed that along with Mohsen Ibrahim, he had developed an idea to “isolate the Kataeb”, which would later be blamed for encouraging Christians to take up arms and form militias.

If the Lebanese were divided before the signing of the Cairo Agreement, after April 13, 1975, they were not only divided, but reaching for their weapons. They began the search for allies that were ready to provide them with arms and money. Each side would find a backer.

Lebanon would, since those days, become afflicted with flaws that it has yet to overcome. The Taef Accord helped provide years of stability before the regional upheaval that saw the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and, two years later, the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Organized Palestinian armed groups withdrew from Lebanon in wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion. They would give way to new weapons that would become part of the Lebanese equation, which could not actually contain them. Hezbollah’s weapons would return Lebanon on the regional faultline and its Iranian spark. During the 1970s, the Lebanese were divided over the Palestinian weapons. Now they find themselves divided over Hezbollah’s.

Lebanon is practically being blown to pieces due to the conflicts between its people and conflicts over it. Can the Lebanese youth tackle the causes of the country’s internal weakness and stand against the foreign onslaught?

I have interviewed several of the guests who attended that banquet on that fateful day. The majority have agreed that during the 1970s, Lebanon paid the price of the confrontation between Hafez al-Assad and Yasser Arafat. They said that Assad wanted to seize Lebanon to in turn seize control of the Palestinians and exploit both in Syria’s favor. They recalled that Arafat resisted such a move and instead declared the independence of the Palestinian will and refused to come under Syrian hegemony.

I recalled what Hawi once told me about his visit to Tunisia to meet Arafat, who was forced out of Beirut by visiting Damascus. Arafat said that the “way towards reaching the solution does not fit two people. It is either me or Assad.”

Mohsen Ibrahim would later admit that one of the reasons that prompted Arafat to accept the Oslo Accords was his constant fear that one day Israel would agree to a solution over the Golan Heights. His organization would therefore have no place in the solution. Lebanon has been killed by the Lebanese wars and the wars of others.

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