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Lebanon… Hochstein’s Majority

Lebanon… Hochstein’s Majority

Friday, 3 June, 2022 - 11:15

With immense difficulty and effort, Hezbollah’s candidate for the Speakership, Nabih Berri, was elected for the seventh time. However, Berri’s victory seemed like it had been achieved in the dead of night, as the number of votes that he and his deputy received affirmed that the national consensus around him, which he had boasted of for three decades, is now a thing of the past.

He had exploited this parliamentary consensus in his games to distinguish himself from his partner and sponsor, Hezbollah. The slim majority he and his deputy obtained are very much aware that this post-October 17 parliament will pave a bumpy road. More broadly speaking, Lebanese political life has changed fundamentally after May 15. The majority of 65 (out of 128) deputies exposes the minority ruling the country, as all burdens emerging in the near and medium term, which will almost certainly be the most difficult in the country’s history, will fall on their shoulders.

The minority is behaving as though it were a majority. It has the capacity to disrupt crucial constitutional processes, as the first session demonstrated that the opposition, in all its forms, refuses to validate the decisions taken by the deputy in power with its stamp of approval and that it is preparing to challenge the executive in the future.

Thus, a political clash is imminent; it will either paralyze the country and create a governmental and presidential vacuum or compel the majority to opt for confrontation and fill these positions to its liking, even if this would create chaos and spark civil unrest.

The trio in power (Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Aounists) know that they have lost a lot of their momentum but maintain several levers of power.

They have a winning card in their pocket despite the awkwardness it creates for the party. Close inspection of how the positions were distributed demonstrates that they were not purely a reflection of alliances imposed by the size of parliamentary blocs.

Indeed, Nabih Berri and Gebran Bassil, with Hezbollah’s backing, are preparing for a collision course with domestic rivals. They have no recourse but to exploit their ties to foreign players to bully and intimidate these rivals, and it is clear that what brings the duo (Berri-Bassil) together at a critical moment is the process of demarcating the country’s maritime borders with Israel.

The issue has drawn great interest in Washington, which sees it as a strategic priority in the conflict over fossil fuels in the Eastern Mediterranean, as these resources have become urgently needed by Western countries as they seek to reduce their dependence on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

And so it is likely that the two sides will bet on this issue, relieving the pressure being exerted by the US administration, seeing it as an opportunity to revive Gebran Bassil’s political future and ensure a quiet retirement for Berri, extinguishing the specter of US sanctions being imposed on his entourage.

Another dimension to the majority ensured in the dead of night is that the US envoy tasked with mediating the maritime border negotiations, Amos Hochstein, will return to Beirut and resume his meetings with the decision-makers involved in these negotiations, from Speaker Nabih Berri to Deputy Gebran Bassil, and this time they will be publicly joined by Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab, thereby representing the ruling majority of this bankrupt republic.

Hochstein, a biased mediator representing not one but two states, is very much aware of the situation that the Lebanese negotiators have found themselves in. He might be preparing to barter Lebanon’s wealth and borders in exchange for these negotiators’ interests and political future.

On the other hand, this trio will manage this matter from the standpoint that only it is capable of taking major decisions and deciding on whether they will be implemented or even imposed on the Lebanese under the pretext of political and strategic realism. In other words, the plan is to blackmail the Lebanese by threatening to deprive them of the revenues they so badly need.

And so… It isn’t far-fetched to see Baabda Palace’s pre-election update on the negotiations over Line 23 and its announcement that Line 29 had been given up on for nothing in return as a sign of goodwill to the US and, behind it, Israel. We can also see Bassil’s statements about peace with the Israeli entity in the same light. Indeed, these statements explicitly announced that Lebanon is prepared to resume negotiations from where they left off, affirming Lebanon’s readiness to waive its rights. This behavior may explain the statements that some US diplomats have made about the opposition, in which they shed doubt on its chances of winning seats because they know who can seal the deal.

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