Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Features Special Focus Travel Living Sports People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
'No separate peace'By Galal Nassar
Lebanese Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss says his government will not be lured into signing a separate peace with Israel, because the move could re-ignite civil strife. The negotiations along Lebanese and Syrian tracks are inseparable, he said. "We believe that the Lebanese and Syrian tracks of negotiations should remain united because experience has taught us that to be lured into separate negotiations with Israel would lead to unacceptable results," Al-Hoss explained.
The prime minister recalled that the signing of an agreement with Israel on 17 May 1983, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, only served to escalate the civil strife that was raging at the time. The agreement was cancelled less than a year later. "This experience makes us unprepared to negotiate unilaterally, because this could mean that we would be lured into signing an unbalanced agreement that would only serve to re-ignite sedition," Al-Hoss said. "Lebanese citizens feel strong as long as the Lebanese and Syrian tracks are united, and weak if they act on their own."
Al-Hoss, interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly at his home in Beirut, also affirmed the Beirut government's support for the Lebanese resistance movement, but said this support was only "moral, political and diplomatic".
Asked what he thought of Israel's 17 May parliamentary elections, Al-Hoss said he was not optimistic about the results, and expressed apprehension that the balance could be tipped in favour of right-wing hard-liners. He added that there are "international" expectations that the negotiations along the Lebanese and Syrian tracks could be resumed following the ballot, "but we are not optimistic because experience has taught us that Israeli political parties are always neck-to-neck in any election race. In this situation, the extremist right-wing usually tips the balance in favour of one party or the other. Consequently, the extremist right-wing will have the decisive word in the peace process. This cannot augur well for the resumption or fruitfulness of the negotiations," Al-Hoss said.
He affirmed that Lebanon was not ready to work out security arrangements with Israel in return for its withdrawal from the so-called "security zone" in the south. "We are not prepared to negotiate, or discuss, any security arrangements with Israel, because we stick to [UN Security Council] Resolution 425 [of 1978], calling for Israel's immediate and unconditional withdrawal. We are not prepared to accept preconditions," Al-Hoss said. Asked what would happen if Israel withdrew unilaterally, he replied: "Let it withdraw. It should withdraw."
To another question about what will become of the pro-Israeli militia in the south if Israel does decide to withdraw unilaterally, Al-Hoss responded: "The law is supreme in this country and it will be invoked against Israel's agents." He said the government was not prepared to discuss a general amnesty "because these are mercenary forces subject to Lebanese law, which prohibits any dealings with the enemy."
Diplomatic sources in Beirut said France was prepared to grant political asylum to commanders of the pro-Israel militia, and suggested that rank-and-file members could be included in the international peace-keeping forces serving in the south.
Al-Hoss lamented Israel's re-occupation of the southern town of Arnoun. "We held intensive contacts with the April understanding committee, particularly the United States and France, which take turns to chair this committee," he said. "In the course of these contacts, there was a serious endeavour to get Israel out of Arnoun but, unfortunately, this endeavour collapsed. The committee issued a statement declaring that the door has not been closed and the diplomatic efforts are continuing. But, in my opinion, there is no solution on the horizon before the Israeli elections."
Al-Hoss asserted that there are no "direct, or indirect, channels of communication with Israel. This is rejected absolutely". He affirmed that the government's position, as well as the Lebanese resistance movement, have the support of Arab countries. Asked whether this support was adequate, he said: "This is the maximum the Arab countries can do, in view of the prevailing circumstances."
Describing the Egyptian position as "effective", Al-Hoss said Egypt backs the Syrian-Lebanese position that the negotiations should be resumed where they left off, and that Israel should commit itself to "a complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights".
Al-Hoss expressed confidence that there is sectarian harmony in Lebanon and that a national reconciliation has strong foundations.