Lebanon: Cabinet set to resume sessions, ending month of paralysis

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The Cabinet will be back in business this week following a one-month paralysis and uncertainty caused by Hariri’s shock resignation
 
BEIRUT - The Cabinet will be back in business this week following a one-month paralysis and uncertainty caused by Hariri’s shock resignation from Riyadh on Nov. 4, in line with top leaders’ expressions of optimism about resolving the political crisis. President Michel Aoun, who returned from a three-day official visit to Italy Friday, is set to chair a Cabinet session at Baabda Palace Tuesday or Thursday, the first since Hariri’s resignation, an official source told The Daily Star.
 
“There is no agenda for this Cabinet session which is devoted mainly to tackling the political crisis brought on by Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation,” a source at Baabda Palace said Sunday.
 
Hariri, who returned to Beirut Saturday from a private visit to France to meet his family, is yet to call the Cabinet to meet, a source said.
 
“Although the Cabinet has not yet been called to meet, things are on the right track toward reviving the government’s work. In principle, the Cabinet is likely to meet Tuesday,” the Baabda source said.
 
“If the Cabinet meeting materializes, this will put an end to the resignation crisis, get the Cabinet back in business, and put to rest the possibility of a government reshuffle.”
 
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday “the atmosphere is positive but we have to wait to see how things will come out.”
 
According to the source, the Cabinet will issue a statement after its meeting dealing with the main reasons behind Hariri’s resignation, particularly the need for all the parties, including Hezbollah, to abide by the policy of dissociation.
 
“The Cabinet statement basically calls on all Lebanese parties to comply with the dissociation policy, commit to the 1989 Taif Accord, and abide by the policy noninterference in the internal affairs of Arab countries,” the source said.
 
He added that the statement would also deal with three other major topics: confronting Israel’s threats to Lebanon, terrorism and the Syrian refugee crisis.
 
After attending the planned Cabinet session, Hariri is scheduled to leave for Paris to participate in a meeting hosted by France Friday for the Lebanon International Support Group. The meeting is set to pave the way for Paris IV donors’ conference for Lebanon. The ISG has brought together the United Nations and the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the European Union and the Arab League. It was launched in Sept. 2013 to help mobilize support and assistance for Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and state institutions and to specifically encourage assistance for the Lebanese Army, Syrian refugees in Lebanon and host communities and government programs and public services impacted by the Syrian crisis.
 
During his visit to Italy last week, Aoun was told by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni that Rome would organize a conference aimed at bolstering Lebanon’s Army and security apparatuses in the near future.
 
The political agreement being hammered out to resolve the resignation crisis also prods Hezbollah to stop its combative rhetoric against Saudi Arabia, and for the Future Movement and its allies to stop their media campaigns against Syria and Iran, a political source told The Daily Star.
 
The broad lines of the political agreement have reportedly been drafted by Aoun based on “positive and constructive” consultations he held last week with heads of parliamentary blocs. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was reported to have discussed details of the political agreement during his meeting with Hariri at his residence in Paris Saturday.
 
After his return to Beirut on Nov. 22 following an 18-day absence, Hariri agreed to put his resignation on hold at Aoun’s request to allow time to address the reasons for the resignation. He has since stressed that any political agreement to end the crisis and resume Cabinet meetings should be based on compliance with the dissociation policy toward regional conflicts “not just in words but also in deeds.”
 
Hezbollah, whose deep involvement in the 6-year-old war in Syria and its alleged intervention in other Arab countries, was at the core of Hariri’s resignation, has offered to help promote a political agreement by complying with the government’s policy statement that calls for dissociating Lebanon from inter-Arab conflicts.
 
A senior Hezbollah official said his party backed the resumption of Cabinet sessions.
 
“We support the reconvening of the Cabinet because this Cabinet has gained Parliament’s confidence and [Aoun’s] swearing-in speech reflected the aspirations of the Lebanese people and boosted Lebanon’s position,” Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek, head of Hezbollah’s Shariah Council, told a ceremony marking Prophet Mohammad’s Birthday in the Bekaa town of Shaath. He praised the “wise and patriotic” stances of Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri in handling the crisis over Hariri’s resignation.
 
Former Minister Wael Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc described Lebanon’s politics as “shifting sands.” Referring to the statement expected to be issued by the Cabinet when it meets this week, Abu Faour told the state-run Lebanon Radio station: “The next Cabinet statement will be an indicator of the coming stage to agree on a political path that will not expose Lebanon to the same crisis we had passed.”
 
Separately, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea rejected claims by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that Hezbollah finances itself by laundering money through Lebanese banks.
 
“I appreciate Jubeir’s statement, but I have another opinion concerning the Lebanese banking sector. The Lebanese banks are completely complying with the instructions of the Central Bank which is fully coordinating with the U.S. Treasury Department, and took it upon itself to apply International standards and banking systems,” Geagea said in a statement Saturday. “I do not think there are any funds for Hezbollah going through the Lebanese banking system,” he added.
 
Jubeir said Friday during a conference in Italy that “Iran is harboring and facilitating the movement of terrorists, establishing Hezbollah in Lebanon, using it to launder money and smuggle drugs.”
 
Jubeir’s claims were also spurned by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who highlighted that the Lebanese banking system has international legitimacy.