May 22, 2008
After several days of intense negotiations, the conflicting Lebanese parties have reached a compromise that may help the country return to a minimum of internal stability. They have agreed on General Michel Suleiman to be elected as the Lebanese President within the coming few days and to form a coalition government with a total of 30(!) members.
It therefore looks as if the Lebanese may be spared another costly civil war at the price of allowing Hezbollah a much bigger say in Lebanese politics.
This compromise has been reached the “Arab way”, in Doha, 2000 km away from Beirut. The Arab League, and in particular the GCC countries, had to throw in their full weight to restore calm and a minimum of constitutional order. The USA and the EU have been conspicuously absent from the scene. That shows that Arabs are capable of sorting out their differences when it really matters.
Even more important and intimately related, Israel and Syria are talking once again, in distant Istanbul, thanks to Turkish diplomatic mediation (!) , on how to improve their battered relations and hopefully conclude a peace agreement, the last one Israel will have to reach with its direct neighbours. The bones of contention are tough: Hezbollah and Golan Heights. Israel may return the latter, a formally annexed Israeli territory, in exchange for a comprehensive peace treaty in good faith, including credible guarantees to stop supplying Hezbollah with arms and logistics. Negotiations will be very tough and lengthy. If they succeed they will be a milestone on the road to peace in the Levante.
Both events show the shadow of Iran in the Levante. Israel and the GCC have a common interest in preventing Iran from manoeuvring too much in their waters. Israel may be more willing to pay a price that seemed too high only a few months ago: concessions to Syria on Lebanon and the Golan.
We have seen previous efforts to reach peace between Israel and Syria and political stability in Lebanon flounder. We should not indulge in more than very cautious optimism. The EU can only applaud these moves and should support them by all means it disposes of.Author : Eberhard Rhein