After Doha, what's next?



 
The past 24 hours have brought about some drastic developments both on the national and regional level. MENASSAT spoke to a few Lebanon-based journalists and experts to get their views and thoughts on the Doha agreement and the announcement of indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
 
By RITA BAROTTA, ALEXANDRA SANDELS and GERT VAN LANGENDONCK
 
Lebanon, hezbollah winner.jpg
R.R.

Who won what in Doha? Will the agreements bring peace to Lebanon? 

Raed Rafei of the Los Angeles Times: 

"I am relieved over the deal. I could not even foresee the consequences if it had failed. It would have been a catastrophe. To me, Hezbollah is the big winner in this agreement. It finally got what it wanted.  The issue of Hezbollah’s arms was put to the side and in return [Hezbollah] got its veto vote, permitting them to block government decisions. This is only a short-term deal though, I think. The government won't last considering the upcoming elections next year. It is hard to foresee what will happen with the election of Michel Sleiman. But the reaction from the army during the last incidents [not disarming Hezbollah] suggests that he is closer to the opposition than the majority. Am I worried about Sleiman? At the moment, Lebanon is weak both in economic, political, and social terms. We need to start from somewhere. Any solution is a relief. We still have to wait and see if there are any surprises that will emerge at the last minute. Let’s hope that the agreement is solid."

Writer and journalist Nicholas Blanford (Christian Science Monitor, London Times):

"In general, Lebanon was the winner in this agreement. Regarding short-term and immediate gains it was Hezbollah that came out on top. Hezbollah clearly cowed the government and the March 14 coalition. The veto [power] was given to them, which the government was adamant [not to give up] before. The demands by Hezbollah were met for the sake of the stability of the country. Hezbollah has illustrated that it is the most powerful political force in the country. But it has come with a prize for Hezbollah as well. It will have a lot of work to do in terms of the angered non-Shia communities in Lebanon. March 14 will also press hard over the next period of time with regards to Hezbollah’s arms. The national dialogue will be taken seriously. The Doha agreements have bought Lebanon time, but it is no panacea. The implementation depends on what happens in the region." 
 
Professor Karam Karam, Program Director of The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies and professor of Political Science at Lebanese University:


"I think it is the wrong question to ask right now. Perhaps the most important thing now is precisely that each party feels that they can say they have won at Doha. But of course it cannot be denied that the main points that were decided at Doha – the national unity government and the [return to the 1960] election law – were exactly the points which the opposition has been asking for."

"I think it is a real peace for the moment – at least until the 2009 elections. But security will remain an important factor whatever the new government's road map will be. There is no guarantee that there won't be more assassinations or violence of the type that we saw in Nahr Al-Bared last year. And there is the fact that most of the violence happened in disenfranchised areas, where people were easy to manipulate. As long as there is no discussion of the underlying social and economical problems, sooner or later the problems will resurface."

Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post: 


"The agreement is straight-forward. It was a victory for the opposition, although not a complete one. Questions still remain. The decision on the electoral law [promises] future struggles in Parliament. 

Wissam Charaf of the French-German TV channel Arte:  

"It’s certainly an interesting agreement. In fact, I see it as kind of a miracle. How did they manage to sign it that fast? I see it as a good and fair deal, perhaps for both sides. Hariri got back his government and Hezbollah got to keep its weapons for now. Now it's left to see what happens in terms of implementation of the deal."

Sarkis Abu Zeid, editor in chief of Tahawoulat newspaper:

"In my opinion, the real winner is the opposition. The regime was insisting on elections first, without the necessity to agree on a national unity government or an electoral law. What happened in Doha was [the government] backing down from this insistence, and accepting the whole basket of opposition demands, in casu the veto power and the [return to the 1960] electoral law. Some may think that ending the opposition sit-in in downtown was a 'gift' from the opposition. This is not true because the purpose of the sit-in was to get the veto power in the government and they got it.

"To call it peace is too strong a word. This is a settlement to overcome the congestion of the last three years. This is a transitory period until we get to the parliamentary elections [in 2009.]"


How big of a role do you think Hezbollah’s armed take over of Beirut two weeks ago played in the Doha agreements?

Raed Rafei:

"Of course it had something to do with it. The civil disobedience pushed everyone to seek to stop its escalation. In a sense, it had a positive impact after all."

Anthony Shadid:

"Hezbollah changed the political climate and it's pretty clear that what happened two weeks ago paved the way for Doha." 

Wissam Charaf:

"There are several possible scenarios here. One being that Hezbollahs [take-over] pushed it. The other scenario is that there is something global going on here, like a masterplan. I feel that there is something happening. All of a sudden all these agreements come. Add to that the upcoming U.S. elections and current Palestinian talks." 

Karam Karam:

"It has certainly proved the point that violence can be a means to a solution. It is only because we had reached this stage that the politicians finally agreed to sit down and talk. But I also think that the agreement had a lot to do with the mediator. Qatar plays an important role regionally because it is close to Iran and Syria as well as to Saudi Arabia; it is close to the Lebanese government as well as to the opposition."


What about the ongoing indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, with Turkey as a mediator? How may this impact Hezbollah’s Iran-sponsored weapons supply from Syria?


Raed Rafei:

"It might be a political maneuver following the Doha agreements. It is not sure, however, if these talks are serious. It is too early to say at this stage. The US emphasized its support for Palestinian-Israeli talks, which they say are more serious. It’s a strike against Iran however."

Anthony Shadid:

"There is something sweeping over the region at the moment. It’s too early to say what is happening." 

Nicholas Blanford:

"It's no coincidence that these talks were announced concurrently with the Doha agreements. But it is too early to say what the reasons are. I can't see a significant American involvement in the talks. The U.S. seems unwilling to resume contact – unless America is somehow secretly negotiating with Iran.

"I see rather an Israel-Syria dynamic. In the case of Syria, I think it has to do with regime survival. In Israel [too,] [prime minister Ehud] Olmert is facing corruption charges and is fighting for his political survival. However, I see the likelihood of them reaching a peace deal as remote.

"Hezbollah, I believe, has moved way beyond the Iran-Syria sphere. Syria has lost [much of] its previous level [of control] in Lebanon and Hezbollah has grown a lot more powerful. This development [a peace deal between Israel and Syria] would be a blow for [Hezbollah,] but I believe they have a contingency plan. It is not an existential threat to them. They will manage to receive weapons through alternative channels."

Karam Karam:

"I don't see an immediate link between the Doha agreement and the Syria-Israel talks. [In any case,] there are too few elements available right now to say much about that. But it is clear that Lebanon has always been the terrain of choice where other powers send messages to each other. The important thing is that Qatar has managed to get the Arab world AND Iran to agree on Lebanon. It remains to be seen whether this will continue or whether Lebanon will rather continue to be an extension of the larger regional tensions. A lot will depend on Iran and which role it wants to play in Iraq and elsewhere in the region."

Sarkis Abu Zeid:

"These talks are not new. Syria agreed to have them since the Madrid conference. Lately, the talks increased between the mediators, especially after the war in 2006, when the Israeli people felt all these wars were unhealthy and useless. I mean that the talks are not a result of what happened [in Lebanon] or even a continuation.

"But of course what happened in Lebanon does have a regional dimension. This transformation came as a result of many developments in the region the government was betting on: First, a regional war against Iran and Syria. This matter is improbable, or delayed. The Americans don't want another war right now. Second, to change the regime in Syria as a result of its responsibility in the assassination of PM Rafic Hariri. This has failed. Third, they bet that the Arab moderate group (KSA and Egypt) will be able to abort the Arab Summit in Syria. This also failed. Fourth, on the local scene, some bet that the opposition wouldn't take to the streets... Some readings were mistaken, especially concerning the Syria-Iran conflict, or the Syria-Hezbollah clash."

--

Some more food for thought: on April 24, U.S. representative Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle East, neatly summed up what some are calling the "Grand Bargain," the one in which Lebanon – and Hezbollah – are sold out in favor of a larger regional piece.

"Many analysts believe that the relationship between Iran and Syria is a purely tactical and transactional one. Implicit in this belief is the idea that if only the United States would make Syria an offer of sufficient size and sweetness, the axis from Tehran to Damascus could be shattered and the Middle East transformed. Syria, in this view, might even join our team.

"In exchange for the return of the Golan Heights, and the restoration of its overlordship of Lebanon, Syria would renege on its relationship with Hezbollah, give Hamas the boot, and slam the door shut on Iran. The mullahs would be cut-off from their Lebanese and Palestinian terrorist proxies and isolated completely in the region. The flow of jihadis from Syria would dry up – perhaps in return for a restoration of Saddam's old largess with Iraq's oil – and the situation in Iraq would settle down, further isolating Iran from the Arab hinterland. Faced with a united Middle East, the ayatollahs would set their dreams of hegemony and Islamic revolution aside, and give up their nuclear program in exchange for international security guarantees.

"I'm not convinced. It sounds lovely, and it has a sort of logic to it. But it's a fantasy. The relationship between Iran and Syria is longstanding, durable, and is based on a bedrock of shared interests. This relationship is meant to fulfill each party's deepest strategic aspirations and regional ambitions. Neither state wishes to live as a second-class citizen in a Middle East ordered, organized and run by Washington, Cairo, and Riyadh. They have bigger dreams."