Tuesday, July 27, 2010

MEMRI Hizbullah Prevents Signing of Lebanon-France Security Agreement

July 26, 2010
Special Dispatch No.3119

On July 13, 2010, MPs from the Lebanese opposition (led by Hizbullah and comprising also Amal and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement) prevented parliament from approving a France-Lebanon agreement for cooperation in the areas of internal, civil, and administrative security – even though the agreement had already been effectively approved by both the government and by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

During a parliamentary session to give the final authorization for the government to sign the agreement, a fierce argument broke out between MPs from the opposition and the March 14 Forces over several of the agreement's clauses. The argument, which lasted about two hours, ended in a walkout by opposition members – effectively preventing approval.[1]

The argument erupted after opposition MPs rejected the agreement's first clause, which calls for French-Lebanese cooperation in "the fight against terrorism," because, they said, France's definition of the term "terrorism" was vastly different from the Lebanese and the Arab definition. The opposition MPs demanded that the agreement be amended to include the definition of terrorism from the Arab League Accord to Fight Terrorism, signed in 1998 by the League member states. The accord distinguishes between "terrorism" and "resistance," and states that "struggle by all means, including armed struggle against foreign occupation" is not considered terrorism.[2]

Enraged at the opposition's demand, the March 14 Forces MPs argued that the agreement had been unanimously approved in February 2010 by all government ministers, including ministers from the opposition such as signatory and Amal Party member Foreign Minister 'Ali Al-Shami. Thus, they said, it was unacceptable for the opposition MPs to change their minds on the matter.[3]

In an attempt to end the dispute and calm Hizbullah and its allies, the March 14 Forces MPs affirmed that Lebanon is indeed committed to the definition of "terrorism" from the Arab League accord, but stated that amending the agreement in any way would necessitate renegotiating it with France, thus delaying implementation.[4] They added that the agreement would grant Lebanon the right to reject any French proposal if it thought it threatened Lebanese sovereignty, security, or interests, as well as the right to nullify the agreement at any time.[5]

Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud also tried to propose a solution, under which the agreement would be signed as is, but Lebanon would append to it a document defining "terrorism" as in the Arab League accord.

Despite the many attempts to arrive at a compromise, the opposition MPs stood fast, and ultimately walked out – thereby preventing final approval of the agreement.[6]

The following are statements made about the controversy:

Hizbullah and Its Allies Reject Anti-Terrorism Clauses

Hizbullah MPs stated that one of their problems with the French definition of the term "terrorism" is that France views Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations, and as a result considers many of the Palestinians residing in Lebanon to be terrorists.

During the July 13 parliamentary session, Hizbullah MP Nawwaf Al-Moussawi said: "Is Lebanon to agree to the French definition, according to which 100,000 Palestinians in Lebanon belong to terrorist organizations?"[7] In an interview with Lebanese LBC TV the day after the parliamentary session, Al-Moussawi said: "The discussion of the security agreement with France focused on the definition [of the term] 'terrorism,' in light of the differences between how we and the Arab [League] accord define it and how the French define it... This is a central and important issue, since Lebanon [is home to] 400,000 Palestinian [refugees], tens of thousands of whom are terrorists according to the French definition... Therefore, it was agreed that there was a need to insert [our] definition [of the term] into the body of the agreement..." He added: "...The Lebanese side must be clear with the French side, because if the French were one day to request something that might harm the Palestinians, as part of the cooperation [specified in the agreement], we could enter into a confrontation..."[8]

On another occasion, Al-Moussawi said: "Hizbullah opposes [the agreement] because it does not clarify the definition of terrorism, and disregards the Arab consensus as expressed in the 1998 Arab [League] accord that was signed in Cairo, whose second clause states that 'instances of struggle by all means, including armed struggle against foreign occupation, are not considered crimes'...." He added that Hizbullah's aim in opposing the agreement is to defend the Palestinian people's right to resist occupation, and to view it as legitimate, not as terrorism. He also demanded "amending the agreement's first clause so that it demonstrates Lebanon's commitment to the abovementioned Arab [League] accord, and to ensure that the Lebanese definition is clear and distinguishes between legitimate resistance and terrorism."[9]

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Hussein Al-Hajj Hassan of Hizbullah also said that the agreement itself must differentiate between "terrorism" and "resistance," such that "afterwards, it will be impossible to say that Hizbullah, Hamas, or [Islamic] Jihad are terrorist movements." He added: "...We maintain that the American administration is terrorist; will the French government cooperate with us in fighting American terror in Lebanon?..."[10]

Lebanese parliamentary speaker and Amal movement leader Nabih Berri demanded that the clause in the agreement which discusses the fight against terrorism either be omitted or amended, such as to make it clear that its use of the term "terrorism" is in accordance with the Lebanese definition. He asserted that "in its current version, the security agreement with France will not be approved."[11]

March 14 Forces: Hizbullah Is Retaliating against France for Its Support for the Iran Sanctions

March 14 Forces MPs claimed that the recent U.N. Security Council resolution calling for additional sanctions against Iran had caused Hizbullah and its allies to shift their position on the security agreement with France, which had played a major role in drafting the resolution. Another reason for Hizbullah's opposition to the agreement, according to the March 14 Forces, was its concern that some European countries, including France, would decide to add Hizbullah to their list of terrorist organizations.[12]

Ziad Al-Qadri, a member of the Al-Mustaqbal faction, claimed that "Hizbullah and Amal's position has a political background that is connected to the position France took vis-à-vis the sanctions on Iran." According to Al-Qadri, "their opposition to the agreement is tantamount to a message to France, as part of the dispute between the West and Iran over [Iran's] nuclear dossier, and it was aimed at paralyzing future [such] actions [by France]..."[13]

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party, made similar statements, criticizing the Lebanese opposition's "attacks against France for the past two weeks, beginning with the attack on the French UNIFIL unit[14] and continued in one form or another in the media and in politics. The last thing we heard [in this matter] concerns the France-Lebanon security agreement." He added: "The point of all this is to harm France, since it spearheaded the proposal for the Security Council's resolution that imposed sanctions on Iran." Geagea also said, "The historical ties between Lebanon and France must not be destroyed for the sake of Iran's nuclear interests..."[15]

Elias Dairy, columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, claimed that Hizbullah is retaliating against France on behalf of Iran for France's role in the Security Council's Iran sanctions resolution: "It is clear that the preplanned, blind attack on the security agreement with Paris was a direct and blatant attack on France, [which is] truly [Lebanon's] most merciful mother, and the only wall remaining for Lebanon to lean on when it is struck by calamity... [This attack] is not being waged on Lebanon's behalf to protect its interests or out of concern for its security or stability, but for the sake of Iran, and to retaliate against France on its behalf – especially after it agreed to the new sanctions, and for [its] enthusiastic and obvious [actions] against Iran's 'nuclear aspirations'..."[16]

Rajeh Al-Khouri, another Al-Nahar columnist, wrote in a similar vein: "Where were Amal's and Hizbullah's ministers when the government examined the clauses of the France-Lebanon security agreement, before it was sent to parliament for approval? Why did these ministers agree to these clauses and then surprise us at the joint session of the parliamentary committees?... [Hizbullah] wants to clarify to Paris that someone in Lebanon is settling scores with it for the [Iran] sanctions. Basically, there is no disagreement [in Lebanon] over the definition [of the term 'terrorism']. But it is clear [that Hizbullah's aim] right now, following France's obstinate position on the Iran sanctions, is for the French to see the political brawl in the Lebanese parliament as an extension of the [recent] skirmishes with the French UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon. [Hizbullah also wants] France, which seeks to play an active role in the region, to understand... that whoever knocks on Iran's door will hear an answer from Lebanon!..."[17]

[1] Al-Safir, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 14, 2010.

[2] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 13, 2010; Al-Mustaqbal, Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 14, 2010; Al-Hayat (London), July 14, 2010. The daily Al-Liwa reported that "ministerial sources" had expressed surprise over Lebanese Prime Minister S'ad Al-Hariri's enthusiasm in rushing to sign security agreements with France and the U.S., while a similar agreement with Syria is being delayed. Al-Liwa (Lebanon), July 15, 2010. Regarding the Arab League Accord to Fight Terrorism, see http://www.arableagueonline.org/lasimages/picture_gallery/arab8-3-2010.PDF.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 14, 2010, July 16, 2010.

[4] Al-Safir, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 14, 2010; Al-Hayat (London), July 14, 2010; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 17, 2010.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010.

[6] Al-Safir, Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 14, 2010. The following day, Al-Nahar and Al-Liwa reported that in a government assembly, Prime Minister Al-Hariri, furious at the opposition MPs for preventing the agreement from being approved by parliament, referred to their stonewalling as a "coup." Al-Nahar, Al-Liwa (Lebanon), July 15, 2010.

[7] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 14, 2010.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 15, 2010. Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 15, 2010. The daily Al-Safir, which is aligned with the opposition, wrote similarly: "...Although France does not classify Hizbullah [as a terrorist organization], it sees Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations. This means that a new problem is likely to arise when the agreement is implemented, as long as France's definition differs from that of Lebanon. What will happen if France asks [Lebanon] for information about these organizations?..." Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 14, 2010.

[9] www.alintiqad.com, July 19, 2010.

[10] www.alintiqad.com, July 15, 2010.

[11] Al-Safir (Lebanon), July 14, 2010.

[12] Al-Hayat (London), July 15, 2010.

[13] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 15, 2010.

[14] In late June and early July 2010, residents of towns and villages in South Lebanon attacked UNIFIL, especially the French Brigade, closing off roads and throwing rocks at them and wounding several soldiers. The residents claimed they were protesting a military maneuver carried out by UNIFIL in South Lebanon, which they said was aimed at attacking Hizbullah. A Lebanese security source reported that the Lebanese military refused to cooperate with UNIFIL, claiming that its training exercises focused on preventing missile strikes against Israel but did not include a plan to handle a possible Israeli offensive against Lebanon.

[15] Al-Mustaqbal, Al-Nahar (Lebanon), July 14, 2010.

[16] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), July 16, 2010.

[17] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), July 15, 2010.

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