The fate of the 3-month-old dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah hung up in the air Sunday as the two sides engaged in fresh diatribes, putting a new round of talks set for this week in jeopardy.
MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, Sunday implicitly struck back at former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a day after the head of the parliamentary Future bloc warned that the Lebanese state was no longer able to ensure the continuity of its institutions as a result of Hezbollah’s intervention in the 4-year-old war in Syria.
“We cannot understand the meaning of entering into a dialogue [with the Future Movement] while evil tongues continue to attack the resistance and its project,” Raad told a memorial ceremony in the southern town of Houla.
“Either we engage in a dialogue in a calm and controlled atmosphere, or we must know with whom we are talking and what is their size, influence and impact even inside their organization and their political and parliamentary bloc,” he said. “This situation cannot go on.”
“We have entered a dialogue to talk frankly and reach understanding on points that can be agreed on. Why do you insult outside? This is unacceptable,” Raad said.
Addressing the Future officials, he said: “Either you commit yourself to the dialogue, or let us part ways.”
The two rival influential parties have so far held seven rounds of talks focusing mainly on defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions exacerbated by the 4-year-old war in Syria. Future and Hezbollah have begun discussing a joint national strategy to fight terrorism as well as the 9-month-old presidential stalemate.
Raad also scoffed at the March 14 formation of a National Council. “There are in Lebanon those who form national councils when it’s too late. It is inevitable for those to extend their hands and review their commitments because they are unable to take the country to the axis to which they belong,” he said. Raad’s remarks came a day after the March 14 coalition marked the 10th anniversary of its founding with the creation of a National Council designed to reassert its multisectarian nature and a warning that the Lebanese state was no longer able to ensure the continuity of its institutions due to Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Syria.
A political blueprint, announced by Siniora at the end of the coalition’s conference held at the BIEL complex in Beirut Saturday, also warned of Iran’s expanding role in the region, accusing Tehran of inciting a Sunni-Shiite conflict in order to serve its interests.
The conference drew around 400 key March 14 figures, including Nader Hariri, chief of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel, the coalition’s lawmakers and former ministers and MPs.
“The March 14 parties have decided to establish a March 14 National Council as a framework comprising parties, independents and the civil society with all its bodies and form a preparatory committee tasked with proposing the March 14 action program for the next stage,” Siniora said after announcing the coalition’s political manifesto.
He said the preparatory committee would draft the council’s bylaws and call for a general conference to approve them within a two-month deadline.
Referring to the National Council, Siniora said: “We are today launching new dynamism which, if it cannot stop violence in this stage, can at least reduce its effects and pave the way for ‘a peace intifada’ that has become today essential for our presence in a country and a state.”
Fares Soueid, the coordinator of March 14 Secretariat General, said after the conference that every person who attended would be automatically assigned as a member of the council’s general assembly.
The creation of the National Council is seen as an attempt by the March 14 coalition to re-emphasize its multisectarian nature amid a wave of religious extremism sweeping across the turbulent region.
“We meet to tell the Lebanese, Arab and international public opinion that we have stood fast and preserved a multisectarian, diversified and modern civil movement. We have made achievements in some fields and made mistakes in others. But we stood firm in our resolve and faith in a united Lebanon as a country of common coexistence, freedom and justice,” the March 14 leaders said.
Reiterating the coalition’s struggle for freedom and sovereignty, the statement said: “We want to decide Lebanon’s future with our hands, rather than leave this future as a hostage of an empire here or a dictatorship there, or a negotiation card in the hands of others.”
Taking an indirect swipe at Hezbollah’s arsenal, it added: “The future of Lebanon belongs to the Lebanese. We will not abandon the trust of defending it and defending our freedom, our Constitution and our independent state which must have sole monopoly over the use of force and arms according to the law.”
“We in March 14 do not want to defeat anyone, but we will not allow anyone to defeat us,” the blueprint said. “What we want is for all the Lebanese to return to Lebanon’s state, not under the conditions of a sect, party or a specific regional power, but in implementation of the Constitution, starting with the election of a president.”
The March 14 leaders accused the Syrian regime of being at the root of terrorism exercised by Islamist militant groups which are threatening Lebanon, the Arab region and the entire world.
The blueprint blasted both Iran’s role in the region Hezbollah’s military involvement in the war in Syria.
“Everyone knows the role of Iran and its regional arms across the Arab world, at the forefront of which is Hezbollah which is starting wars here and there,” they said. “Because of this intervention, Lebanon is no longer safe from this swelling violence. The state is no longer able to ensure the continuity of its institutions and stands incapable of finding solutions.”
“The Persian project is seeking to plunge the region into a war by fomenting a clash between Sunnis and Shiites in order to serve its interests and put the card of the region’s stability on the international negotiation table,” they said, referring to the ongoing negotiations between Iran and Western powers over its nuclear program.