Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal from participation in Lebanon’s mediation efforts is on the grounds that it has become too dangerous. This leaves Turkey and Qatar still seeking solutions. The press in Lebanon say conditions are explosive, and the media there are describing negotiations as a last-ditch effort.
Tension has been building for months between the Hariri family and Hezbollah, bearing on the tribunal given the task of shedding light on the assassination of the late Hariri senior. One week ago, the resignation of Hezbollah ministers brought down the government in Beirut. The timing coincided with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s visit to the White House.
The Hezbollah resignations appeared as a signal to the US administration supporting Hariri, as well as to the prime minister, who was seen as under Washington’s influence, as well as that of Damascus.
This was a way for Hezbollah to delineate itself from Lebanon’s powerful neighbour Syria, showing they could act independently. The Syrians at the same time as the Saudis have been long been involved with Lebanon’s leaders in trying to find common ground to avoid a deepening of the crisis.
From Hariri’s point of view, meeting Obama was also a showing he would act autonomously from Riyadh.
Lebanon lies within a sphere of multiple influences. The Hariri family is supported by France as well as the US and Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah under Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has Syria’s backing and Iran’s.
With the negotiations unraveling, Turkey and Qatar are left to take up the slack. Ankara and Doha look like last chance instruments in defusing a potential explosion of violence.
Their foreign ministers have alternated between talks with the Prime Minister in Beirut and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah. Yet he considers the tribunal on Hariri senior’s assassination as part of what he calls an Israeli-American conspiracy against him.
Prime Minister Hariri is not expected to agree to dissolve the tribunal, though he might accept concessions. Many fear the outcome if no compromise position is found between the rival sides.
Lebanon’s constitution provides for a sharing of power among its age-old religions and ethnicities. Yet the country lives with the risk of partition.