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Political crisis

Is Hezbollah sponsoring behind-the-scenes negotiations between Bassil and Berri?

A package deal in the making would be a barter ensuring that the parties involved emerge as vanquishers: The revival of the Supreme Council — a judicial body tasked with trying presidents and ministers — in exchange for the Constitutional Council accepting the FPM’s appeal to invalidate the amendments to the electoral law.

Is Hezbollah sponsoring behind-the-scenes negotiations between Bassil and Berri?

Nabih Berri meets with Gebran Bassil at Ain al-Tineh. (Credit: Lebanese Parliament archive photo)

President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, want to revive the Mikati government ... as soon as possible. That is why they are reportedly negotiating with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in a bid to reach a Lebanese-style compromise solution, under Hezbollah’s umbrella.

The package deal in the making would be a barter ensuring that the parties involved emerge as vanquishers: The revival of the Supreme Council — a judicial body tasked with trying presidents and ministers — in exchange for the Constitutional Council accepting the Aounist party’s appeal to invalidate the amendments to the electoral law.

Najib Mikati’s cabinet has not met since Oct. 12. That day, the Shiite duo raised the specter of the resignation of Shiite ministers if cabinet does not dismiss judge Tarek Bitar from his post heading the Lebanon port explosion probe.

Since then, the Shiite ministers have been boycotting cabinet meetings, leaving it unable to function. Complicating matters further is the [diplomatic] row between Beirut and the Gulf monarchies over Lebanese Information Minister George Kurdahi’s controversial remarks on the Saudi role in the war in Yemen. While Hezbollah opposes Kurdahi’s resignation, the prime minister and several protagonists have called on him to resign.

The presidential camp can no longer tolerate this stasis and its impatience with it. The government paralysis has become a burden that the mandate can no longer shoulder, a few months before the end of the six-year presidential term in October 2022.

“We will not stand idly by in the face of government deadlock, which is a crime,” Bassil said in an interview with Ad-Diyar newspaper, published Saturday. “The cabinet must meet, otherwise it would be better for it not to go on.”

The FPM’s political bureau, which met Saturday, also called for “freeing the cabinet from the considerations that impede its action,” and described cabinet paralysis as “a constitutional violation and an injustice done to the Lebanese.”

Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai voiced the same ire during his Sunday sermon, saying, “It is unacceptable for the cabinet to continue to be held hostage by this or that party, while it represents the main authority responsible for the rescue.”

Is there a back-room barter arrangement?

Despite the FPM’s strongly worded remarks, away from the spotlight it is holding discussions in a bid to find a way out of the crisis. L’Orient-Le Jour learned from several sources that it is about a broader political compromise involving a “settlement” of the dispute over Bitar, and the disagreement over the recent amendments to the electoral law between Berri and the Aounist camp.

The package deal would involve concessions made by both sides: The FPM would ensure the existence of a quorum for holding a parliamentary session to debate whether to refer cases against politicians in the Beirut port disaster to the Supreme Council.

Such a compromise would limit Bitar to questioning security and administrative officials. In return, a source familiar with the current discussions added, authorities would accept the appeal to invalidate the amendments to the electoral law, which the FPM lodged before the Constitutional Council.

If the discussions bore fruit, the parties involved would emerge victorious: Bitar would be stripped of the political side of the probe into the port tragedy, as the Shiite parties demand. As for Bassil, he would have succeeded in having the elections held in May 2022, not in March, and the Lebanese abroad would be allotted only six separate seats, rather than casting their ballots alongside Lebanese in the country for all the 128 MPs in Parliament.

The statement that the FPM’s political bureau issued Saturday had already set the tone: “The FPM believes that any problem related to the probe into the port blast should be resolved in Parliament and by the relevant judicial authorities.”

This is a shift in the position of the Aounists, whose MPs, among others, did not show up in Parliament for a session to discuss the port blast probe. “This is not a deal with Nabih Berri, whom we lashed out at in our statement on Saturday [on the government paralysis issue]. But it is time to revive the institutions, including Parliament and the cabinet,” Eddy Maalouf, MP for Metn (FPM), told L’Orient-Le Jour.

However, he ruled out the possibility that the FPM would vote for the referral of politicians to the Supreme Council. This is likely to provoke the anger of Christian public opinion at the Aoun-Bassil camp.

For now, it is only about guaranteeing that there will be quorum for the session. In order to secure the required votes, Berri will have to count on the support of Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri. Nothing has been decided yet.

In addition to the price that must be paid, international pressure mounts to end the crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron and Pope Francis discussed the Lebanese issue during their meeting at the Vatican Friday. The file will also be on the agenda of Macron’s meetings with Saudi and Emirati officials during his visit to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in early December.


President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement, led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, want to revive the Mikati government ... as soon as possible. That is why they are reportedly negotiating with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in a bid to reach a Lebanese-style compromise solution, under Hezbollah’s umbrella.The package deal in the making would be a barter ensuring that the parties...