As the country was still reeling from the shock of the Kahaleh incident — the violence arising after a truck-load of Sunday’s incident in Hezbollah munitions overturned and violent deaths ensued — the Taif Agreement took center stage in two contrasting speeches.
The first of these was delivered by Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai in his Sunday sermon, during which he revisited the core principles of the 1989 agreement, which subsequently laid the foundation of the Third Republic.
“We cannot coexist in a nation where multiple states, several regular armies, diverse authorities, and conflicting sovereignties exist,” Rai said. “It is imperative that we implement the Taif Agreement comprehensively, and adhere to the international community’s resolutions concerning Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
Rai underscored the inherent connection between the agreement’s implementation and the state’s exclusive control of arms. That same day Mohammad Raad, the leader of the Hezbollah bloc, established an uncompromising correlation between the concept of “resistance” and the agreement.
“Those who don’t want the resistance don’t want Taif,” Raad declared.
How can we interpret the apparent contradiction arising from these men’s statements of, especially given Christian resentment of Hezbollah, whose weapons-laden truck overturned on Kahaleh’s infamously twisting road?
What does the Taif Agreement stipulate?
Back to Taif
In a chapter titled “The sovereignty of the Lebanese state over its entire territory,” the text states:
“Since Lebanese factions have agreed to establish a strong and capable state founded on national accord, the government of national consensus shall formulate a comprehensive security strategy spanning one year. The objective of this strategy is to progressively expand the authority of the Lebanese state over the country’s entire territory, employing its own armed forces.”
“The broad outlines of the plan shall include the disbanding of all militias, both domestic and foreign, and the surrender of their weapons to the Lebanese state within six months. This timeline shall commence subsequent to the endorsement of the national consensus document, the election of a president, the establishment of a government of national consensus, and the adoption of political reforms within the confines of the constitutional procedures,” the text continued.
In a separate chapter titled “Liberation of Lebanon from Israeli Occupation,” the agreement specifies “the reinstatement of state jurisdiction to Lebanon’s internationally recognized borders.”
Consequently, the text appends, “This signifies the implementation of all requisite measures to liberate all Lebanese land from Israeli occupation, the establishment of state control across its entire territory, the deployment of Lebanon’s military within Lebanon’s internationally recognized borders, and action to fortify the presence of United Nations forces in the southern areas of Lebanon to guarantee Israel’s withdrawal and enable the return of security and stability to the border area.”
Is Hezbollah’s armed wing a militia?
While these chapters sequentially address the dissolution of all militias and the reinstatement of state control over all Lebanese territory, including southern Lebanon, Hezbollah’s interpretation of Taif appears to rest on two assumptions: first, its not identifying as a militia; second, an expansive interpretation of the phrase “adoption of all necessary measures to liberate the territory.”
According to the (pro-Hezbollah) March 8 camp, when referring to “disarming the militias,” the text pertains to the militias involved in the civil war (those of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), Lebanese Forces (LF), Kataeb, various Palestinian factions, etc.). It does not refer to Hezbollah, despite its fierce 1988-90 confrontations with its current strategic ally, the Amal Movement.
“Taif addresses the liberation of territory by all available means, yet this does not imply that Hezbollah has the prerogative to construct a parallel military force, nor that the ‘resistance’ (a term absent from the text) should be exclusively entrusted to a specific party or community,” remarks researcher Talal Husseini. He happens to be the younger brother of former parliamentary speaker Hussein Husseini, who participated in formulating the Taif Agreement.
Researcher and political scientist Wissam Laham takes a more extensive view, emphasizing that the term “Lebanese militias” undeniably pertains to Hezbollah.
“The discourse certainly involves addressing Israel, but not with the intention of delegating this responsibility to an armed faction,” he said. “This is a retroactive interpretation.”
This view is shared by a lawyer and former minister who, deferring to partisan sensibilities, spoke to L’Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity. While the source acknowledged the ambiguity in the text, he said that the rhetoric regarding armed “resistance” originates from an “interpretation [that] fluctuates according to politics.”
“This is the epitome of distortion,” said LF spokesperson Charles Jabbour, in reaction to Raad’s statements.
In a press release issued the day after Raad made his comments, the LF reminded the public that, while Hezbollah now positions itself as the guardian of the Taif Accord, in 1989 it had vehemently rejected the agreement, arguing that it symbolized, the press release said, “an extension of the First Republic and, as such, an extension of the influence of political Maronitism.”
“All provisions within the agreement and the constitution emphasize that it is the state that holds authority, not an Islamic resistance whose decisions are influenced from abroad [Iran] and whose control was perpetuated by the Syrian occupation,” Jabbour added.
The Kataeb party agrees with this view, emphasizing Taif’s clauses aimed to bolster the legitimate armed forces and were intended to enshrine the army’s monopoly over the means of coercion.
“Sovereignty cannot be partial or open to interpretation,” said Lara Saad, legal advisor to the Kataeb.
This stance is echoed by several Sunni and independent MPs as well as those affiliated with the protest movement. They all endorse the Maronite patriarch’s view, which advocates the dismantling of Hezbollah’s quasi-autonomous state.
The Free Patriotic Movement’s view of resistance
Caught in a challenging situation since the tragic incident in Kahaleh, which resulted in the death of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporter (Fadi Bejjani), party leader Gebran Bassil swiftly called for the formulation of a national defense strategy, a notion his party had not advanced during the tenure of former president Michel Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law.
Seeking to navigate the ambiguous agreement text, the FPM affirmed its backing for the “principle of resistance” on a strategic level.
“The Taif Agreement does not explicitly address resistance, nor does it deny it. It’s a principle that requires consensus among the people themselves,” said Antoine Constantine, an FPM political advisor.
“We advocate a collaborative defense strategy encompassing all existing forces,” Constantine added. “This strategy should, however, not contradict the principle of sovereignty and should secure national consensus.”
In other words, whatever form this resistance takes, it must not sow division among the Lebanese people.
The FPM emphasizes that even prior to the party’s participation in the executive branch (1991-2008) all administrations, with their diverse constituents, concurred on ministerial proclamations that supported the tripartite formula people-army-resistance.
Husseini and Laham argue that these statements possess “no binding significance” and should not be regarded as a reference.
These statements, they say, remain the product of narrow party interests or political pressure.
This story originally ran in French in L’Orient-Le Jour, translated by Sahar Ghoussoub.