Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Walid Joumblatt has been focused on southern Lebanon. The Druze leader was amongst the first to warn against the risk of dragging Lebanon into the conflict that has been raging since Oct.7.
Nearly two months have passed since the war started, and the retired Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader still fears further escalation on the southern border, where Hezbollah has established a quasi-support front for Hamas.
But at a time when Lebanon is, according to its caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, “being pressured to implement Resolution 1701 [of 2006] in its entirety,” while Israel is pressing to push Hezbollah north of the Litani River, Joumblatt believes “this is not the right time to call the resolution into question.”
Between Hezbollah’s stance that “Resolution 1701 is now behind us,” and those who want to abide by the UN declaration, we asked Joumblatt what he thought.
Q. You warned of the risks of escalation in Southern Lebanon early on. Do you think it is still possible to implement Resolution 1701?
A. I still have the same feeling of fear. Because the slightest misstep could lead us into war. But at a time when the fighting in southern Lebanon is raging, this is not the right time to call Resolution 1701 into question. I am keen to make it clear that we are in favor of implementing this resolution. But that depends on the opposing camp. We cannot simply ask the residents of South Lebanon who are being bombarded daily not to respond (and therefore to respect Resolution 1701), without asking Israel to do the same. We are in favor of implementing the resolution, but the opposing camp must also respect it.
Q. The latest visit of the French president’s special envoy to Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, focused mainly on extending the term of office of Army Chief, Joseph Aoun. Do you think the French approach to this issue is the right one?
A. I certainly do. Because it is clear that in the absence of a president of the republic, we cannot appoint a successor to the army chief. And given that the Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai has a clear position on this issue, the best solution is to extend Joseph Aoun’s term of office pending the election of a new head of state.
Q. How are we to interpret the fact that Le Drian — and behind him the international community — is now openly advocating the extension of Joseph Aoun’s term of office?
A. I’m not talking about the international community. We saw (its failures) in Gaza. It’s France (that is raising the issue) and that’s enough.
Q. During his visit to Beirut, Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed the urgency of holding presidential elections, especially during a period of war. Do you share this sentiment?
A. First of all, the discussion with Jean-Yves Le Drian focused solely on the future of the army. In fact, I feel that this issue is much more urgent today than the presidential election. This election has been relegated to the back burner, particularly halfway into the war. How is it possible to keep the army without a chief in such circumstances?
Q. What message do you have for the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader, Gebran Bassil, the main opponent of Joseph Aoun keeping his position?
A. He needs to stop his nihilism.
This article was originally published in French in L’Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
- Born and died during Gaza war, infant twins are buried in Rafah
- Hochstein expected in Beirut on Monday to try to 'defuse the conflict' in south Lebanon, according to Bou Saab: Gaza war, day 149
- The Rubymar has 'sunk': Here's what we know about the Lebanese-operated ship hit by the Houthis