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Thursday, February 8, 2007
Threshold for Regional Stability
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
Remarks Delivered at the
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
8 February 2007 1
It is an honor to participate in this Director’s Forum at the Woodrow Wilson
International Center for Scholars. This Center is a great venue for respectful
dialogue and reasoned debate and is recognized as such throughout the world.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Wilson Center, which operates
under the skillful direction of Lee Hamilton and Michael Van Dusen. As cochairman of the Iraq Study Group, Mr. Hamilton again demonstrated why he
enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of America’s wisest statesmen.
The Centrality of Lebanon
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Middle East region is desperately in need of peace.
Most obviously, the Middle East needs peace in Iraq and in Palestine.
Additionally, intensifying sectarian tremors threaten to tear open fault lines
throughout the Arab world.
Given the realities of persistent and widespread conflict, what justifies calling
Lebanon, as I do today, “The Threshold for Regional Stability?” The answer to
this question begins with an understanding of how the Lebanese situation is
central to the conditions in the Middle East and beyond.
The centrality of Lebanon derives, I believe, from three key factors: cultural,
economic, and strategic.
First, taking the long view which history provides, Lebanon is intimately connected
to, and a part of, both the Mediterranean cultural zone and the Middle Eastern
cultural zone, and it also enjoys strong cultural links with Europe.
Because Lebanon is located at the point where three cultural zones converge, it
inevitably serves as a channel for social and political ideas. By the same token,
Lebanon is an incubator of socio-political ideas, trends, and movements that the
Lebanese, with their typical entrepreneurial spirit, “export” abroad.
In short, Lebanon is the crucible of the Middle East in which the region’s diverse
cultural trends, religious tenets, and political ideologies interact in a dynamic
Second, the centrality of Lebanon arises because it is both a crucial economic
entrepôt to, and a vital economic model for, the wider Middle East. 2
As an entrepôt, Lebanon’s status as a center of trade and transshipment has been
an established fact since the days of the ancient Phoenicians, and need not be
As an economic model for the region Lebanon has long operated the kind of free
market economy upon which the future prosperity of the Middle East depends.
Third and finally, the centrality of Lebanon rests upon certain immutable laws of
Under prevailing conditions, Lebanon is assigned by its powerful neighbors one of
two roles: either a classic buffer state that maintains a precarious neutrality, or a
proxy that is exploited to fight wars and conflicts not of its making and not in its
In the final analysis, as either a buffer or a proxy, Lebanon has been, is, and shall
be the subject of acute concern to neighboring, regional, and even global powers
and forces of all kinds, both states and non-state actors.
Lebanon as a Threshold
Today, it is my thesis that what has always been Lebanon’s peril—its status as a
buffer or a proxy—can be transformed into an opportunity, namely: Lebanon as a
threshold for regional stability.
How can Lebanon—this land of many religious groups, many ideologies, and
many imported turmoils—be transformed into becoming a threshold for regional
stability? The answer, of course, begins with achieving a solution to Lebanon’s
ongoing political crisis.
If the Lebanese people, along with the inevitable outside actors, achieve conflict
resolution in Lebanon, then this success will serve as a powerful example of how
other regional conflicts can be solved, or at least managed in a more peaceful
Beyond the potent symbolism that success in Lebanon will engender, any
Lebanese solution will depend on the kind of intense diplomatic contacts that can,
with relative ease, be redirected to other cases.
Although Lebanon as a buffer is less destructive for her people than Lebanon as a
proxy, the real hope for the country, and the region, lies in its potential to act as a
threshold for stability.
The Threshold Option and the Need for Internal Dialogue 3
If the “threshold option” is to develop, then Lebanon needs a sustained internal
dialogue coupled with vigorous international diplomacy. Certain positive steps
have already been taken on both tracks.
Internally, Lebanon’s ethnic and religious composition — which in certain respects
parallels the composition of other Middle Eastern countries like Iraq — means, that
its existence as a stable nation and state depends on coexistence between distinct
groups. Therefore, dialogue, mutual understanding, and reconciliation among
Lebanon’s various communities has been, is, and will be essential.
At this crucial moment in its history Lebanon is faced with two possible futures.
The first future — to which I am devoted with determination — is a path of
dialogue and reconciliation.
The second future is a road to destruction, and its first landmark is a kind of coup
d’état to unseat the country’s legitimate, democratically elected government. This
threatened coup is aimed not at a single leader or even a group of ministers;
rather, its target is Lebanon’s political soul—the system of constitutional
The destabilizing street actions now taking place in Lebanon are not akin to the
necessary, rough-and-tumble of parliamentary democracy. Rather, a political
minority is perpetrating these disturbances in order to subvert the constitutional
and legal norms of Lebanon.
Above the din of discordant, dangerous, and even deadly street actions now
wracking Beirut, the basic facts of Lebanese politics speak for themselves:
– As stipulated by the letter and the spirit of Lebanon’s constitution, the
current government led by His Excellency Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is
supported by a majority of the Lebanese parliament, itself a democratically
– The Lebanese administration is a representative government which
exercises its functions in accordance with all—repeat all—national and
international standards of democratic governance;
– Opposition forces enjoy absolute rights to free speech and to compete in
free and fair elections, and neither of these rights has been, or will be,
abrogated in any way;
– Opposition forces seeking to topple the Siniora government are not
motivated by democratic yearnings—a proposition that is absurd on its face
because they already enjoy every right and privilege that Lebanese
– The weapon of political assassination—which in a democracy is the
essence of terrorism—is wielded exclusively against members and
supporters of the government, including my own beloved son, Minister of
Industry Pierre Gemayel; 4
– The true goal of opposition forces, and their foreign supporters, is to block
the establishment of a U.N. tribunal to investigate the assassinations of
former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, my dear son Pierre, and others.
Perhaps the essential point for Americans, and all supporters of democracy, is that
the government of Lebanon is a representative government, therefore the
resignation of the current administration will not resolve but will only accelerate the
The other facet that must be stressed is that Lebanon’s political crisis is not
completely, or even essentially, a domestic phenomenon. Foreign powers are
applying enormous pressure in order to advance their own interests at the
expense of Lebanese national interests.
In this situation, Hezbollah and its allies do not deny that they benefit from Iranian
and Syrian support and influence.
The facts I have shared in this speech are not contested—and indeed are not
contestable—by any fair-minded observer. Lebanon is a democracy under grave
internal and external threat.
A moment ago I mentioned the necessity of dialogue, and it certainly is incumbent
on the government to respond to the legitimate grievances of the opposition, even
if such grievances are not always expressed according to democratic norms.
In the view of supporters of the legitimate, democratically elected government, the
solution to Lebanon’s political crisis is to start the process of reform by having
parliament elect a new president of the Republic.
A new incumbent in the presidency will restore that office to the dignity and
authority it should, by rights, enjoy. With this major step towards stability in place,
all Lebanese parties can then work together to form a new government of national
unity and reconciliation.
What neither the government of Prime Minister Siniora, nor its supporters in
parliament and the country at large, will accept is an end to the U.N. tribunal to
investigate Lebanon’s cycle of political assassinations. This international tribunal
is essential to preserve both Lebanon’s national security and the physical security
of Lebanese politicians.
Without national security there is no sovereign state, and without physical security
there is no democratic system. The U.N. tribunal can help preserve both and is,
Within Lebanon and also regionally, talks to settle the Lebanese crisis continue at
a high level. Although actions by the government’s opponents have come 5
dangerously close to inciting large-scale violent conflict, I am personally convinced
that no major figure in Lebanon today wants a return to civil war.
The Threshold Option and the Need for Regional Diplomacy
If the first track of Lebanon’s transformation into a threshold for regional stability is
internal dialogue, then the second track is international diplomacy. In fact, these
two tracks are not distinct but are one.
Perhaps more than any other nation, Lebanon is a “foreign policy country” in that
its domestic affairs and external relations cannot be separated from each other.
Indeed, some of the most promising initiatives for resolving the Lebanese crisis
have been articulated by external actors such as the Arab League and Saudi
A realistic assessment leads to the conclusion that until substantial movement is
achieved on some of the Middle East’s most intractable conflicts, Lebanon will
remain a proxy for struggle rather than a threshold for stability.
Other opportunities to start the process of building momentum may emerge from
the upcoming meeting of the “Road Map” Quartet in Berlin. Hopefully, the United
States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union will forge a new
determination to jumpstart peace diplomacy on an urgent basis.
In addition, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has called for the next meeting of the
Arab League to take place in his capital, Riyadh. It will be recalled that in March
2002, as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, His Royal Highness took the lead in
drafting what came to be called the “Arab Peace Initiative.”
The upcoming Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia may provide an opportunity to
further develop the Arab Peace Initiative, whose terms, including the following,
remain valid as the basis of a peace process:
– “Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967”;
– “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem”;
– “The acceptance of the establishment of a Sovereign Independent
Palestinian State on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of
June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza strip”;
– “[Arab countries] consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a
peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the
– “[Arab countries] establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this
SOURCE: Website of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Washington,
(available at [http://www.jordanembassyus.org/arab_initiative.htm]). 6
A major Lebanese stake in the Arab-Israeli peace process concerns the status of
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. For decades, a national consensus has existed
in Lebanon against the permanent residency of Palestinian refugees in the
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my
thoughts, and I would be happy to take your questions. Before doing so, however,
I would like to reiterate my main theme: Lebanon as a threshold for regional
I began by articulating three factors that place Lebanon at the forefront: cultural,
economic, and strategic. My analysis in this regard can and should be a subject
Not subject to debate, however, is the fact that Lebanon is periodically thrust into
the epicenter of regional and, indeed, global politics. It certainly was during my
presidency back in the 1980s.
As political analysts we must ponder the question: “Why is it that a small nation of
less than 4 million souls tucked away in the farthest corner of the Arab world
excites the acute, intense, and sustained interest of state and non-state actors
from all over the Middle East and indeed from all over the world?”
I submit that the reason for this extraordinary condition is that world recognizes
that Lebanon is a threshold whose destiny reverberates far and wide.
For this reason, may Lebanon emerge from its travails in a condition that will honor
the vision of its founding fathers: as a constitutional democracy where personal
freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion, are ingrained in
the political culture.
It is as a democracy—an Arab democracy—that Lebanon will make its greatest
The Lebanese people, including my family, have paid a high price for their
commitment to Lebanon’s independence and democratic values. Having seen my
brother and son perish, I pray that Lebanon will reemerge as a sovereign, healthy
democracy that can be a threshold for regional stability.