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Thursday, May 27, 1999
Ottawa, Canada May 27th, 1999
Title: Peace in Lebanon and Peace in the Middle East
His Excellency Amine Gemayel
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
Statement to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade House of Commons, Ottawa, Canada May 27th, 1999
Honorable Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee, Good morning.
I am pleased to appear here to share with you my thoughts on conditions in Lebanon and how they relate to larger questions of peace in the Middle East
I welcome this opportunity not only because you are esteemed parliamentarians, but also because I deeply respect the role that Canada plays in international relations, particularly its steadfast defense of democratic principles. Canada's current membership on the United Nations Security Council reassures people throughout the world who are struggling for human rights that they have an ally in one of the most important forums of world politics. Furthermore, your country has earned the gratitude of governments and peoples in the region for its leadership in the Middle East Peace Process. One manifestation of this leadership has been Canada's exemplary participation in the Refugee Working Group (RWG) established in January 1992. Finally, Canada's commitment to UN peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon has been deep and ongoing, as demonstrated by the involvement of Canadian personnel in the Truce Supervisory Organization from 1954 to the present, in the Observer Group from 1958 to 1959, and in the 1978 Interim Force.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee,
My homeland of Lebanon has a long tradition of peace, democracy, and tolerance. Lebanon is also the crucible of the Middle East in which the region's diverse political dogmas, religious tenets, and cultural trends interact in a dynamic fashion. In the course of history Lebanese society has sometimes exploded in episodes of communal and religious conflict, however, most of these instances were the result of foreign meddling. Any Middle East peace that aspires to be comprehensive and lasting must also guarantee a genuine peace for Lebanon, a peace that is just and restores the very sovereignty and independence of the country .I must emphasize the point: we cannot envisage a just and lasting peace in the Middle East if Lebanon is excluded from meaningful participation in the process.
Fortunately, the Israeli-Egyptian Camp David Accords of 1978, the 1993 Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO, and the Israel-Jordan treaty signed at Wadi Araba in 1994 have laid the foundations for a broader peace. With the election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister of Israel, a real window of opportunity has opened for the achievement of peace between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.
For the Lebanese people, this opportunity carries both great promise as well as grave peril.- The promise of peace rests in the fact that it forms the essential foundation of Lebanon's very existence as a viable nation. This is true because as long as Israel and Syria remain in a state of war, they will view Lebanon's people, resources, and territory as strategic assets to be exploited.
For the Lebanese, the peril of peace resides in the fear that it will be achieved at the expense of their sovereignty and national will. If I appear before this Committee in a state of anxiety, it is because I am manifesting the national anxiety felt by the Lebanese people, who fear that their country might be the victim of an unjust peace rather than the beneficiary of a true peace.
The Lebanese people fear one form of peace because they do not want that peace to mean the compromise of their cherished nationhood and traditions such as democracy and tolerance. The Lebanese fear that their cause will be sacrificed on the altar of Realpolitik, and that their nation's destiny will be confiscated as a prerequisite for peace between stronger regional powers. Lebanon's representation at future peace negotiations must be genuine, and to be genuine it must reflect the freely expressed will of the Lebanese people. As with any free and sovereign people, only the Lebanese can define their own national interests, and only the Lebanese can secure them by means of an independent diplomatic strategy.
Today, Lebanese territory is occupied by two foreign powers. In the south, Israel has unilaterally declared, enforced, and maintained a self-styled "security zone". This region is patrolled jointly Israeli troops and an Israeli-sponsored militia known as the South Lebanese Army. The brutality of the Israeli military garrison in Lebanon was demonstrated in 1996, when the Israeli Defense Forces carried out what they called "Operation Grapes of Wrath." During this operation, Israeli forces conducted a massive bombardment of positions allegedly held by anti-Israeli guerrillas. Whatever number guerrillas may have been killed or neutralized, what we do know is that the Israelis shelled a UN compound in which hundreds of innocent civilians had taken refuge. Dozens of people were killed, including women and children. These are the kind of threats to life and limb that the Lebanese people experience on a daily basis.
In addition to foreign occupation, we know that Lebanon's national institutions are under extreme duress. We know that Lebanon's Presidency, Prime Ministry, Cabinet, Parliament, and Armed Forces are all under the sway of a dictatorship in Damascus. And we know that Syria's pervasive influence over all aspects of Lebanese political life -enforced by means of assassination, disappearances, arrests, forced exile and physical coercion - is inconsistent with the true aspirations of the people.
In the words of the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report published in February 1999: "The relationship with Syria does not reflect the will of most Lebanese citizens." I quote from this authoritative source not because of its American origin, but because it represents a synthesis of State Department materials as well as documents prepared by the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and grass roots human rights organizations inside Lebanon.
While there is a Lebanese government in Beirut that nominally oversees Lebanese national affairs, true power in the country is wielded by Syria and its overt and covert agents. The Lebanese administration is a cynical, expedient structure dedicated to promoting Syrian interests under the guise of what purports to be Lebanese national policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs,
You need not accept my analysis of Syria's intention to control Lebanon. For confirmation of the situation as I have described it, you need only review the persistent calls £or the creation of a "Greater Syria" that have been made by leaders in Damascus since the 1940s. At long last, the current Syrian government has fulfilled these historic ambitions by effectively turning Lebanon into a Syrian province. For President Assad, the only task that remains is to legitimize Syrian control of Lebanon by means of upcoming regional peace negotiations. These negotiations may well fix geopolitical alignment in the Middle East for hundreds of years. Thus, as the Lebanese know well, the very future of their nation is at stake.
The reality of Syrian domination of Lebanon was confirmed by no less an authority than the official radio of Damascus. In a May 22nd broadcast Syrian state radio urged the new Israeli Prime Minister to negotiate with Lebanon and Syria simultaneously since, and I quote from the Syrian text, "the two are unified." Thus, for the time being Lebanon as a sovereign and independent country exists only in the hearts and minds of its patriotic citizens.
I would like to turn your attention to a particularly dangerous episode in recent Lebanese history that has undermined the country's demographic equilibrium. In 1994, the government of Lebanon published an official decree, a copy of which I have with me today, that is 1,200 pages long. The text of this massive document consists entirely of the names of families that have been granted, with the stroke of a pen, full Lebanese citizenship. The decree includes absolutely no explanatory or background material describing who these people are, what their place of origin is, or why they are entitled to Lebanese citizenship. In fact, the decree does not even list individual names; it includes only family names, so there is no way of knowing for sure how many people it benefits.
Some have estimated the total number of persons covered by the decree to be at Least 500,000. If so, that means that a minimum of 500,000 new "citizens" have been absorbed into a Lebanese population of about three million. To convert these figures into 1996 Canadian population statistics, it would be as if five million naturalized citizens suddenly joined 29 million Canadians with no information or justification provided by the government.
So with this maneuver, the Syrian-controlled Lebanese government engineered a one-sixth increase in the country's population, a feat accomplished by means of an executive edict for which there is absolutely no precedent in Lebanese law or tradition. Obviously, the implications of this demographic attack on the Lebanese nationality are profound. To take just one example, these new "Lebanese" have been permitted to vote in the country's local and national elections, obviously tilting the electoral balance in favor of pro-Syrian candidates. The citizenship decree was immediately challenged in the courts, but to date the competent tribunal has failed to respond to the complaint in any meaningful fashion.
In a December 1996 address in Washington DC, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy outlined your government's policies toward Lebanon. He stated that Canada strongly supports the following procedures, and I quote: "the sovereignty of Lebanon; the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 425; respect for the provisions of the Taïf Agreement; and extension of the authority of the Lebanese government to all its territory".
I would like to address briefly each of the policies cited by Foreign Minister Axworthy, and explain how utterly far from achieving them we are today. First, the sovereignty of Lebanon has never been in greater jeopardy. Lebanon today exists within a brutal framework of occupation and dictatorship. What we have in Lebanon is merely the appearance of sovereignty and stability .But the false security and peace that prevails in Lebanon should fool neither this Committee nor any foreign observer. History demonstrates that such J'security/1 is not durable over the long term.
In this regard, we can turn to the case of Yugoslavia, which for decades appeared to be an exemplar of stability under Marshal Tito. However, a decade after his death, Tito's creation splinted into a series of bloody ethnic wars, the latest of which we are witnessing in Kosovo. When viewing the tragic images of hundreds of thousands of Kosovo refugees fleeing from massacres and ethnic cleansing, my thoughts turn to my own country, which I know could very well suffer a similar fate. Just as the death of the strongman Tito unleashed the forces of conflict in Yugoslavia, so I fear that the inevitable passing of President Assad from the scene might lead to a similar cycle of strife in Lebanon.
Second, UN Security Council Resolution 425 was passed in 1978 in the aftermath of an Israeli invasion of Lebanese territory. 425 stipulates that Israeli forces must withdraw from Lebanese territory and states that they should be replaced by UN peacekeepers. Lebanon has been prevented from negotiating with Israel on the basis of Resolution 425 because Syria does not want an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon until it also gives up the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967. As a former President of Lebanon, I would like to go on record as stating my sympathy for the argument that Lebanon and Syria, as Arab powers and neighbors, must coordinate their strategic policies. However, Syria's diktat barring any and all expressions of independent Lebanese will violates the most fundamental principles of sovereignty, and thus it is unacceptable.
Third, according to the provisions of the Taëf Agreement signed between Lebanon and Syria in 1989, Syria should have redeployed its military forces away from Beirut and Lebanon's heavily populated coastal areas to the Beqaa' Valley .To date, Syria has failed to honor this commitment, and its 35,000 troops in Lebanon still enjoy free rein throughout the country, except for Israel's self-declared "security zone" in the south. Because of the complex and technical nature of Syrian deployments in Lebanon, I will not go into further detail in this statement, but I can answer any questions that the Committee may have regarding this matter.
Fourth and finally, regarding the extension of the authority of the Lebanese government to all the territory of Lebanon, the entire thrust of my testimony demonstrates that the very opposite is the case. In fact, the Lebanese government enjoys virtually no liberty of action on any of its territory, including the Presidential Palace itself. Incredibly, as we have seen, the Lebanese regime has even conspired with Syria to disrupt the country's demographic balance and artificially implant a vast pro-Syrian constituency inside the country.
In conclusion, distinguished Chairman and Members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I urge you to reject the path of expediency and accommodation. The guiding principles of Canada's policies as outlined by Foreign Minister Axworthy in 1996 are still valid and vital. Canada, as a member of the Security Council and a leader in the Middle East peace process, must actively assist the Lebanese to regain their national independence. Should you abandon Lebanon, than your country would fail to live up to the great moral principles that have made Canada, in terms of promoting democracy and human rights, a true global superpower.