STATEMENT OF AMIN GEMAYEL
FORMER PRESIDENT OF LEBANON
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
* * *
June 25, 1997
Good Morning Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to appear before your Committee today to convey to you my perspectives on the current situation in Lebanon, which I was proud to serve as president from 1982 to 1988.
I come here today, Mr. Chairman, to deliver a message to the Congress and the American people on behalf of the people of Lebanon. This message is that, if we are left alone to govern ourselves, we have the ability and the will to build a harmonious, united society based on shared values and 6,000 years of history. We have the determination to create a modern country--at peace with itself and its neighbors--whose foundations are democracy, liberty and a belief in market economics.
Lebanon is a country under occupation. In the South, the Israelis continue their zone of occupation. Most of the rest of the country is occupied by the Syrians and the central Government is controlled by them. As a result, our sovereignty is violated and our security is threatened by outsiders sponsoring, funding, arming, condoning and encouraging a proliferation of Lebanese-proxy and foreign-terrorist groups who further destabilize our country and the region.
Continued Israeli occupation is not only offensive to our national sovereignty and our people's security, it also serves as an excuse for others, especially Syria, who undermine Lebanese sovereignty. I personally believe peace between Lebanon and all its neighbors is in the interests of the Arabs and Israelis as well as the Lebanese. Our role should be viewed as a buffer to ease tensions not a fuse to ignite them.
As president I took substantial risks for peace. Among my most important initiatives were
* The May 17, 1983 agreement between Israel and Lebanon; and,
* The 1987 abrogation of the 1969 Cairo Accord, which had granted the Palestinians the right to operate in Southern Lebanon.
These decisions had the unanimous support in Parliament and demonstrated national consensus toward my policies, but did not produce the results I wanted because outsiders with a vested interest in the status quo thwarted my efforts.
With the same commitment, I urge the Israelis to withdraw from Lebanon now. Israel has repeatedly stated it has no territorial ambitions in Lebanon and is only concerned with the security of its northern border. Their presence in Lebanon does not and will not preserve Israeli lives or foster regional peace. Continued Israeli occupation merely serves as cause around which the opponents of peace can rally.
The Lebanese will never be able to reassert their own sovereignty so long as Israel continues to occupy southern Lebanon.
The Syrian role in Lebanon is most pernicious. The Syrians are widely praised for ending the Lebanese war. This is like praising an arsonist for putting out a fire he set.
While many of the problems of Lebanon have been caused by our own shortcomings, Syrian activities exploited and expanded our differences. I truly believe that without Syrian interference and intervention, we Lebanese would have resolved our own problems.
First of all, Lebanese nationalists, Muslims and Christians, have been intimidated, exiled and murdered:
* Among those murdered were Muslim religious leader Hassan Khalid and political leader Rashid Karami, Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, my own brother, President elect Bashir Gemayel, and others.
* Other nationalists such as myself and General Aoun, who regrets he cannot be here today, and others have been exiled from Lebanon and not allowed to return and participate in the Lebanese political process.
* Lebanese attempts at reconciliation have been blocked by Syrian action. I include for the record the minutes of a 1988 meeting between my former foreign minister and the American ambassador describing Syrian intervention to thwart my efforts as president to reach an agreement among the various religious groups. Agreements were reached, but Syrian intervention forced leaders to change their positions.
A most serious problem is the Syrian sponsored subversion of Lebanese institutions. During the entire time of conflict, we Lebanese maintained our Constitutionally established institutions. For example, when my term in office came to an end, many argued I should stay beyond the mandated six year limit.
I refused, because of the damage this would have done to our institutions.
In contrast, this appreciation for the sanctity of Lebanese institutions has been disregarded by the current Syrian sponsored regime which almost casually set aside the Constitution to extend the president's term of office. In so doing, they cast aside our basic safeguard against dictatorship. And with a mere stroke of a pen, the government has granted citizenship to nearly half a million aliens--which would be equivalent to 45 million in the U.S.--using a power which most previous presidents only used to grant under one hundred citizenship requests each during their entire terms.
The international community is standing idly by and watching as Lebanese sovereignty, democratic values and basic human rights are eroded in Lebanon. All the time, they fool themselves that Lebanon is better off under Syrian control.
I am here before you to say that is simply wrong.
The international community harms its own interests as well as those of Lebanon by turning a blind eye to the fate of Lebanon. Most apparent are the use of Lebanon by:
* Drug traffickers; and,
Neither the present Government of Lebanon nor the Syrian occupying forces are held responsible. Creating a free zone for drug traffickers and terrorist groups to act without restraint is in no one's interest.
The Lebanese based terrorists serve as instruments of policy for those in the region opposed to peace. Ignoring the terrorist presence in Lebanon allows normal diplomatic relations to continue with states that support terrorism. This may produce short term benefits, but in the end, regional peace is being undermined, and that is not in anyone's interest.
A free and sovereign Lebanon has the greatest interest in eliminating terrorists and drug traffickers from its own soil.
The international community is not well served by allowing one of its members to have its sovereignty undermined by a neighbor and makes a grave mistake in ignoring the fate of Lebanon.
Peace in the region cannot be enduring if all the people do not benefit. For the Lebanese, that means the elimination of foreign occupation and undue foreign influence.
For the future, we are determined to work toward a peace based on full sovereignty and full self-determination, and I believe the conditions are ripe for the international community to intervene to establish a lasting peace.
For this purpose, I would suggest the following steps:
• First is the full implementation of the 1989 Taif Agreement which stipulates a Syrian pullback to East Lebanon away from Beirut; this Agreement has the full support of the United States;
• Second must be the withdrawal of Israeli forces from South Lebanon according to UN resolutions 425, 426 and 520;
• Third, the Syrians must withdraw from all of Lebanon; and
• Fourth, all Lebanese must be able to participate in free elections held under international supervision.
I am here before you today to urge the United States to support actively a policy based on the principles on which this great nation was founded and to urge rejection of the policies of accommodation and compromise of principle in order to placate our more powerful neighbors. A policy which sacrifices American moral principles, in the end, cannot succeed and will not bring peace to the Middle East.