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Monday, April 26, 1982
Lebanon's role in the quest for peace in the Middle East
* * *
Lecture given at the Centre for International Affairs
Harvard, 26 April 1982
At a time when the cause of peace has increasingly become a goal sought by all par¬ties in the Middle East, what justification can there be for a situation in which Lebanon finds itself, at the end of the twentieth century torn apart a prey to intestine strife?
For a whole century Lebanon bent all its efforts towards leading the peoples of the area towards rationality and enlightenment, and strove unwearyingly to establish the principles of cosmopolitanism, democracy, tolerant nationalism, secularism and mod¬ernism, in An Arab milieu, still laboring under the yodel of political oppression, out¬worn tradition, and obsolete ritual
Lebanon it was that contributed sig¬nificantly to the creation of anew outlook and way of thinking for the Arab in modern times, partly in collaboration with Western cultural and religious missions (Anglican, American, and French Jesuit), but partly also inde¬pendently of such influence and on her own initiative.
Is it fair, then, that Lebanon, with this noble record to her credit, should sink now in a welter of blood, at this time when her past efforts are just beginning to bear fruit in an acceptance by the peoples of the area of the need for future relations among them to be governed by openness, cordial exchange, and complementarity.
I feel it imperative at the outset of this discussion to draw your attention to this appal¬ling paradox -that Lebanon which was for so long the promoter of humanistic values, should at last be afflicted by a cataclysmic upheaval. However, the same Lebanon that was capable of creating profound changes in the outlook and way of thinking of the peo¬ples of the Middle East, guiding them in the ways of harmony and reconciliation when ambition and hatred were the rule of the day¬-this same Lebanon will assuredly, by the tes¬timony of its past and the potential of its pre sent, one day provide the model for peace in the area.
The Indispensable Role of Lebanon in the Middle East and the World
We believe that the only realistic and indeed feasible peace is a Middle Eastern peace. It must needs be based on the prin¬ciple of co-existence, and not on a balance of terror- the balance of arsenals and con¬tending ambitions. What we seek is a peace founded on a balance of values -the balance of complementarity.
We should err, and err grossly, were we to put our faith in a international peace -a peace concluded by other states or political regimes. True peace in the Middle East should be inspired by none other than the Lebanese model of dynamic co-existence. The co-existence of diver’s creeds within the boundaries of one country provides the model for the peaceful co-existence of a community of divers peoples or nations. Such a peace is a 'popular' peace -a peace in the service of the people -as distinct from a peace serving the interests of states and regimes.
In terms of the present conflict what we are saying is that in an area where peace is sought between Jewish and Muslim blocs, there is no escape from recognition by all concerned of the possibility of co-existence among Muslim, Christian and Jew on a per¬sonal level. Here then is the importance of Lebanon, for how can the Jew be expected to pursue a policy of openness with his Muslim neighbor if he is not convinced that such co-existence is possible, and that a successful and durable example of this co-existence is to be found in neighboring Lebanon between Christian and Muslim?
We believe furthermore that the role of Lebanon in this respect is in its own way at least equal in importance to its role in the other areas in which it is foremost in the field-such as the world of international bus¬iness, and the provision of technical know¬-how to neighboring states.
Lebanon then is indispensable to the peace process in the Middle East. This does not mean that Lebanon is the be-all and end-all in the Middle East. Lebanon is in fact one of three bulwarks in the area safeguarding peace and stability. These bulwarks are no figment of our imagination and have been a constant feature of history, both ancient and modern. they are the three main strategic regions which history has proved are the keys enabling whomsoever they fall to com¬mand the whole area. Whenever political alliances resulted in cooperation, pooling of resources, and coordination of efforts bet¬ween these three regions, the whole area would enjoy stability and prosperity. These three regions are: Lebanon, the Holy Land and Egypt. A reading of the history of the Middle East from ancient to modern times will reveal that whenever the Phoenicians, Canaanites and ancient Egyptians and their successors were able to settle their dif¬ferences, and enter into alliance, the whole area of what is now the Arab East would enjoy stability; whereas whenever relations among these three groups were disrupted, the area would be defenceless against the onslaught of hordes of invaders surging towards the Mediterranean from their homes in the East, bringing chaos and destruction in their wake.
Lebanon's claim to importance in the Mid¬dle East is based on neither military might, nor a wealth of natural resources, but on the distinctive role which it is here alone to play, the role which she played throughout history, and which she is called on to play now, more than ever before. What then is the nature of that role?
Lebanon is not and cannot be an isolated entity. Lebanon is a meeting point for the various components of the larger entity we call the Middle East as well as a meeting point between East and West. That Lebanon is par¬ticularly well qualified to play this role may be judged from the following:
Lebanon has long-standing and his¬torical links with most of the majority groupings in the area;
Lebanon has cordial links with the minority groupings in the area;
Lebanon neither harbors enmity towards any of the states in the area, nor does she have outstanding unsolved dif¬ferences with any of them.
It is therefore essential that whatever polit¬ical changes and developments shall take
place in the area, Lebanon should remain the link between the components of the new order, and that any future political develop¬ment should, in the first instance, and as its primary aim, strive to create.
A spirit of openness and com¬plementarity among all the groups in Lebanon;
A spirit of openness and com¬plementarity between Lebanon and all the other groups in the area;
A spirit of openness and com¬plementarity between the countries of the Middle East, and all the world pow¬ers that seek international peace and understanding and work for the general welfare of mankind.
The corollary of our thesis -and here a word of warning must be sounded -is that, if the state of turmoil in Lebanon is to remain, uncontrolled, the area as a whole will be engulfed by a devastating tempest. A tem¬pest such as this would never be suppressed by military might or the iron fist, but by the regeneration of man himself and the spon¬taneous exercise of self control on his part.
With this conviction, we, in Lebanon, have withstood terrorism and opposed destruction. We have struggled to regenerate Lebanon and restore it as a habitable home for man, and a model for human co-exis¬tence Peace in Lebanon will bring peace to the Middle East; peace in the Middle East will bring peace to the world.
From the very start of the outbreak of hos¬tilities in our country we have consistently rejected all interpretation- of the Lebanese question which we believe to be erroneous.
The Lebanese question is not a sectarian conflict between Muslims and Chris¬tians;
The Lebanese question is not a quarrel over the number of, for instance, Pales¬tinians living on Lebanese soil; or other subjects of contention of a temporary nature.
In a word, the Lebanese question is a reflec¬tion of a larger issue affecting the whole area . that is, the right of all its peoples to live in independent and sovereign states enjoying the respect of their neighbours, all this within a framework which guarantees the principles of complementarity in diversity.
Lebanon's problems reflect, to a very large degree, the problems afflicting the Middle East as a whole. The specific problems afflict¬ing the Middle East have their repercussions in the Lebanese arena. These are:
The failure and bankruptcy of the forces of the right to meet the demands and challenges of the new age;
The exposure of the falsity of the forces of the left, and their collapse;
The absence of the ideology of cordial exchange and complementarity.
Therefore, in order that the Middle East, and more particularly Lebanon, should not fall into the vacuum created by the absence of the ideology of complementarity -the vac¬uum which is symbolized by the malignant spread of armed gangs and militias -there is no alternative but for Lebanon to reassume her indispensable role and provide the new political dimension destined to become the hallmark and cynosure of the policies of the new day. This dimension is none other than the adoption of the principles of openness by the peoples of the area to one another, with the aim of achieving that complementarity which enables each and every group to find self fulfillment, while remaining in complete harmony with one another; in other words achieving unity in diversity.
To summarize the foregoing; it can be said that the Lebanese question, within its Middle Eastern framework, is, in the final resort, first, the coexistence of diverse groups; and sec¬ond, the forging of anew constructive ideol¬ogy.
Lebanon's Self Discovery
Lebanon has made considerable progress along the road to self discovery. Witness the following:
A gradual recognition on the part of the state of the civic and human rights of the individual as a citizen, rather than the rights of the individual as a member of a religious grouping.
A parallel development of the demands of statehood, from the consolidation of national independence to the urgent quest for the establishment of the rule of law.
A concurrent progressive change in ideology from nationalistic ideals to the principles of secularism and cos¬mopolitanism.
These achievements bespeak the unflinch¬ing conviction of the Lebanese people of their right to enjoy freedom and security. We are, of course, aware that right from the founding of the state of Greater Lebanon, many attempts have been made by various inter¬ests to impose any number of political orien-tations upon it. These attempts which Leba¬non has successfully resisted have included such multifarious options as 'Muslim Leba¬non', 'Christian Lebanon', ' Arab Lebanon', 'Syrian Lebanon', 'French Lebanon' and 'Mediterranean Lebanon'. In this connection al-Kata'ib may with reason take pride in their
past record: for the space of half a century, they alone were the champions of 'Lebanese Lebanon'.
There is no doubt that the baptism of blood and fire from which the Lebanese groupings are emerging has effected fundamental changes in their attitude towards the state in the direction of a final acceptance of the exis¬tence and reality of a Lebanese national entity. As a matter of fact, the attitude of the Lebanese Muslims towards Lebanon, since the foundation of Greater Lebanon in 1921 has undergone radical change- and they are now coming to regard Lebanon as a defi¬nite national home. Following are the land-marks of this new attitude on the part of the Muslims in Lebanon:
In the twenties and early thirties of this century the Muslims in Lebanon were opposed to the state of Lebanon, expre¬ssing preference for a union with Syria.
In the 1943 Pact the Muslims in Lebanon publicly declared their opposition to dependency on their Arab neighbours. This declaration however was charac¬terized by a continuing large measure of sympathy for the concept of Arab unity. It is worth mentioning too that the Arab states. realizing Lebanon's unique pos¬ition, gave official recognition through the Charter of the Arab League to Leba-non's distinct and unique character.
After 1958 a large proportion of the Mus¬lims of Lebanon began to see Lebanon as an entity in itself separate from the other Arab states, but standing firmly in its Arab environment. This position was embodied at the time in the concept of 'National Unity'.
In the wake of the recent strife and its repercussions, we are witnessing an awakening on the part of the Lebanese Muslims, which has so far found expre¬ssion in condemnation of some of the more unacceptable practices of the Syrians and Palestinians on Lebanese territory and opposition to those Arab policies which seek to promote their own interests at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese. Here at last are the Muslims speaking of 'absolute allegiance' to Lebanon.
Three distinct stages, then, can be iden¬tified in the growth of a sense of national commitment on the part of the Lebanese Muslims: First, outright rejection; then, the
first stirrings of patriotic feeling; finally, ack¬nowledgement of loyality towards Lebanon.
What this means in essence is that all the Lebanese groupings now both recognize and uphold the Lebanese national entity-the Lebanese national home But what is needed in Lebanon today is a state. Such a state must be constructed upon scientific and objective principles; it must be puissant, capable of providing peace and security; it should offer equal opportunities to all its citizens; it should implement a decentralized, integrated development programme which shall ensure conditions of economic and social stability, while giving full consideration to demog¬raphic and other related problems Such a programme should aim at three central objectives.
Development of the citizen Development of the provinces
Development of the country as a whole
What is needed today is a state which is able to shoulder its responsibilities and play its destined role in the area In my firm opin¬ion it is only to the extent that political con¬ditions reflect the principle of openness bet¬ween the peoples of the West and those of the Middle East, and only to the extent that this principle replaces confrontation between the West and the Arab East, that Lebanon will find stability.
The time bas come for Lebanon to set her¬self free from the tug-of-war between East and West, and for the Lebanese to rally round one unifying principle which is Lebanon above all. Once this unifying principle is established they will find themselves in a pos¬ition to enter into fruitful relations with both East and West: with the Middle East relations of interaction and complementarity; with the West relations promoting progress and development.
I am convinced that Lebanon will never achieve stability and regeneration unless and until she assumes her historic responsibilities and fulfils her role in the Middle East as a model for peaceful co-existence. For when¬ so ever Lebanon is heedless of these historic responsibilities she is devoured by internal strife.
The day is surely not far distant when the countries of the Middle East, after all the upheaval and turmoil of recent years will clearly see that the dismemberment of Leba¬non can only entail a greater loss for them and a loss for the West too.
For How Long Will Lebanon Remain an Arena for the Pursuit of Foreign Interests?
Despite all the analyses and interpretations given at one time or another to the Lebanese question, which have considered rightly or wrongly that the Lebanese question has its roots in sectarian conflict. class struggle or clashing nationalistic aspirations; despite all this I can confidently state that Lebanon has become an arena, nothing more than an arena, on which is played the game of peace and war in the Middle East in all its phases.
After four fruitless Arab-Israeli wars, the Middle East question has found in Lebanon the most suitable alternative arena, in which, the contestants-Israel, Syria and the Pales¬tinians- have free scope to do battle with one another, without themselves having to bear the direct consequences of their actions.
Israel: Israel's major role in the Lebanese conflict springs from the inter-relation of this conflict and the larger Middle Eastern prob¬lem; but has also been fostered by Israel's own efforts in this respect: involvement in Lebanon's southern frontier through the cre¬ation of Major Sa'ad Haddad's enclave; covert intervention in Lebanese political life.
Syria. Syria's role has grown in importance in recent years. It is as if the parties of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, upon the cessation of hos¬tilities, agreed to put an end to the military role of the frontier regions and to transfer the dispute to the Lebanese arena, where they could jockey for influence and position and scramble for the spoils of war at the expense of Lebanon and her people. Now, a secure border buffer state became, according to Israel a prerequisite of her own internal sec¬urity; now, the security of Lebanon became a prerequisite of Syria's own internal security, and indeed had been since the 1967 Arab¬-Israeli war. Furthermore, during the 1981 missile crisis, Syria enunciated the new pos¬ition that the security of the Beka’a valley was a prerequisite of her internal security. In this way the Beka’a valley became for Syria I what the southern border enclave is for Israel. From a wider perspective the Beka’a valley ful¬filled the Syrian foreign-policy objective of creating a Shi'ite -' Alawite corridor, separat¬ing the Sunnite community of Damascus from the Sunnite Palestinian groupings in Mesopotamia and their extensions in the Western Beka’a. Thus Syria's role in Lebanon is dictated first and foremost by her wish to protect her interests rather than fulfilling any far reaching ambitions.
The Palestinians: At the present time there remains to the Palestinians only the southern border of Lebanon as a viable military front. This is not because the southern border has any particular strategic importance, but only because it is the last remaining outlet for Israeli and Palestinian operations. The result of this situation has been that Palestinians have arrived in Lebanon in increasing num¬bers from the West Bank and from other Arab countries; so that now there is a total of some 500,000 to 600,000 Palestinians in Lebanon. A second result has been the stationing of U.N. security forces in the South and the extension of the international security belt with which Israel surrounds herself whether this be in Sinai, the South, the Golan or the West Bank¬ - for it is our expectation that this area will come under international supervision or con¬trol.
So much for the Palestinian role in Leba¬non. In the wider context of Arab politics, however, the Palestinians have come to take on the role of the vanguard of Arab national liberation. Against a background of Arab regimes characterized internally by dis¬sension and demoralization, and externally by incessant conflict and strife among them¬selves, the Palestinians are becoming the 'Cubans' of the Middle East, serving America in much the same way the Cubans serve the Soviet Union. This state of affairs has undoubtedly not come about through the operation of mere chance for it has resulted in the Palestinians being scattered throughout many states.
This distribution of Palestinian manpower and diffusion of energy in scattered areas and over vast distances, deprives them of the advantages of concentrated effort -whether Palestinian or Arab -against Israel. On the other hand the Palestinians themselves jus¬tify this state of affairs by claiming that it is necessary that Israel should be surrounded by a chain of battlefields from which they can launch their raids of liberation on the occupied homeland and their campaign of Arab national liberation among their bret¬hren.
From this brief survey of the increasing Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian involvement in the affairs of Lebanon, it can be seen that a solution for the Lebanese question is quite inseparable from a solution for the Middle Eastern question. By virtue of this connection between these two questions. Lebanon has entered, against its will, the so called 'game of nations', or as my countrymen prefer to say 'The Great International Conspiracy'.
Let it always be remembered then that there are two oppressed peoples on Leban¬ese soil who are also the object of a relentless war of attrition, threatening not only the peace process in the Middle East, but also endangering world peace. These two peoples are the Lebanese and the Palestinians.
By contrast the Jewish people have obtained for themselves conditions of peace and security; the Arab world too, and par¬ticularly Egypt, have obtained comparable conditions for themselves either in the framework of the Camp David accord in the case of Egypt, or by the provisions of other
treaty agreements whether these be short¬-term or long-term.
Alone, the Lebanese and Palestinian peo¬ples have been unable to obtain for them¬selves similar conditions. The world has given other peoples peace and security at the expense of these two. But as long as the Lebanese and Palestinian problems remain unsolved, and as long as an acceptable sol¬ution for them is not found, the Arab-Israeli problem will remain, and will continue to threaten peace in the area for the foreseeable future. Any solution to the Middle Eastern question which does not take into con¬sideration the Lebanese and Palestinian prob¬lems will be artificial, superficial and inef¬fectual; this is because, as we mentioned before, Lebanon, which has such great poten¬tial to showing the way to peaceful co¬-existence, also has as great a potential for spreading the scourge of war and destruction to many countries which at the moment would appear unaffected by what is hap¬pening in Lebanon. In the light of this under¬standing, we might do well to consider whether the real threat posed by the South of Lebanon is to the 'South of the Arab World', the vulnerable and dangerously inflammable oilfields of the Arabian Gulf.
The Need for a Strong and Efficient State in Lebanon
It is imperative that this new war of which we have spoken -a war of attrition waged within the boundaries of a single nation by its own people- should not spread to other lands in the area. It is true that over the past thirty years, we have witnessed wars of attri¬tion, but they were of a different character: they were wars of attrition against particular regimes (the 1956 and 1967 assaults on the Nasserite regime; the prolonged and debilitating engagement in Yemen between those dates; the exhausting succession of coups d'états in Syria during the 1960's, crowned by the defeat of 1967; the Kurdish insurrection in Iraq, and the demand made on the state's resources in suppressing it).
All such wars of attrition must cease. And our firm belief is that the accords should be the harbingers of peace to all those who impatiently await it; it is unfair that Egypt and Israel should remain the sole beneficiaries of the accords.
Despite the undesirable interrelation of the Lebanese and Middle East questions, we believe that it is incumbent upon the Leban¬ese people to draw up a peace plan of their own, in which, we suggest, the following three principles should figure prominently.
First: that tolerant co-existence of the var¬ious confessional groups in our society is essential for the survival of Lebanon; that such a co-existence should go beyond the earlier phase of a sort of neighbourly toler¬ance between these groups to a new phase of complementarity within a creative and dynamic national framework. Separate as we may be in our individual religious identities, we must all merge and unite in the crucible of a shared national identity.
Second: that democracy is most suitable System to the structure of Lebanese society. It is inconceivable that other political sys¬tems- the monolithic, one-party state, any of the various forms of dictatorship, some form of theocracy -should have any chance of success in Lebanon. Freedom, specially as expressed in some form of controlled liberal government is the very backbone of Leban¬ese stability.
Third: that an independent democratic Lebanon is an essential component of the area. At the same time Lebanon cannot sur¬vive unless it interacts with its immediate environment, both enriching and being enriched by the cultures and civilizations of many lands. Her relations must in fact be governed by the principles of openness to, and complementarity with, all the various social and ethnic groupings in the area. The importance of Lebanon's unique role in the area must be stressed: neither endowed with plentiful, natural resources, nor the inheritor and expansionist legacy, having never desired to build for herself a military or economic empire; she is above all a country with a role and a mission to the people, races and nations of the Middle East. She is a peacemaker, and a 'safety-valve' against war and turbulence in an otherwise explosive area.
Lebanon must reassume her distinctive role by setting and example of constructive political dialogue; of the peace that is based on tolerance and that understanding which will finally remove the roots of conflict among the peoples and nations of the world. As the end of the twentieth century approaches Lebanon can be seen to have emerged as the 'protagonist of reason' in the area, just as it emerged as the 'eloquent tongue' of the area at the end of the last century when it took the lead in defining the Arab Renaissance.
In order that Lebanon may play her role it is essential for her to build a strong and efficient State, guided by anew outlook and more up-to-date way of thinking in methods of government and administration. It is no longer permissible for Lebanon to be gov¬erned in terms of seeking to preserve the
status quo as it was in the past, when our policies were merely policies of buying time. Today there is a pressing need to introduce wide-ranging changes in the political, social, demographical, economic, military and ideological fields which will enable the coun¬try to fulfill its mission and perform its dis¬tinctive role at home and abroad.
It is equally essential, if Lebanon is to pur¬sue this role efficiently that the mechanism of government should be capable of drawing plans on both a short-term and long-term basis. And there should be some means of guaranteeing that such plans be carried for¬ward from one administration to another. A strong Presidency in the final analysis is the only guarantee of the continuity of the State, its schemes and policies. In this way Lebanon will be enabled to continue to play her dis¬tinctive role to bring about the changes that will ensure peace and prosperity for the reg¬ion.
A Historic Opportunity
Throughout its history Lebanon has never taken up arms against any of its neighbours; and it behooves her neighbours in their turn to respect Lebanon's sovereignty and inde¬pendence and refrain from any action that might harm her interests. Lebanon must regain her freedom and independence, and these must be safeguarded against friend and foe alike. For Lebanon which refuses to be a centre of conspiracy against any of its neighbours may, with all the greater reason refuse to be a centre of conspiracy against its well-being and survival.
A unique and historical opportunity now presents itself to all the friends and allies of Lebanon, as it does to the Lebanese them¬selves to rally around the Lebanese national entity and to work for its consolidation. For if the last seven bitter years have shown any¬thing, it is the genuine tenacity with which the Lebanese, all Lebanese, regard their home¬land, and the firm faith which they have in the authority of the State -a tenacity and a faith which endured in the face of all-but irresistible temptations, and enormous pressures exerted by the enemies of Lebanon
* * *
For the past thirty years, the Middle East has endured untold woes and tribulations. the flood of oil in Arabia Deserta has mixed with the flood of blood on Mount Lebanus The time has now come for the Middle East to set behind it sanguinary games of war and destruction, and forge a new era based on brotherhood and complementarity. For this to happen, Lebanon must first emerge out of the darkness of her days, whole and regen¬erated, and play the distinctive role which must be hers in ushering in the New Era.