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Is diplomacy an option?
Fractured Lebanese-Syrian ties have crippled both nations in the past. But will the results of the June 7 parliamentary election instigate diplomatic relations between two?
July 9, 2009 9:11 by Nathalie Bontems
These agreements are not only binding at a political level, they also have a vast economic dimension, giving Syria a strong hold over Lebanon. One example is the sharing of the Assi river waters, giving a maximum 80 million cubic meters (MCM) to Lebanon out of its total of 400 MCM. Depending on who leads Lebanon, agreements on trade, customs, and telecoms between the two countries will be tackled or left alone.
Maybe more importantly, other decisive aspects of these relations lie in crucial issues that are still left pending: what position will the new parliamentary majority adopt regarding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), established by the UN to try the killers of Hariri? The Lebanese Parliament hasn’t yet ratified the Memorandum of Understanding that will define the capacity of the STL, and the opposition is still musing over the power it would give the international community over Lebanese institutions and indicted individuals.
With the release of the four generals, Syria – which consistently denied any involvement – seems off the hook. But any attempt to put it back under suspicion, via Hezbollah for example, as a recent report by German paper Der Spiegel suggests, could be perceived as a way of igniting sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi’as.
Similarly, the two countries still have to agree upon a clear definition of their common borders in order to ascertain Lebanon’s sovereignty. The smuggling of goods and weapons is yet to be addressed, but the clear definition of borders would also allow Lebanon to settle the issue of the Shebaa Farms, which are still occupied by Israel (on the grounds that it hasn’t yet been proven that these territories are Lebanese). As long as Syria refuses to provide Lebanon with proof of its sovereignty over Shebaa, the farms will offer the perfect justification for Hezbollah’s arsenal, and continue to bolster Syria’s indirect hold onto Lebanon.
First published in Trends magazine.
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