Lebanese flags adorn the Champs- Elysées Avenue from the é arc de triomphe é until the Concorde place. It is not quite a habitual event. But on this very day – May 28- France would host an important guest for two days : Mr Emil Lahud, president of Lebanon. It is a visit that has been expected since two years, according to some sources – more precisely, since
Lahud arrival to Baabada palace, on October 1998, when president Chirac invited him to visit
France. But that first invitation was not to be fulfilled. As regards the reasons of that delaying,
There is no agreement between the commentators. Some people say that the Lebanese home policy is the real responsible of the put back, for at that moment the first Hariri government was being dismissed and Mr. Selim Al Hoss took over in rather a bad ambiance full of tension
And varied accusations exchanged between Baabada and the former Prime Minister. That was not appreciated in Paris, and Lahud was not encouraged to respond to the French invitation either. On the other hand, it was said that Paris was unsatified with the dismissal of Mr.Rafic
Al Hariri, not only because his economic program was backed by the financial and political spheres in France, but also because he was considered as Mr. Chirac personal friend.
Thus, it is perhaps not a mere coincidence that this presidential visit happens just after the return of Mr. Hariri as head of the Lebanese government. Moreover, it sounds as if during his last visit to Paris on February, Hariri arranged a plan with the French high authorities in order to prepare the way for Lahud. Is this to mean that in nowadays’ Lebanon, the Prime Minister might have more ascendancy outside the country than the President himself ? Or does it rather mean that Paris is working its way through the Lebanese political jungle in managing the contradictions between the different protagonists, so that they fit in with its goals ? The same question may be also considered as regards the complicated problem of the
Syrian- Lebanese relationship, where Paris wish to have a word too, if not directly , then at least because the French capital is actually harbouring all the activists who oppose the Syrian ascendancy in Lebanon, which they view as equal to occupation.
However, the last meeting between Mr. Chirac and Mr. Lahud occurred in Canada during the September 1999 francophone summit. And though the invitation was still available, they likely preferred to postpone the visit without giving further explanations. Yet, it appears that Mr. Hariri disgrace was for something. Thereafter, new events occurred, such as the death of Hafiz Al Assad, and Paris needed time in order to get a clear insight in the politics of the region. The election of General Sharon as Prime Minister and the breakdown of the peace process shattered the French diplomatic hopes. Paris was actually supporting Barak, and it is well known that neither the Elysée nor Matignon welcomed Sharon. These are the reasons behind the new diplomatic behaviour in France. Thus, Bachar Al Assad as well as Sharon are expected in Paris next days. Between the two visits, an agreement – negotiated by
Hariri- is to be signed between the European Union and Lebanon.
The current diplomatic activism has to be situated within the French- and likely the European- new framework, which suggests another relocation on the Middle-East political map. é Le Monde é noticed, for instance, that Mr. Lahud visit happens whereas é the region is on a vulcan and the tension between Hizbullah and Israel has reached a climax é, as wrote
Mona Naim (May 26). It is known also that Israel threatened several times to attack the Syrian positions in Lebanon, since Damascus is held responsible for Hizbullah guerilla warfare. Lately, some sources pointed to Moscow as a possible messenger used by Israel to convey precise threats to Syria. é Le Figaro é noticed that the Lebanese are not eager to deploying their army all along the southern boundaries with Israel, although the latter has left this territory since a year.
However, in an interview with this same newspaper – published the day before his arrival to Paris – Mr. Lahud declared that Shabaa territory is a part of Lebanon as it has been noticed to the UN in a recent memorandum . This was confirmed also by the Syrian themselves, notwithstanding the Israeli pretensions. In this process, he pointed to the unbalanced american positions as regards the help lately accorded to the Lebanese and the Israeli after the latter withdrawal from the South : Washington – he said- is freezing the $ 30 million it had accorded to Lebanon, while giving Israel $450 million . On the one hand, it punishes Lebanon, and on the other it rewards Israel for its incomplete withdrawal !
Now, has the Lebanese expectations met the French interests ?
The former continue to think that France – if not Europe – is able to put its weight in the balance in order to limit Israel belligerance. They think that what is today at stake does not concern disarming hizbullah, but rather pushing Israel to withdraw from Shabaa and the Golan and the rest of the arab territories occupied in 1967. Furthermore, the Lebanese think that they have paid enough for the bill of the israeli expansionism from their pains in the fifteen years long civil war, not to speak of the siege of Beirut during the 1982 israeli invasion. Thus, it is up to Europe and the USA today to bear some responsibility ; and, to begin with, the most important consideration consists in dealing with the true and harsh reasons that caused the inflammation of the region and its chronic insecurity.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.