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Israel-Palestine: How Netanyahu Demolished the Plan A of the Peace Process

Related Post: Israel-Palestine - Netanyahu’s Two-State Magical Sidestep
Transcript: Netanyahu Speech on Israel-Palestine (14 June)

Netanyahu Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s carefully-framed speech on 14 June portrayed a peaceful Israel pursuing all necessary steps for a regional peace agreement.

It's when you read the speech more closely that problems emerge. Netanyahu’s priority of economic development rather than political agreements, Israel’s pre-conditions for peace (including no pre-conditions on Israel), and its political and social securitization are out of step with dynamics in the Middle East.

Netanyahu's speech was bolstered by developments  such as the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. Since the beginning of June, the tension in the West Bank has soared dramatically. After several Hamas members were killed by Fatah, a Damascus-based Hamas spokesman, Talal Nasser, called on Palestinians to fight the Palestinian Authority as though they were fighting the Israeli occupation. In response, the Palestinian police arrested 36 Hamas supporters in the West Bank. Hamas’s unsustainable and irrational steps were partly curbed by its chief in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, who complained instead about pre-conditions set by the Obama Administration. He declared that Hamas would not be an obstacle to the peace process if it was included as a partner in Israeli talks with the Palestinian Authority.

However, in the eyes of important actors in the international community, there is no legitimate ground for Hamas unless it confirms the conditions of the Quartet: recognition of Israel, ending terrorist activities and abiding by the past agreements signed by the PA. And Hamas will not issue that confirmation as long as Gaza and the West Bank are divided both geographically and politically.

Thus Netanyahu can rely upon the "existential threat" of a strong Hamas troubling Fatah in the West Bank and, more importantly, relying of the backing of a "potentially nuclear-armed" Iran.

There are, of course, issues beyond Hamas. How can there be a peace process with Fatah while settlements are still not frozen and the proposal of a demilitarized Palestinian state includes "ironclad security provisions" for Israeli security forces? How can Netanyahu foresee a real regional peace agreement without giving any concessions  to Israel's Arab neighbours, for example, when his Syrian colleague Bashar Assad has already declared that there will be no negotiations without the promise to return the Golan Heights to Syria?

For Netanyahu, the wonder of "Hamas" is that it can always trump these difficulties because of the overriding notion of Israeli "security".

Securitization of Israel’s Existence

The remarkable threats in Netanyahu’s speech were those of nuclear weapons and radical Islam. Because Iran is considered as the nexus of these two, it is the number one enemy for Israel. Radical Islam’s branches – Hamas and Hezbollah – follow:
The Iranian threat looms large before us, as was further demonstrated yesterday. The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons....Hamas will not even allow the Red Cross to visit our kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent three years in captivity, cut off from his parents, his family and his people.

The contrast to these menaces is the unique character of Israelis. They are the ones whose forefathers and prophets lived in the same lands where they now live; they are the only nation linking their state’s existence with religion and history. It is Israelis who suffered from expulsions, pogroms, massacres, and a Holocaust which has no parallel in human history. Despite these hardships, it was Israelis who formed their own state.

The threat of Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas endangers this unique "existence", word used three times by Netanyahu in his speech. Each time, "existence" referred not only to community but to Israeli institutions: “It is clear that any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people....On a matter so critical to the existence of Israel, we must first have our security needs addressed....Our people have already proven that we can do the impossible. Over the past 61 years, while constantly defending our existence, we have performed wonders.”

Netanyahu’s Investment in "Peace"

But how to deal with the issue that, while Netanyahu might have an emphasis on "security", others would be looking for "peace"?

In a speech where every word was selected carefully, “peace” was used on 43 occasions, 15 more times than Barack Obama invoked it in his Cairo speech. The word “war” was used seven times, once to highlight Israel’s success in the 1967 Six-Day War, six times to depict the ugliness of wars in general.

In addition, there were two references to the religion of the Torah and the prophet. This was to show one party in the conflict, Israelis, demanding peace not just in their political debates but also in their prayers. This religious commitment put forth Israel’s honesty when “the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own”. Israelis struggle for peace day and night while Arabs dismiss “the truth”.

Israel’s Pre-Conditions for A Two-State Solution under “The Road Map”

Netanyahu's headline statement, according to many in the Western media, was that he finally accepted "peace" through a two-state solution. However, the corollary of Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state is that Israelis will not accept the right of return of Palestinians who left their homes after 1948 war. His insistence, “The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel,” means that Israel will control all borders, reserving the right to intervene, in the name of both Israeli and Palestinian securities, with forces surrounding the entire Palestinian territories. This may also include Israeli defense of Jewish settlements and some military outposts inside the West Bank.

When all this is taken into consideration, as well as Netanyahu’s declaration, “Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel,” it is clear that the Israeli Government’s demands are distant from the "two-state" conditions in United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. In this case, the Road Map loses its meaning, even before parties agree on progress towards regional peace.

The Justifications of Preconditions

Netanyahu’s approach was a combination of religious belief and a “security” perspective to justify a position as necessary rather than illegitimate. He said:
The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.

This subtle move put a “history” of thousands of years above international law to establish the “unique” character of Israel. And it also ensured that the security perspective was not forgotten. Netanyahu set this up through a clear distinction between Israel, with its values and culture, and those who would always remain outside that ideal:
But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them.

And because Palestinians can never be part of the unique character, with its inherent "peace", security's conditions must be placed upon them from the outset of negotiations: 
Without these two conditions (the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the demilitarization of the Palestinian state), there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza… Without this, sooner or later, these territories will become another Hamastan. And that we cannot accept.

Once again, to give substance to the threat of the ideological-cultural outsider, Netanyahu invoked specific enemies, "In order to achieve peace, we must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into their territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us, or to make pacts with the likes of Hezbollah and Iran.”

The Future of Settlements

The problem for Netanyahu, entering this speech, is that all his definitions of a proper Israel and a potentially dangerous Palestine did not cover the in-between area: Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Therefore, he began by trying to pull those settlements back into "Israel", not geographically but on a higher cultural ground:
The territorial question will be discussed as part of the final peace agreement. In the meantime, we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements… But there is a need to enable the residents to live normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children like families elsewhere. The settlers are neither the enemies of the people nor the enemies of peace. Rather, they are an integral part of our people, a principled, pioneering and Zionist public.

On a less exalted level, Netanyahu had said: No Freeze on Settlements (see the follow-up to the speech in Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington).

But, to return to Netanyahu's attempted higher plane of discussion, he never referred to "the West Bank".  Instead, he used "Judea and Samaria", the Biblical expression used for the West Bank, three times. Once more, an eternal religious invocation --- one which can only be claimed by Jewish people --- was deployed to keep open the issue of "legitimacy" in a disputed area.

Indeed, "Judaea and Samaria" provided the foundation for Netanyahu's claim of no connection between Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and terrorist attacks:
Those who think that the continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, is confusing cause and consequence… The attacks against us began in the 1920s. We evacuated every last inch of the Gaza strip, we uprooted tens of settlements and evicted thousands of Israelis from their homes, and in response, we received a hail of missiles on our cities, towns and children… The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least advance peace, has up till now not stood the test of reality.

Putting the Burden on the Palestinian Authority

Netanyahu was clear, "The Palestinians must decide between the path of peace and the path of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamas.”

Given Netanyahu's refusal to make any concessions on the Israeli position, it is obvious that there can be no positive answer from the other side. The Palestinian Authority's leader Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Netanyahu’s speech as “sabotaging” peace efforts. Nemer Hammad, an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas said, "Netanyahu’s speech had not brought anything new."

Netanyahu and his Cabinet members knew that this would be the reaction. The speech was not meant to open negotations but to frame them in such a way that they could not be started. Why? The Israeli Prime Minister's strategy is to buy time and then, in more favourable political condition, returns to talks based on his agenda of the economic development of the West Bank. As he said in another part of his speech: “I call on the Arab countries to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it.”

Almost two weeks have now passed since Netanyahu's speech, responding to President Obama's original plan for Israeli-Palestinian talks.  The Plan B of a wider engagement between the US and Iran in the region, alongside or awaiting those talks, is now comatose after turmoil in Tehran. A Plan C, based on an anti-Iran rhetoric as well as changed relations with countries like Syria, may come into play.

All this, however, is speculation beyond immediate significance: the Netanyahu effect --- blending security, Israeli exceptionalism, and religion --- has been to take Plan A off the table.

The Latest from Iran (25 June): The Sounds of Silence

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IRAN FLAG2115 GMT: A slow evening, probably the slowest since the start of the crisis. There are still reports of "God is Great" from the Tehran rooftops but no evidence of significant public or private shifts.

Some activists are talking of a mass release of green balloons at 1 p.m. local time on Friday, which would be soon after the Supreme Leader has led the prayer service at Tehran University. The Iranian Government, however, continues to throw bureaucracy at the opposition; the Ministry of Interior has informed Mir Hossein Mousavi that a permit for a march will only be issued if one week's notice, in person, is given.

2000 GMT: The BBC has posted the video of its interview with the doctor who tried to save the life of Neda Agha Soltan.

1755 GMT: Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, who apparently had switched sides in the battle with the withdrawal of his complaint over vote fraud, has tacked back today. He has said that the withdrawal of his petition to the Guardian Council is not a withdrawal of people's concerns about the Iranian system. He will pursue the issue of the system's cruelty to people until he "gets results".

1735 GMT: Self-proclaimed geopolitical wizard Thomas Barnett, who conjured an "arc of instability" to help rationalise the 2003 war in Iraq, comes out with this defense of "the devil you know" today: "Ahmadinejad, with his record — again, in Nixon-esque fashion — for doggedly hating the regime's avowed enemies (Israel and America), could likewise employ a Nixonian reversal under the right conditions."

So let me get this straight: instead of working with the Presidential candidate (Mousavi) who said just before the election that he thought the Iranian rhetoric on Israel had been too harsh and that he welcomed international negotiations over any Iranian consideration of a nuclear weapons programme, Barnett prefers that the US work with a President (Ahmadinejad) who has been unremittingly hostile on Israel, who has frustrated his own diplomats, and who has put forth the notion of "Western interference" to deal with issues over his re-election? Idiot.

Sorry, that is inappropriate.

Amoral idiot.

1725 GMT: Report that large number of anti-riot police and paramilitary Basiji are preventing people from stopping at the grave of Neda Agha Soltan.

1720 GMT: Correction: contrary to earlier report (1410 GMT), Seyed Alireza Beheshti, editor-in-chief of pro-Mousavi newspaper Kamaleh, has not been released from detention.

1635 GMT: Who Killed Neda? Javan newspaper, associated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard, has declared that the expelled BBC correspondent, Jon Leyne, hired a "member of the rabble" to shoot Neda Agha Soltan.

1615 GMT: Hezbollah towing the line. Agence France Press reports, "Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Thursday accused the West of fomenting protests in Iran over this month's presidential election but added that it had no worries about the stability of its main foreign backer."

1525 GMT: We've received reliable information that prominent reformist politicians such as Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, a spokesperson for the Khatami Government, and Mostafa Tajzadeh, Deputy Interior Minister under Khatami, are under mounting pressure "to sign confessions and to appear on state controlled TV programs confessing to spectacular conspiracies against the national interests of Iran, in collaboration with foreign governments". Ramezanzadeh's wife yesterday conveyed her husband's message to the public to disregard any televised confessions that may be extracted from him or other leaders of reform in Iran.

1410 GMT: Report that Seyed Alireza Beheshti, the editor-in-chief of the pro-Mousavi newspaper Kalameh Sabz and the son of the late Ayatollah Beheshti (a key figure in the 1979 Revolution), has been released from detention. Also reported that 66 of the 70 faculty detained after their meeting with Mir Hossein Mousavi yesterday have been freed.

1330 GMT: Reports continue of clashes at Enqelab Square, with protesters setting a bus on fire and trying to push back riot police. Claims that tear gas has been used.

1215 GMT: Some demonstrators have tried to reach the site for today's protest, Vali-e Asr Street at Enqelab Square, but Iranian security forces are trying to block any assembly. Army helicopters are flying overhead.

1145 GMT: Fifteen minutes before today's demonstration was supposed to begin. Both CNN and Al Jazeera are now featuring the statement of Mehdi Karroubi's Etemad Melli Party calling off the memorial march: "Despite all the efforts exerted by the sheikh of reforms [Karroubi] to prepare a site for the mourning ceremony, the ceremony will not take place on Thursday."

1130 GMT: News services are picking up on the latest statement of Mir Hossein Mousavi, posted on his website. He calls on supporters to continue demonstrating but to show restraint. He blames those who rigged the election for the violence and bloodshed. Perhaps most significantly, in looking for clues to future political manoeuvres, Mousavi says his access to others is "highly restricted" and he is under pressure to abandon his demand for an annulment of the election.

1100 GMT: The Effects of the Crisis. Iran's position in Afghanistan may be one of the casualties of the current conflict. CNN's Atia Abawi reports, "Drove by a big poster of Neda in Kabul, across from Iranian Embassy. Pic[ture] of her death and Afghan TV crews interviewing people. Poster of Neda was larger than most presidential campaign posters in the city."

0950 GMT: Tantalising (unconfirmed) story of the morning: "Ali Larijani was threatened [with] impeachment by Ahmadinejad supporters in parliament. Hoseinian,Tehrani, and Resai threatened Larijani [with] censure. Previously Larijani said that its not fair the GC [Guardian Council] supports a candidate [Ahmadinejad]."

0830 GMT: The story, which we noted yesterday, that 70 faculty members were detained after meeting Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi is now circulating in the mainstream press.

0825 GMT: Ayatollah Montazeri, the one-time successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, has sent a fax to Agence France Presse, warning, "If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, complexities will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful." He urged the Iranian Government to set up an "impartial" committee with full power to find a solution to the election crisis.

0815 GMT: He Speaks. Via Fars News Agency, President Ahmadinejad has put himself back in the political arena, blasting Barack Obama for interference in Iranian affairs.

0700 GMT: On the BBC' flagship radio programme, Today, Jeremy Bowen has focused on the news --- which we noted yesterday --- that more than 180 of the 290 members of Parliament invited to President Ahmadinejad's "victory party" did not attend.

0600 GMT: A message on Presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi's website clarifies the postponement of today's march (see 0500 GMT). A spokesman says the memorial to those killed has been delayed by a week.

Iran: What's Happening? Sifting Information from Rumours on Twitter

NEW The Latest from Iran (19 June): The Known and the Unknown

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LATEST Video: The Protests in and Beyond Tehran

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IRAN FLAGOn "Anonymous Iran", Josh Shahryar has posted a summary of 16 points about the Iranian crisis. This is based on a thorough examination of stories circulated via Twitter --- "no news media outlets have been used in the compilation".

We've cross-checked Mr Shahryar's summary against our information --- from Iranian and international news outlets, the best of the websites covering the crisis, and contacts. We also have tried to assess the importance of the points: for example, without downplaying the other indicators, we think #16 on the political manoeuvres is the most significant, The notations in italics are our current assessment:

1. During the last protest in Tehran, several policemen have been spotted by protesters who were wearing green bands which is the color of the revolution. The policemen have told them candidly that they support them. [Unverified, although there is video footage of demonstrators mingling peacefully with police]

2. During the protests, on several occasions, Baseejis who have attacked peaceful protesters have been arrested on the spot by the police. This seems to have occured in several spots, yet it hasn't been a crackdown of sorts. A few cases only! [Unverified]

3. Several Baseeji militiamen have been spotted laying down their arms and going home after being asked to interfere with the protesters. [Unverified]

4. By far the biggest threat people are facing right now are plainclothesmen. They seem to be everywhere and are targetting people who are not in groups. These men have been mostly linked with Ansar e Hezbollah. [N.B.: This is a different organisation from the Lebanese Hezbollah.] They are responsible for beating people up, arresting people, threatening protesters, arresting reformists from their homes and such. [Verified from numerous sources]

5. So far, it has been confirmed that 15 people in Tehran and 32 people around the country have been killed. Hundreds more have been injured and in excess of 800 people have been detained. Among these there are dozens of reformists. Most of these arrests have been made by the notorious plainclothesmen mentioned above. [The casualty figures, especially outside Tehran, are hard to verify. The number of arrests can only be an estimate, although "hundreds" is indicated from numerous sources.]

6. During yesterday's protests, mullahs have been spotted joining rallies within Tehran and in several other cities. No one could confirm what the status of these Mullahs was or is within the clerical society, but their numbers have been very visible this time. [Unverified, but a number of clerics have been openly critical of President Ahmadinejad and the electoral process. See today's New York Times for an interesting analysis.]

7. Protests have occured not just in Tehran yesterday, but in Ahvaz, Mashhad, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Shiraz, Tabriz and EVEN Qom. [Largely verified, although we are checking the Qom claim.]

8. Pro-Ahmadinejad protesters' numbers have been greatly exaggerated by the state media in comparison to Mousavi's supporters' numbers. In reality, Pro-Ahmadinejad protesters were only a pocket full of people. Most of these people have been identified by other protesters as either people who work at government offices or people who were brought from the countryside. [Unverified and should be treated with caution. Television images showed more than a "pocketful" of people and the claim that their opinions are not legimitate should be considered with the same scepticism as the claim that opposition demonstrators are not legitimate in their protest.]

9. After downplaying the protests for days, the state-run media has finally started to announce news of the events a little more accurately. [Verified, although the state media is now trying to ignore the protests. See today's updates.]

10. Text Messaging is still down in Iran and internet is extremely slow. People are unable to get sattelite channels on their televisions. At the same time, police and plainclothesmen are going door to door and taking away people's satellite dish antennas. [Largely verified. We have only anecdotal evidence of the taking away of antennas.]

11. Mohsen Rezayee, one of the candidates, is going to declare his support for a reelection tomorrow. The fourth candidate, Mahdi Karoubi openly joined yesterday's rally. [Verified.]

12. A group of prominent officials within the Ministry of Interior have written a letter to the Guardian Council declaring that they have witnessed widespread irregularities within the voting and counting processes during the election. They have asked this matter to be investigated fully. [Unverified.]

13. As of today, not a single report of the military's intervention into the peaceful protests has been established. Not a single one. [Verified. Apart from a brief reports of tanks on the streets on Monday night, there has been no evidence of Iranian military challenging the demonstrations.]

14. Khatami and Mousavi have both asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate the involvement of the plainclothesmen in the violence that has been sparked during the protests. [Verified.]

15. Several eye-witnesses have seen non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbollah flags around the protests. These reports have been fully confirmed and are NOT a rumor spread by Israel. [Unverified and should be treated with caution. The accusation of "foreign" support is being used by both sides in the political manoeuvring.]

16. Finally, the big news. It seems that the Green Revolution has garnered the support of Hashemi Rafsanjani, Nateq Noori, Tabatabayee and other prominent clerics and politicians. The Rohaniyone Mubarez organization that which has in its ranks pretty much most of the clerics except for the ones in power and includes Mr. Rafsanjani and Mr. Noori has declared their support for the annullment of the election and holding of new elections. Ayatollah Montazeri has yet to declare clear support. [An important claim which is not untrue but is exaggerated at this point. Rafsanjani is clearly trying to mobilise opposition to President Ahmadinejad and the election outcome. We know that he was in Qom on Saturday, asking clerics to come out against the President, but we have no indication that he was successful with "most" of them. This is a key story which should be watched carefully in forthcoming days.]

[Enduring America is continuing to follow the situation in Iran very closely- for the latest, please subscribe to our updates.]

Lebanon's Elections: 10 Essential Lessons

lebanon-flag1I was going to write a follow-up on some of the ridiculous US-based analysis of Monday's Lebanese elections. Thomas Friedman, for example, passed ludicrous and headed towards appalling in his Wednesday column in The New York Times, while that paper's editorial board reduced the outcome to "a solid victory over Hezbollah...[and] a major setback for the militant group’s supporters in Iran and Syria".

On second thought, however, best to be positive. I think this evaluation by Rami Khouri, written for Agence Global and Middle East Online, is outstanding, not only in its reading of the results but its attention to the near-future: "None of this really mattered much...because the balance of power in Lebanon (as in the entire Arab world) is not really anchored in parliament, but in power relations that are negotiated elsewhere."

The Lessons of Lebanon's Elections

We can draw many lessons from the Lebanese parliamentary elections Sunday, which saw the selection of a new parliament reflecting almost precisely the same distribution of seats among the country’s two main political groupings as the pervious parliament (68 seats for the Hariri-led March 14 movement, 57 seats for the Hizbullah-Michel Aoun-led March 8 group, and three independents). Here are my conclusions about what happened and what it means:

1. The elections were important, but inconsequential. Why an individual, a party, or an ethnic-religious group decides to vote for one side or the other is endlessly fascinating and constantly evolving. It is also totally meaningless in Lebanon’s case, because the whole is more important than its parts. Power, governance and decision-making in Lebanon are defined by the crushing imperative of consensus-based rule, which means that any combination of majorities and minorities will always need to achieve consensus on major national decisions; drivers change, but the engine of this bus does not.

2. After Turkey, Lebanon becomes the second Muslim-majority country in the Middle East that can boast holding elections combining logistical efficiency with political credibility, including some surprise results that could not be predicted. Three cheers for Lebanese parliamentary elections.

3. None of this really mattered much, however, because the balance of power in Lebanon (as in the entire Arab world) is not really anchored in parliament, but in power relations that are negotiated elsewhere. The most important political contest in Lebanon happened in May 2008, not June 2009. Hizbullah and its armed allies won that brief battle on the streets, and power-sharing contours in Lebanon have been defined ever since. This is ugly stuff -- young men shooting RPG’s at each other in the city and mountain villages -- but in the Middle East the modern exercise of power, like the condition of most Arab statehood, consistently has been a messy endeavor.

4. The elections generate validity and credibility, not ideological triumph. The March 14 movement affirmed that its core values reflect those of about half the population of Lebanon -- though precisely what those values are remains slightly imprecise. Much of the movement’s success reflects its opposition to the March 8 forces that include backing from Syria, Iran, Islamists and others in the region who are often critical of the United States, Israel and conservative Arabs. We always knew that March 14 represented many Lebanese; now we also have proof that it is resilient and strong. But we do not know what it represents in ideological terms other than opposing the Hizbullah-Aoun alliance.

5. We have seen again that tribe triumphs policy. The massive turnout of Sunni voters seems to have been one of the decisive reasons for the March 14 victory. This is perfectly normal and legitimate; but it tells us more about the anthropology of blood ties among the human species than it does about the contestation of power in a modern society. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, March 14 and its Sunni core rose to the electoral and tribal challenge.

6. Swift-boating is universal. Just as George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004 by tarnishing him as a coward in the Swift boat incident in Vietnam decades ago, March 14 successfully frightened many voters with its theme that a Hizbullah-Aoun victory would dry up Saudi and American financial support for Lebanon and bring the economy to a grinding halt.

7. All politics in Lebanon is local, regional, global and cosmic. March 14 won and March 8 did not do as well as the pre-vote polls predicted because of a neat convergence of: a) local identities (Sunni, Shiite, assorted Christians, Druze, Armenian) battling to claim their share of the national pie in parliament, b) regional Arab players (mainly Saudi Arabia and Syria, and Egypt slightly) exerting their influence through their respective Lebanese partners and proxies, c) non-Arab regional and foreign forces (Iran, the United States, France, Israel) also backing their favorites, and, d) cosmic forces in the form of the Maronite church hierarchy constantly advocating for righteousness among voting Lebanese that would accurately mirror God’s will on Earth.

8. Key regional and global players started speaking and negotiating with each other in the past year, rather than using threats and subversion as their main form of engagement, which lowered regional tensions and thus prompted some Lebanese to see their future as one of calm, security and prosperity. It is a mistake to see the election results as mainly an American triumph or Iranian defeat, though elements of those views are relevant. Unraveling the distinct local, regional, global and cosmic strands of this election offers a better conclusion than a simplistic United States vs. Iran approach.

9. Fatigue matters. Some independent or undecided Lebanese voters clearly remembered the 2006 war, the 2007 Gaza war, and the May 2008 fighting in Lebanon, and did not want to put the country on a permanent diet of confrontation, bickering, resistance, warfare and destruction. March 14 successfully presented itself as the antidote to perpetual war.

10. The relative decline of Michael Aoun’s movement, while the Hariri-led, Sunni-based Future Movement and Shiite-anchored Hizbullah both held their ground or improved, suggests that tribes and triumphant armed movements will always out-perform one-man shows. Aoun is a historic phenomenon that may or may not persist. Shiites and Sunnis competing to preserve their communal power will be forces in Lebanon for a long time.

Lebanon's Election: Text of Hezbollah's Concession Speech (8 June)

nasrallahThe text of the speech delivered by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Al Manar Television after the Lebanese elections on 8 June 2009:

I take refuge in Allah from the stoned devil. In the Name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, The Lord of the world. Peace be on our Master and Prophet – The Seal of Prophets – Abi Al Qassem Mohamad Bin Abdullah and on his chaste and kind Household, chosen companions and all the prophets and messengers. Peace be upon you all and Allah's blessing and mercy.

Tonight I will move from the general to the private then I will end up with two general topics. Indeed I'll address you all in my speech which tackles the event we passed through together which is the parliamentary elections and its outcome.

First: I would like to congratulate all the Lebanese people with all their political parties, movements and groups on this great important national achievement.

I would like also to praise the popular showing at voting stations in all regions and from all sects what reflects a great political responsibility towards national causes and the present and future of this nation and people. This is indeed a very great positive point which must be lauded and which must be likewise stressed and strengthened because after all it sets a clear track that shows that we as a Lebanese people deserve to own this chance and to resort to this means in face of essential causes.

Second: I would like to thank all ministries and political, judiciary and security administrations especially the Lebanese Army and the security forces on their running of this process and on preserving security, stability and peace what gave a great chance for the Lebanese to vote and express their views. This is noticeable especially because these political, security and judiciary administrations were before a great challenge which is holding elections in one day. So despite the defects and flaws which took place and which indeed will be evaluated so as to be addressed later, we believe it was a major challenge and we believe that it was faced with great responsibility.

Third: I like to congratulate all the winners in parliamentary elections whether from the Loyalists or from the Opposition and in all parliamentary districts. They all must know that now they have assumed the responsibility of the people and the future of this country. So Inshallah they will live up to this assumed responsibility.

Fourth: We accept the results announced by the Interior Minister indeed while preserving the right of candidates in the various districts. If any of them has any information that enables him to appeal before the Constitutional Council, this would be a particular issue. As for the official results which were announced, we accept them with sportsmanship and democratic spirits. We also accept that the other contesting group – i.e. the Loyalists – has won the majority of seats in the parliament though the Opposition preserved its previous parliamentary position in sum (as it lost some districts and won others).
Indeed we accept the parliamentary majority. Well in previous ceremonies, I used to say that there is a difference between parliamentary majority and popular majority. The parliamentary majority might or might not be the popular majority. Anyway, we accept the parliamentary majority. As for the popular majority, it seems that needs centers for studies and statistics to review figures closely so as to know who gains the popular majority. I believe that we all can resort to the ballot boxes to help us in deciding the popular majority (as we resorted to ballot boxes to decide the parliamentary elections) and if most of the votes in sum were for the interest of the other party, I will accept that they are also the popular majority.
Now we accept the results regardless of our evaluation of the election process and the means used in this regard whether the huge expenditure which will be clearly illustrated within days, the sectarian, factional –and at times racial- incitement which was illustrated during the election campaigns days, the accusations and lies which aimed at intimidating the public opinion especially within some sects and some districts, (It is more precise to say that lying mills were used in this perspective) and the open and overt foreign interference. Anyway, I will not interfere in such an evaluation. I just wanted to point even if with hints to that. We will have our evaluation of the election process from A to Z as the other forces will make such evaluations but that will not influence our acceptance of the results.

In this framework and as we are talking about results and accepting results, I would like to point out two big lies (which have been prompted through the election campaign) that have been thwarted. As these points are directly related to us especially the Opposition and more precisely to Hezbollah, I feel that I am concerned in singling them out and clarifying these two points.
First the lie number one is the political rhetoric that has been exploited for months regarding the Opposition as seeking to cripple elections and ruining the political and security status so as to prevent elections from taking place. Then if the Opposition found out that it is losing the elections and not moving towards parliamentary majority while voting is taking place it will destroy the ballots and blur up the situation. Also if after counting votes or when results are announced, the Opposition will not accept the results and will challenge the parliamentary elections and consider them illegitimate and consequently push the country towards political, popular and security crises. This has been said if not from all Loyalist leaderships (to be on the safe side) from most of them.

Well today (Monday) here I am at your service. The results were announced and we are dealing with them normally. This is the first proof on the big lie invested in the elections campaign. The election day was normal, natural and excellent. The security status was excellent and stable. The turnout was huge. The vote counting was quiet. Results were announced and no problem took place. It was clear that all were fearful. I was following up with the Interior Minister – whom we address with a special salutation – while he was saying now we are over with the elections and the great event is issuing the results via vote counting. We have to accept the outcome because there was anxiety. This is the first point. We may say that this is one of the big lies which were invested in the election campaign. Now it fell.

No comes the second lie which is even bigger than the first and which was invested more in the election campaign. Well when I handle such points I don't mean to record lies to highlight the upcoming stage. We want to benefit from the past to highlight the future. In recent months, speeches, statements and interviews focused on how elections would be held while the resistance arms are still there. That means that elections are not fair; people are under pressure; they can't express themselves as this arm is imposing choices on the people; the people are not convinced in their choices. This also and to be on the safe side was said by most of the other party leaderships. They wrote articles and made lengthy interviews on this issue. Indeed if the opposition won the parliamentary elections, that issue was to be raised again. They would've said the fairness of the elections is challenged because it was held in the presence of the resistance arms. Now and because the Loyalists had the parliamentary elections no one is tackling that issue. I am reminding of that because after the elections were announced and we accepted that, this great lie has been exposed. The elections were held in Lebanon in all districts in the presence of the arms weapons. In the presence of the resistance arsenal which has never been present since 1982, people voted; there was no pressure; no one imposed anything on them, results were issue today and nothing took place.
So one of the most important conclusions is that this arm is not used to impose political realities. One of the most important political events at most is parliamentary elections because the role played by the parliament in the Lebanese regime is well known whether electing the president (We as well are through also with the lie of shortening the presidential tenure), forming the government, lawmaking, public budget, agreements… So if we wanted to say which is the most important internal political event at all? It is the parliamentary elections. Well people voted with utmost ease and freedom. Neither the arms nor their deed was noticed. This proves what we have always been saying that these arms are not to impose political realities and not to put or take off people from power. It has a clear employment which is that of resistance and defending the country. Here I stress that the election process as a whole had proved before all accusers and misleaders the soundness of the direction to which this arm is pointed. I wrap up this point saying that the Lebanese have proved their ability as a state, people and political and security forces to preserve security, stability, civil peace, political and media election competition – even sharp competition – without touching on the pillars of security and stability. Now we must guard and preserve this. We have always been saying that we have to resort to the ballot boxes. The whole story of the Opposition since July War until now was resorting to the polls. We would have spared our country all these troubles.

Fifth, I like to greet with high estimation all the Lebanese National Opposition leaderships, cadres, movements, parties and masses. I tell them: Dear ones, we have together put before our eyes a noble national goal which is working to achieve a great reform on all perspectives whether legal, political, economic, social, living, financial… Thus we – the Lebanese National Opposition – sought to gain the parliamentary majority to serve the reform project and not to seize power and have hegemony over the authority. We all in the Lebanese National Opposition exerted utmost legitimate efforts in the election battle. We have all faced what was properly called by General Michael Aoun a global war because no one in the whole world hasn't but tried to interfere in the elections. The Opposition masses got involved in this great national battle with utmost faithfulness and zeal.

Now if we couldn't serve this reform project which we believed in from the parliamentary majority post, that does not mean that we have no obligation as national forces to serve this reform project from another position whether as parliamentary, popular and political Opposition from outside or inside the government. These options are open for debate. But this responsibility towards the reform project which we believed in and sought to achieve remains valid. Today I renew the pledge and call on all the Opposition leaderships to renew the pledge and commitment along with all the popular groups who have voted for the Opposition tickets in many and all the districts to renew their pledges to serve the reform project which the masses have believed in and worked for and bore and stood with the opposition forces all through the past period all these sufferings. This responsibility never ends or stops. Indeed the parliamentary elections despite their importance are not more than a station in the long way of the national political struggle to achieve these noble goals.

We in the Opposition are supposed to make consultations very soon Inshallah to decide our steps, course and the way to deal with the upcoming events. Indeed we are before naming the speaker and the premier and forming the government, and we have to decide on how to deal with these events as an Opposition. Now I do not want to have the final word in any matter because that needs studying, consultations and an agreement among the National Opposition. That will take place in the next few days Inshallah.

I whole-heartedly and on behalf of all my brethrens in Hezbollah leadership thank and highly esteem specially the masses of the resistance and the masses of Hezbollah. Here I would like to mention the categorization resorted to in the electoral districts. In some districts there wasn't election competition. We considered them as present on the fire line such as South, Baalbek-Hermel, Beirut Southern Suburbs which gathered the two issues (being on the fire line and a competition district). In the districts where there was no competition but still we called on people to come massively to ballots stations to express the political choices especially regarding the resistance (as it is they who paid the tax of blood, displacement, house demolition during July War and others) we found out that despite in the fact that South and Baalbeck-Hermel districts did not witness election competition, the percentage of voters was very high and in some cases exceeded the districts which witnessed sharp and tough competition. This huge popular turnout in the various regions is highly esteemed. Indeed it wasn't surprising because it is the conviction, wish and will of the people. I also want to thank the masses who participated in the districts where there were election competitions: Western Bekaa, Rashaya, Mid Bekaa, Mount Lebanon districts, the North and Beirut in general where we have popular masses, brethrens and activists who exerted great efforts. Also I like to thank the campaign staffs in all regions who worked for months with great and clear efforts which yielded this great popular presence. This was their right whether in the districts where there are Shiite seats or not and whether in the districts where there were Hezbollah voters or not because we worked on the bases that the Opposition as a whole is involved in the battle and it is our normal right that we be present. We have electors in northern Matn who want to vote also in Kisirwan, Jbeil and Koura and all the other districts. Here I want to condemn again some sectarian, factional racist rhetoric which does not agree that if the majority in a definite district is of a definite sect and others came to say the final word in the district. In fact, this is what took place in most of the districts. In some districts the final word was for sects and in others for factional minorities. So why here the speech is sectarian and there it is national? Every Lebanese person whatever his religious sect or faction be has the right and it is even his duty to vote in the region where he is registered in the striking rolls. That's his national obligation and if he failed to fulfill this obligation he would be abandoning his national responsibility. I greatly salute all the campaign staffs. I also congratulate all my brethrens in the Loyalty to Resistance Bloc in all the districts because all the Bloc's candidates won in all the districts with very high votes and they have gained unprecedented public support.

I conclude with two general points. The first has to do with the people and the great embrace in these districts which was much more like a referendum. The people have addressed the whole world with a message: the choice of the resistance is not that of an armed party or gang. It's not a choice imposed on people by force and pressure. No one could oblige the people especially in districts where there was no competition to leave their regions and go to ballot boxes in such huge turnout especially with the existence of new obstacles as a result of the new administration followed in elections. Those people who showed up in ballots sent a message to the whole world: the choice of resistance is a popular choice especially in areas which face the threat of aggression. Consequently the choice of resistance is an expression of the will of these people, their inclination, culture, awareness and life. This must be respected. The second message is that resistance is not a piece of arms to be debated but rather a popular will. This point is to be discussed on the dialogue table. It must be discussed regarding the people's will and choices, especially those people who live in the arena under threat.

In this point in particular, I heard some statements or discussions which express fear over this point in the upcoming stage. I say there is no need for fear in all cases. As long as the resistance is a popular choice embraced by the people there is no need for fear because no one can do anything with the popular will. I stressed this point before the elections and after the elections regardless of who might have won. This is left for a quiet dialogue and objective discussion. I believe this is the right path which all parties are supposed to have announced their commitment to. Consequently, there is no need to have fear or polarize over this topic whether now or in the upcoming stage.

The last point which I like to end with is that after this great national achievement in elections, the chance of establishing a strong capable fair state is still possible regardless of the election results. We agree that there are great challenges before us as Lebanese whether on the economic level (financial crisis) or on the social, living, political, administrative and other levels. So I believe we all must have reached the conviction of saving this country, developing it, solving its troubles, raising its status and guarding its independence, freedom and dignity. That needs the cooperation of all Lebanese regardless of the nature of this cooperation. The chance is still there. This is linked to the will of all political forces which have proved in ballot boxes their popular political parliamentary presence. Ballot boxes have proved that even those who did not win in parliamentary seats have great popular support in their regions which must not be neglected. So this has to do to a great extent with the will of the political forces and parties. But I believe that this is essentially and primarily linked to the party which gained the parliamentary majority in these elections. How will its conduct be? What's its true program? Let's put aside what was said before the elections. Tell us after the elections: what's the true program? What is the program which it wants? This program must be known to the Lebanese because this is the future of their country. What are the priorities of this party? In which mentality they will behave? With what spirit they will deal with the public affairs? Will they benefit from the previous years experiences especially the last four years? Will they blunder in classifying priorities or will they classify them in the right way?

After the parliamentary elections, the party which have become the parliamentary majority is more concerned with how to deal with the upcoming stage while the National Opposition which have preserved its parliamentary position will work from its popular parliamentary and political position which might be more on the popular level that will be illustrated in figures in the coming few days. So the majority is concerned with the fate of the country. It can't quit the square by any means. It is concerned in the upcoming stage to be clear with the Lebanese. Nothing must be hidden at all. That's because transparency and clarity and truthfulness are very important elements in our country to overcome troubles and disputes and to open doors wide before dialogue and agreement. So let's try to build a republic based on truthfulness. Enough with fabricating events that have to do with the authority or with deciding priorities based on lies, accusations, fears and worries. Tonight I like to answer all what was said in the election campaign. Let go with that. The days ahead will prove as this day that there were two lies which were exploited for the elections concerning the position of the Opposition from the elections and holding elections while there are arms. Let's put what have been said behind. Let's depend on faithfulness, transparency and clarity. Let's be open with each other whether Loyalists or Opposition so as to build together a country and to defend and develop it. Let's together help this country out of the crises which it has been suffering from for long.

We are before a new stage and status. May Allah bless all those who have exerted great efforts in the previous stage. This was a station. Let's deal with it with all its results. Let's benefit from the lessons of the past. Let's see where the gaps were? What are the good and bad points? What are the points of strength and points of weakness? Let's develop our presence. But what must not be touched ever is our responsibility towards our people and country especially those who had offered blood and great efforts to liberate this nation and defend its existence. This station must furnish us with more determination and will to continue working and struggling with hope and confidence in the future so that we be able to see our country for which our brethrens, sons and dear ones have offered their chaste souls and blood. We must preserve it, defend it and move it forward Inshallah. Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessing.