Stark choice for militant Hizbullah
Syria announced a troop pullback in Lebanon beginning Monday. The anti-Israeli Hizbullah vowed Sunday to stay armed.
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Of all Syria's allies, Hizbullah is the only group with which the Lebanese opposition says it is willing to negotiate - a mark of the general respect many Lebanese have for the group, but also recognition of Hizbullah's military clout and influence within the Shiite community.Skip to next paragraph
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Last week, Walid Jumblatt, Druze leader and the most outspoken critic of Syria's presence here, asked, "Will Abu Hadi [Nasrallah] join us in the path for democratic and free national independence? Let there be a dialogue, and I think he alone deserves dialogue."
Complicating the process, however, is the fact that Hizbullah was singled out - at least tacitly - in UN Resolution 1559 last September. The resolution calls on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and cease interference in Lebanese affairs. But it also calls for "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias" - an unmistakable reference to Hizbullah and Palestinian groups.
Many in the Lebanese opposition see Resolution 1559's reference to Hizbullah as an unnecessary distraction to the resolution's broader goal of removing Syrian forces from Lebanon.
"The resolution should be about Lebanese sovereignty and a Syrian withdrawal. Mentioning Hizbullah has pushed [the group] into the corner," says Chibli Mallat, professor of international law at Beirut's St. Joseph University.
Still, Hizbullah's relationship with Syria is one of shared anti-Israeli interests rather than ideology, analysts say. The pan-Islamic Hizbullah has little in common with the secular ideology of Syria's ruling Baath Party.
And over the years, Hizbullah has earned a reputation for pragmatism. "Hizbullah is wise enough to know that it cannot opt for war," says Farid Khazen, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut. "It will be a negotiated settlement like the disbanding of the other militias."
Many analysts believe there is room for compromise. Nassib Lahoud, an opposition member of parliament, proposes holding the resistance as a "strategic reserve" until the conclusion of the Middle East peace process.
"Arrangements should be reached over Hizbullah's arms without a total dismantlement," he says. "This idea is a good step in the right direction and should satisfy Lebanese concerns and hopefully would be acceptable to the international community."
Not all opposition figures agree. "If Hizbullah wants to be a political party, that's fine. But no more militia," says Gibran Tueni, editor of An Nahar.
But Timur Goksel, a former senior adviser to the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, says that forceful dismantlement would be a "recipe for disaster."
"It has to be a voluntary move by Hizbullah," he says. "Nobody is going to use force to disarm Hizbullah, because it could rip the country apart."
Hizbullah's leadership, he says, will have to deal not only with external pressure, but also appease internal dissent.
"It's going to be a risky move by the Hizbullah leadership, and they are going to have to prepare the ground for it for very carefully," he says.