March 14 Faction Wins in Lebanon

President Obama’s hopes for progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process would have been sunk if Hezbollah had won the Lebanese elections. As it is, the March 14 Movement has won the Lebanese parliamentary elections, garnering 69 or 70 seats out of 128.

Russia Today has video of the victory:

Since the districting made it likely that the Shiite parties of Amal and Hezbollah would sweep the south for 28 seats, and many other outcomes were more or less predetermined, the main contest was among the Christian parties, which in turn are allied either with March 14 or with the Hezbollah-led opposition. Gen. Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Party is allied with Hezbollah, and lost badly in some districts to March 14 ally Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces.

Although the March 14 Movement tends to be called pro-Western by our press, such labels do not mean much in Lebanese domestic politics. March 14 consists of a section of the Sunni Arabs, led by Saad Hariri, who is supported by Saudi Arabia and who has unsuccessfully attempted to develop his own militia with Saudi funds. Another component is Walid Jumblatt’s constituency among the Druze minority (an esoteric, folk offshoot of Shiite Islam). Jumblatt is notoriously mercurial and had been anti-American before 2005, and cannot be relied on to remain in the March 14 Movement. Then there is the Lebanese Forces, which is a revival of a rightwing Christian group that played a very sinister role in the Lebanese civil war and after, led by Samir Geagea,who was convicted of terrorism. (BTW, Geagea’s Wikipedia entry is pro-Geagea propaganda and an example of why wikipedia is worthless when it comes to controversial subjects).

Gen. Aoun would be preferable to Geagea politically on virtually any dimension a normal person could choose.

But anyway, March 14 is the majority and will form the government,though it may be a national unity government that includes Hezbollah and its allies. I saw Jumblatt on LBC by satellite saying that no major party should be marginalized, and that there was nothing in the Lebanese constitution that would justify sidelining an important group that way. So I take it he wants another national unity government.

Having won, March 14 is likely to avoid any further confrontations with Israel and to try to rein in Hezbollah or at least to impress on it the necessity of avoiding adventurism.

So at least Obama won’t have to worry about the Levant as a distraction in his peace plans.

Senior members of the Obama administration more or less campaigned in Beirut for the March 14 coalition to win, and hinted around that aid would dry up for Lebanon if Hezbollah got in. Aljazeera English has video on this blatant interference in another country’s election:

There are five pieces to progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. They are Israeli politics, the politics of the Palestine Authority, of Lebanon, and of Iran and Syria.

Obama had until recently caught the worst possible breaks on the Mideast conflict.

The far-right Likud Party and even creepier and farther-right coalition partners like Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu came to power in Israel last winter.

The Palestinian Authority, in the meantime, postponed elections, and the president, from a minority party (Fateh), just appointed himself to stay in power one more year, as well as appointing a prime minister. Both steps were contrary to the constitution, which, if followed, would have given the presidency to the Hamas speaker of the house (who was deposed in a Fateh coup in summer, 2007). The Palestinian Authority is divided between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Fateh-controlled West Bank.

Now if only Ahmadinejad would lose the Iranian presidential elections, Obama’s luck might turn up and Israel’s rightwing government will be deprived of the Ahmadinejad pretext for avoiding compromises with the Palestinians.

Maybe Obama will be able to make some headway after all.

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