BEIRUT - President Michel Aoun might not act on Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation soon, opting instead to bide his time in hopes that Hariri will rescind his resignation, political sources said Monday – a development that could throw the country into a prolonged Cabinet standoff.
Hariri is scheduled to fly from Paris to Cairo Tuesday afternoon for talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi before traveling on to Beirut to join Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri in attending Wednesday’s celebrations, including a military parade, to mark Lebanon’s Independence Day.
Aoun has not accepted Hariri’s shock resignation, announced in a televised speech from Riyadh on Nov. 4, saying that he will wait for the prime minister to return to Lebanon before making any decision on the matter.
Following the independence festivities, Hariri is expected to present his resignation letter to Aoun at Baabda Palace Wednesday or Thursday, as stipulated by the Constitution, and explain the reasons and circumstances behind the decision that has thrown the country into political turmoil.
“President Aoun will discuss with Hariri the reasons for his sudden resignation and will probably try to dissuade him from it,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star. “But if Hariri insists on the resignation and Aoun accepts it, then the next constitutional step is for the president to issue a decree asking Hariri and his 1-year-old Cabinet to serve in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed and conduct binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name a new prime minister,” the source said.
Yet, in a move apparently aimed at buying time to negotiate on the Cabinet standoff, a political source said Aoun might wait for a while before issuing a decree calling for the binding parliamentary consultations, the source said.
This possibility, one of the options on the table, could plunge the country into an open-ended Cabinet crisis and lead the current government to oversee parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 2018, the source added.
Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar said Hariri would discuss with Aoun the reasons that led him to resign and stress his commitment to the government’s dissociation policy toward regional conflicts, namely the wars in Yemen and Syria.
“Hariri will discuss with President Michel Aoun the reasons for the resignation and he will raise the issues that brought the situation to this point,” Hajjar told a local radio station. He added that Hariri is still committed to the political settlement that led to Aoun’s election as president and brought Hariri to the premiership last year.
“But the dissociation policy should be exercised in deeds in order to serve the interests of Lebanon first,” Hajjar said.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Monday joined Aoun and Berri in welcoming Hariri’s return to Lebanon.
“The priority is still for Prime Minister Hariri to return to Lebanon. We are waiting for the return of the prime minister who, as far as we are concerned, has not resigned until his return,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “When he comes back and we understand everything [surrounding his resignation], we will outline our position. We are open to any dialogue and discussion.”
Nasrallah said he will not respond to statements made in the past two weeks by some politicians, including Future Movement officials, that accused Hezbollah of violating the political settlement that led to Aoun’s election as president and Hariri’s return to the premiership last year.
He thanked the Lebanese government for its position at an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers held in Cairo Sunday that again designated Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization. In fact, Nasrallah’s speech was meant primarily to respond to the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting that blasted Iran and Hezbollah, accusing them of destabilizing the region and vowing to take the matter to the U.N. Security Council.
Nasrallah rejected the Arab ministers’ accusations that Hezbollah’s arms threatened Lebanon’s stability. “I tell those [ministers] that the biggest threat to Lebanon’s security is the Israeli occupation. The most important factor to liberate Lebanon is the resistance and its backbone is Hezbollah,” he said.
Addressing his words to the Saudi and Bahraini foreign ministers, who lashed out at Hezbollah during the meeting, Nasrallah said: “The resistance’s arms are the most important factor to achieve stability in Lebanon. Who will protect Lebanon from Israel?”
Calling on Arab states not to intervene in Lebanon’s internal affairs, Nasrallah said: “In Lebanon, there is an overwhelming popular determination not to return to any form of infighting.”
Both Aoun and Berri also rejected the Arab League statement.
During a meeting with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at Baabda Palace, Aoun said Lebanon had been subjected to Israeli “aggression” for decades and had the right to defend itself against Israeli threats.
“Lebanon is not responsible for Arab or regional conflicts. It did not attack anyone, and it therefore shouldn’t pay the price for these conflicts with its political stability or security,” he said, according to a statement released by his media office. “Lebanon cannot accept the suggestion that its government is a partner in terrorist acts. The position that Lebanon’s delegate to the Arab League took expresses a universal, national will.”
Saudi officials have said in recent weeks that they would consider the Lebanese government “hostile” if Hezbollah joined any future government.
Berri responded with a sarcastic comment to the Arab League statement that designated Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization. “Thanks and excuse us. Thank God. And excuse that we in Lebanon fought Israel,” Berri said in a terse statement released by his media office.
Speaking during his meeting with Aboul Gheit at Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence, the speaker recalled that the Arab League had issued tens of resolutions that affirmed the right of the resistance to liberation and supported Lebanon’s resistance against Israeli occupation of Lebanese territories.
For his part, Aboul Gheit said that Lebanon should be spared from spiraling regional tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“No one can accept, or want, any harm to happen to Lebanon,” Aboul Gheit said after meeting Aoun at Baabda Palace. “Lebanon has a special character, a particular and special structure. The [Arab] League recognizes this.’
Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri, Aboul Gheit said Lebanon “cannot be an arena for any Arab-Iranian confrontation.”
“No one is accusing the Lebanese government of terrorism, but one of its participating parties is accused of terrorism,” he said, adding that labeling Hezbollah a “terrorist” organization was not new as it happened during last year’s Arab summit.
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