Le Drian's return: Beirut's political momentum amid ceasefires and southern focus

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2023-11-30 | 01:10
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Le Drian's return: Beirut's political momentum amid ceasefires and southern focus
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Le Drian's return: Beirut's political momentum amid ceasefires and southern focus

Amid the extended ceasefires in Gaza, Beirut has regained some political momentum with the return of French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian last Tuesday from Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi Royal Court Advisor Nizar Al-Aloula, responsible for the Lebanese file.

This article was originally published in and translated from Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. 
Leaks preceding the visit indicated that the French visitor's agenda lacked any serious initiative that could breach the thickening presidential barrier, especially after the Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

Consequently, it seemed that resuming discussions on the presidential file was the broad theme of the French visitor's round Wednesday with Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Speaker Nabih Berri, Army Commander Joseph Aoun, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, and the heads of political parties, including Samir Geagea, Sami Gemayel, Taymour Jumblatt, and representatives of parliamentary blocs.

However, the essence of the visit has revolved around the situation in the south.

Some sources stated that Le Drian expressed the Western desire to pressure Hezbollah to "adhere to the implementation of Resolution 1701" and not just regulate the rules that governed the southern front before October 7 last year.

This comes alongside an international wave pushing for over a year to amend Resolution 1701 regarding the powers of the emergency forces operating in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has now expanded to discussions about evacuating border towns.

Furthermore, sources noted that Geagea's call after meeting Le Drian for the government to "assume its responsibilities and implement Resolution 1701 and withdraw militias from the south" reflects external coordination with local forces.

The sources stated that a "Lebanese political reference was informed by Western sources that Israel faces a dilemma of settlers' refusal to return to the northern settlements due to Hezbollah's presence on the borders. Israel has discussed with Western and Arab countries pressuring Lebanon to establish a buffer zone within its borders, allowing the return of settlers."

Additionally, the same sources said, "The Western countries that responded to Israeli desires modified the proposal, considering that the buffer zone should be on both sides," a stance rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until now.


Nevertheless, discussions have begun with Lebanese political forces, primarily the government, to "establish a buffer zone south of the Litani and keep Hezbollah's elite force away from it."

Simultaneously, local opponents of Hezbollah have been asked to launch a political and media campaign parallel to diplomatic efforts in this context.

The sources recalled the debates preceding the cessation of hostilities after the July 2006 aggression when establishing a buffer zone was one of the conditions insisted upon by the Israeli side. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conveyed this condition to Beirut, calling for "ending all forms of military, civilian, and institutional presence of Hezbollah south of the Litani River.

In this context, prominent political sources consider that the special quintet committee for Lebanon aims to avoid the political outcomes of the Al-Aqsa Flood in Lebanon.

It has initiated a preventive war against Hezbollah, which has been reported to be more adamant in its positions on several issues, especially the presidential elections.

All the direct and intensive activity carried out by Western ambassadors, led by the US ambassador, regarding the southern front (the only common point among the members of the quintet committee), will not yield anything except 'noise,' which will diminish when serious discussions on the Lebanese file begin.

However, Al-Akhbar learned that Paris attempted to gauge the stances of the political parties and whether any of them had modified their positions after the past two months' developments.

French communication took place two weeks ago with Speaker Berri to inform him of Le Drian's visit without providing any details before the French Ambassador in Beirut, Ambassador to Lebanon Hervé Magro, visited Ain el-Tineh.

According to sources, Magro asked Berri if the opportunity was suitable to resume French efforts regarding the presidential file and whether the political forces still adhere to their positions.

However, what raised some doubt about the French ambassador's words was his question about Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, not in the context of extending his term but instead connected to the presidential file.

According to informed sources, the French ambassador inquired about whether the current circumstances allowed for the election of Aoun as president and whether Hezbollah and the Amal Movement and their allies would consider this option if they found a majority that could give him their votes.

Moreover, Magro hinted that Aoun is the candidate of Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni bloc will stand by him. He also pointed out that Le Drian might resume his efforts and call for dialogue again.

Al-Akhbar also learned that "Le Drian visited Riyadh coming from Doha in an attempt to coordinate with the five countries concerned with the Lebanese file," what he brought to Beirut was somewhat different from what the French ambassador had prepared.

He spoke with Lebanese officials "in broad terms related to the presidential file" and touched on the third consensual option instead of the current candidates (Sleiman Frangieh and Joseph Aoun), neither of whom could garner consensus.
 

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