The petty politics of forming a national “unity” government in Lebanon will be overshadowed this week by a development with local and regional implications. All Lebanese political prisoners still held in Israeli jails will return home. Five in total, including Samir Kuntar, the dean of Arab detainees, who has spent close to three decades of his life in captivity. (See details of the deal as ratified by the Israeli cabinet and published in As-Safir below.)
With the return of prisoners, another chapter of Hizballah’s struggle against Israel has closed. This raises a set of questions not only about the future rules of engagement between the organization and Israeli forces, but Hizballah’s internal political agenda and its regional policies vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. This latter point is particularly important in light of regional tensions between the US and its Arab and Israeli allies and Hizballah’s long-standing relationship with Iran and Syria. Ibrahim al-Amine of Al-Akhbar explores what this agenda might look like.
Meanwhile, painstaking haggling between the different Lebanese factions has given birth to a 30-member government with 11 seats for the opposition, three for the president, and 16 for the loyalist camp. Concern about making gains ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections prompted the two leading groups in each camp, the Hariri-led Mustaqbal movement and Hizballah, to make concessions to their Christian allies.
In his hallmark sarcastic style, Khaled Saghieh of Al-Akhbar “congratulates” all parties for managing to reflect the contradictions of the political system in the outcome of months of stalemate in the line-up of ministers.
As-Safir, 30 June 2008, “Main provisions of the prisoner exchange deal as published by the office of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert:”
1. Israel recovers her two kidnapped soldiers [sic] Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and obtains a report on the disappearance of Ron Arad [the Israeli pilot who disappeared in Lebanon in ’80s] and receives remains from the second Lebanese war.
In return for the repatriation of the two kidnapped soldiers [sic], Israel will release prisoners and detainees held up in her prisons, and will relay information and deliver bodies according to the following mechanism:
a. Samir Kuntar and four Lebanese illegal fighters held up by Israel will be transported to Lebanon
b. Hands over to Lebanon tens of terrorist infiltrators, including eight Hizballah members.
c. Delivers to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a report on the missing four Iranian diplomats.
d. After the implementation of the agreement, Palestinian prisoners will be released. Israel will have the sole right to determine the number and identity of those prisoners.
Al-Akhbar, 30 July 2008, Ibrahim al-Amine, “After the detainees … the resistance will face Israeli violations”:
In a few days, Israeli prisons will be emptied of every Lebanese detainee, and a long time will pass before someone announces the presence of a Lebanese detainee in an Israeli prison, save the possibility of the presence of criminal ones. This great feat will open the door for a similar battle on the Palestinian front, where it may not be too long when all [Palestinian and Arab detainees are free from Israeli prisons].
What is important [in light of this deal] is that it does not leave in the minds of some people erroneous conclusions or interpretations since the balance sheet between the resistance and Israel is not yet [settled]. Among the leadership of the resistance … the extra tasks that could have been subject to public debate will resurface.
The Israeli decision [to approve the prisoner exchange] does not refer to providing maps of mines and cluster bombs. This could be enough reason for the resistance to launch a thousand and one operations and kill as many of the enemy’s soldiers and perhaps civilians given the continued operation of the Israeli killing machine. But let us assume that things will not take such a course, what then would be the agenda for the resistance in the upcoming period? Surely, efforts to enforce the readiness of its defense cadres and upgrade the fighting infrastructure of its soldiers will not stop …
There are also files that need to be closed, even if partially. These include:
First, the decision of the resistance to punish the plotters, decision-makers, and executers of the assassination of military commander Imad Mughniyeh has yet to be fully implemented.
Second, Israel’s continuous and intense violation of Lebanese sovereignty by air, land and sea has never ceased. And a two-year grace period seems adequate for UN forces to have acted, but the latter failed to stop these violations or minimize them, with international delegates even echoing Israel’s claim that it needs these measures to satisfy its security needs in southern Lebanon. Therefore, it is the duty of the resistance to start implementing countermeasures to alert Israel to the high cost of these violations and prompt the international community to think about the issue differently. It is only a matter of time.
Al-Akhbar, 15 July 2008, Khaled Saghieh, “Awaiting the group photo”:
Those who followed political developments in Lebanon since the end of the July  war until last week have been overcome with excitement in light of forming the national unity government. This is the government for whose sake sit-ins were organized for long months, songs and chants penned, and conferences and meetings held with representatives from around the world in attendance. We are certainly awaiting the group picture, but before we gaze at that picture, we can say congratulations.
Congratulations to Hizballah whose use of weapons internally led to the formation of a government headed by someone who took advantage of the Israeli aggression on Lebanon to disarm the resistance.
Congratulations to the prime minister who was able to impose a number of his Smurfs as new ministers.
Congratulations to the ministers who showed unparalleled success in their respective ministries and hence were reinstated in those ministries …
Congratulations to the president for choosing Elias al-Murr as a defense minister following the latter’s successful political management of the Nahr al-Bared battles. Congratulations to all the Lebanese for the transference of the finance ministry from the lap of the right to the far right. Congratulations for granting the ministry of agriculture to a son of feudal lords.
Congratulations to Ali Qansou, but wouldn’t it have been wiser to reappoint him minister of labor to continue his efforts of dismantling whatever is left of working associations?
Congratulations to Bank Audi for the ministry they were given [in the person of Reymond Audi]. Congratulations to loyalists of the Shiite “enlightenment” [in reference to the Shia minister from the Hariri camp]. The light has blinded us indeed. Turn it down a little bit so we can go to sleep.
Meet the Lebanese Press is The Electronic Intifada’s regular review of what is making the rounds in the Lebanese press and the pundits’ take on it. Hicham Safieddine is a Lebanese Canadian journalist.