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In Lebanon, France Converging to Pre-mandate Policy

by : Nicola Nasser
Wednesday August 30, 2006 - 22:46

By Nicola Nasser*

In a pattern that reminds of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement (1), France seems converging to a role that belongs to its previous colonial era in Lebanon and Syria, in harmony with, but under the regional hegemony of the United States’ involvement in other countries of the Arab Levant, in a stark departure from Charles de Gaulle’s post-Algeria legacy.

Gone are the days when Paris was briefly perceived early in 2003 as if it was in the shoes of the former Soviet Union as a balancing world power trying to halt the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Of course Paris doesn’t see eye to eye with Washington over Lebanon.

“During the 34-day (Israeli) onslaught (on Lebanon) that ended on August 14, the U.S. government appears to have experienced internal divisions over the extent to which it should encourage and re-supply the Jewish state, but the end-result was a policy of unconditional backing for a campaign that primarily destroyed civilian lives and civilian property. Any suggestion that the current administration is a "friend" to Lebanon is therefore viewed with understandable scepticism.” (2)

Ostensibly in contrast, President Jacque Chirac said on July 27 that France wanted to see an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon, “accepted by all those involved,” followed by a political agreement on the basis of U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and the disbandment of the Lebanese militias, and then the “deployment of a multinational force” under U.N. auspices.

This French position was essentially endorsed on August 12 by the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 1701, wherein an integrated and complimentary division of “influence” in the Middle East was envisioned by the French and U.S. powers.

However the tactical French-U.S. differences could not smokescreen a strategic understanding according to which Paris was satisfied in practice to drop its previous bitter opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and confine its influence to Lebanon within the framework of the U.S.-Israeli strategic hegemonic plans in the region, thus establishing France as a partner thereto, leaving to the “Great Britain,” the pre-WWII leader of western colonialism, the secondary role of a “subservient” to the White House, in the words of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. (3)

True France has proved itself true to Charles de Gaulle’s independent policy, but only for Paris to qualify to be incorporated as a partner into the U.S. regional plans.

Only this interpretation could explain the joint U.S.-French sponsorship of both U.N. Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701.

It was noteworthy that the recent U.S. urgent calls on France to commit more troops to Lebanon coincided with President George W. Bush’s authorization to recall reservists to Iraq. How could this be interpreted other than being a division of labour !

Regionally the French - U.S. strategic understanding also boils down to practically playing in the hands of Israel to neutralize all Lebanese as well as regional factors that could make the Israeli occupation of Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian lands shorter both in time and space.

A Lebanese -Syrian coordination on the highest level, the presence of a well-organized grassroots Lebanese defence militias blessed internally with the support of the Lebanese government and regionally by neighbouring countries, and a Lebanese national consensus on identifying who’s the enemy and who’s the friend are some of the major factors to secure a credible defence for the fragile Lebanon.

All these and other related factors are targeted by France as well as by Israel and the U.S., without securing an alternative other than fitting Lebanon into the U.S. - Israeli regional plans, which give priority to “their new and greater” Middle East and not to ending the Israeli and American occupations in the Arab Levant.

French preoccupation with Lebanon is self-justified by a historical commitment to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty.

But neutral observers could not detect a similar French preoccupation when Lebanon’s sovereignty is violated by the Israeli occupation and successive invasions since 1978 and could easily compare the French passive and very calm policy vis-à-vis Israel’s occupation with the French tense, impatient and urgent responses to any Syrian hints of normal, and legitimate geopolitical influence in the country.

Where was France when the Syrians flocked politically and militarily into Lebanon to preserve its sovereignty that was threatened by both Israeli invasions and Israeli-incited and fomented civil war?

Or how could this French preoccupation be interpreted in comparison with France’s indifference vis-à-vis Israel’s 39-year old occupation of Syrian Golan Heights, or with the absence of any sense of urgency vis-à-vis the Israeli 1967 occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip?

France seems to join the U.S. and Israeli “raise-a-hell” policies in defence of the “independent” decision-making in individual Arab League countries when this decision-making is constrained by influences of other member states, but hail the “independence” of any such country when its decisions are either only influenced or overtly or covertly dictated to it by the U.S. - Israeli decision makers !

Replacing the French preoccupation with “removing” Syria from Lebanon by engaging the Syrian geopolitical interests and national security concerns, and replacing the French insistence on "disarming of militias" by removing forever any further Israeli violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, are only two factors that would render credible President Jacque Chirac’s call on Monday for a rapid meeting of the "Quartet" of Middle East peace brokers - the U.S., the U.N., the E.U. and Russia - to look at ways of resuming peace talks.

Chirac’s warning that: “To resign oneself to the status quo is to risk being trapped in a cycle of violence which will get out of control” in the Middle East sounded in contradiction with France’s political orientation under his leadership. (4)

Glimpse of History

Internally in Lebanon, the French current “Syria-hands-off-Lebanon” policy is in harmony with France’s as well as Britain’s historical colonial roles.

A confidential appendix to the King-Crane Commission Report ( August 28, 1919) revealed that the British French “tendency would be for Christian Syrians to concentrate in the Lebanon, Jews in Palestine, and Moslem Syrians in the remainder” of Greater Syria or “Greater Lebanon.” (5)

Paris has ever since sponsored a French-oriented Christian ruling elite whose survival depends on French as well as on other foreign presence in the country and has retained close links with the country, and many Lebanese speak French, live in France, or have French nationality.

Accordingly it was only a normal reaction by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, to say : “If Hezbollah should one day take power in Lebanon, the Christians will leave the country in droves.” (6)

A wide-ranging spectrum of the Lebanese Christians disagree with His Highness, including among many others the emerging influential General Michel Aoun - possibly Lebanon’s next president - who has forged an alliance with Hezbollah on a national, not sectarian, platform.

But a wide-ranging spectrum of pro-U.S. and former Israeli-linked Lebanese politicians agree with the patriarch.

What draws the attention here is the fact that the second spectrum of politicians is essentially representative of the political and social forces that gained or increased their wealth and power under the French mandate and ruled Lebanon after its independence in 1943. Thereafter these same forces allied themselves with western powers to avert the emergence of new political and social forces inspired by Pan-Arabism and Islamic movements, thus sowing the seeds of civil war and foreign interference with all the ensuing tragic events.

In a 1920 conference the Arab Lebanese Shiites rejected a French offer to have their independent political entity in the south and have ever since struggled democratically to occupy their place in the national political landscape in spite of the practical Maronite monopoly of power and the practically, but not constitutionally, sectarian political system. They did not even think of “leaving the country in droves.”

Foreign interference was the major factor that historically threatened the Christian presence in the Arab Muslim countries by focusing on the sectarian differences that threaten the historical social coexistence cemented by the ethnic Arab identity of both Muslims and Christians as well as by the tolerance of Islam, which enshrines a pluralistic religion that views Judaism and Christianity as an integral part of its monotheistic dogma.

*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Notes

(1) The Sykes Picot agreement, concluded in 1916, divided the Middle East into areas of influence for France, Great Britain.

(2) “The Daily Star” of Lebanon, editorial, 30 August 2006.

(3) The Associated Press on 27 August 2006.

(4) Originally printed in Editor & Publisher, V.55, No. 27, 2nd Section, December 2, 1922.

(5) Der Spiegel online, Tuesday, August 11, 2006.

(6) Agencies quoting President Jacque Chirac’s speech on Monday, August 28, 2006.



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