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Sun. September 25, 2022
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IA-Forum Interview: Dr. Marius Deeb

International Affairs Forum: What do you think the future holds for Lebanon with its wish for a stable government and its relations with its neighbors? Especially with the recent violence and newly elected President Michel Sleimen - in what direction do you think they are heading?

Dr. Marius Deeb: This depends very much on the obstacles that have been caused by Syria and its proxies, especially Hezbollah - their purpose has always been to re-deominate Lebanon. However, because a compromise was reached in Qatar, which was a victory to the Lebanese majority of the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah and Syria were not happy because the agreement included electing a new president, who was the commander of the Lebanese army and represents a nationalist institution. Syria still hopes that through its proxies who represent a minority among the Lebanese people could come back and regain control in Lebanon, but this hasn't happened thus far. A cabinet was formed in Lebanon, and the Cedar Revolution groups and political parties who represent the majority of the people could run the country through the cabinet and parliament. The major posed by Hezbollah is its attempt not to give up its arms, because they want t heir militia to control the whole country and bring in Syrian troops to re-dominate Lebanon.

What is ideal for Hezbollah is to have endless conflicts and crises. However the president Michel Sulaiman was elected, the cabinet was formed and the parliament is functioning again. Any normalcy is not good for Hezbollah that is,anything that is peaceful and involves no conflict. There is a future for Lebanon, despite that Hezbollah-Syria- Iran Axis could still de-stablize and cause conflict in Lebanon. Although Hezbollah leaders have not accepted yet to give up their arms to the Lebanese national army, there are signs that they are willing to do so in a partial way. This could be a huge step in the right direction for Lebanon.

IA-Forum: Both Condoleeza Rice and Mahmoud Abbas have said that the Israeli settlements are an obstacle for peace with the Palestinians. What do you think can be done on both sides to resolve this issue?

Dr. Deeb: The Israeli Prime Minister Olmert claims that they are just expanding the existing settlements, but they are still building in East Jerusalem. Olmert is under pressure because of corruption charges, and because of this he wants to have success in other areas and is claiming that it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians soon - I don't think so, but it is not impossible. He is very much interested in talking with Syria via the Turks, but Syria doesn't want peace so Olmert is wasting his time.Although the settlements are obstacles, if there is a willingness on the Israeli side to reach an agreement, they have the best opportunity with Mahmoud Abbas: he doesn't come with the baggage of Arafat and he truly represents the vast majority of the Palestinian people. This is all despite the fact that Hammas has taken over Gaza, because they did so basically by force. There is now a good Palestinian leader in power who is willing to compromise t o reach an agreement.

IA-Forum:The Hamas/Israel truce was recently violated because of attacks by Hamas - even though they said that they wanted the truce to continue. What do you think this means for a broader peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?

Dr. Deeb:Hamas ideologically, is not really interested in peace - they have not made the decision like Arafat had done in the past to accept peace with Israel. They talk about a truce, but that doesn't mean the end of the war - a truce lasts as long as they want and then there will be more conflicts. People are suffering under Hamas. I do not trust them: the way they took over Gaza by force. The fact that they had won elections in 2005 doesn't mean that they will win elections in the future. People do not like Hamas, even if the conditions in Gaza are always changing - they are not that popular. Of course this is typical of militant Islamic groups. They are completely opposed to democracy, that is part of their ideology. Hamas doesn't really want to compromise with Israel. If they really want to solve the problem, they should solve it through Abbas.

IA-Forum: Many say Israel should not include Hamas in peace talks because they are a terrorist regime - but with their regime in power some say they may have to be included. What is your assesment of this situation.

Dr. Deeb: There is no need to include Hamas. Are they really interested in negotiating? No they aren't. Where would you include them in negotiations? Do they really accept the state of Israel? They don't. Think about it - Sharon, even with all his faults, evacuated Israeli settlements from Gaza. The Israelies left - so why does Hamas continue to fight? There is no reason for Gaza not to become a peaceful place like Dubai or Hong Kong. Hamas however, doesn't want these things. The Hamas leaders want to continue to impoverish the people of Gaza to control them! Gaza has all the possibilities of becoming a booming place of trade - the continuing conflict is done on purpose by Hamas so they may retain control of the region. As long as Hamas do not want peace their leaders should not be included in negotiations.

Professor Marius Deeb is a professor at Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and teaches courses on the Politics and History of the Middle East and in particular on Islam and Politics. His books include, Party Politics in Egypt, The Lebanese Civil War, Libya Since the Revolution, co-authored with Mary-Jane Deeb, and the forthcoming Syria's War on Lebanon and the Peace Process 1974-2001.

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