After a failure by international mediators, Lebanon’s political factions are trying to resolve a political crisis that threatens to turn violent. It’s a worthy effort, but no agreement should spare the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Lebanon’s latest crisis was precipitated by the withdrawal of the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies from a coalition government, causing it to collapse. Hezbollah acted because Prime Minister Saad Hariri refused to sever ties with a tribunal that has been investigating the 2005 killing of his father and 22 others. Members of Hezbollah are widely assumed to be named in sealed charges filed with the court last week.
The United Nations-created Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been supported by Lebanon, which pays for nearly half of its costs. But Hezbollah has alleged that the court is part of a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel to disarm the organization. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, wants the withdrawal of Lebanese judges from the tribunal, the end of Lebanese funding for the tribunal and cancellation of Lebanon’s agreement with the tribunal. The underlying goal, obviously, is to lessen the tribunal’s legitimacy and make its findings ― including those about Hezbollah members ― harder to enforce in Lebanon.
Ominously, Hezbollah is gaining allies in the process of forming a government. That raises the possibility that a new government would repudiate the tribunal either completely or partially (by withholding financial support, for example). As negotiations proceed, we hope Prime Minister Hariri stands his ground, not only for his father’s sake but because assassins should be brought to justice regardless of political conditions. An evaluation of the tribunal’s work obviously must await the unsealing of indictments, but at this point there is no cause for Lebanon to reject its jurisdiction.
The assassination of the elder Hariri marked a turning point in Lebanon’s quest for self-determination after years as a client state of Syria. Outrage over his death led to a popular uprising that moved Syria, which was initially suspected of ordering the killing, to withdraw its troops. A government dominated by Hezbollah, an ally of Syria, would represent a step backward from Lebanese independence.
Stability in Lebanon is extremely important, but concord shouldn’t come at the cost of justice. It would be unconscionable for Lebanon to repudiate the special tribunal.
(Los Angeles Times, Jan. 23)