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    DRM Organizes a Conference on “The Regional Dimensions of the War on Gaza”
    Minister Nassib Lahoud’s Opening Remarks

    Minister Nassib Lahoud’s opening remarks, at the conference on “The Regional Dimensions of the War on Gaza”, organized by the Democratic Renewal Movement on January 24th, 2009.


    Allow me first to place this past month events in Gaza in their accurate and most relevant context.

    What has taken place in Gaza between December 27 and January 19 is one of the most horrendous and criminal wars. Objectively speaking, this war could be defined as an example of state-sponsored terrorism. In a blatant violation of international and humanitarian laws that protect civilians in times of war, tons of bombs have fallen indiscriminately over cities, neighbourhoods and buildings, even those flying the UN flag. In this war there was an excessive use of violence and an absolute contempt towards human life, human dignity, and basic human rights.

    This war was preceded, in the past few years, by a series of actions that were not only limited to the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza but included the building in the West Bank of dozens of settlements and the erection of the racist separation wall, a decision promptly and openly condemned by the International Court of Justice.

    All these facts are part of the tragedy of a people suffering occupation, expulsion and oppression for over 60 years. These actions are a reflection of an obsolete and backward Israeli perception of the country’s national and security interests; a racist and short sighted vision that goes against the spirit of international law and UN conventions; a vision based also on the belief in military superiority, creating enemies, crushing the other, i.e. the Palestinians, and showing absolute contempt to their basic rights. In brief, this is an escapist vision that will not endure.

    The international community, including both governments and civil societies, is beginning to lose patience with Israeli outrage, racism and fanaticism. The election of Barack Obama as President of the most powerful country in the world is a major indication that racism and fanaticism are on their way out.

    As a result of these successive outrages and rounds of violence, Israel will have to realize that it cannot pursue its current policy and that there is no escape but to acknowledge the rights of the Palestinians, and fundamentally their right to set up an independent and viable state with Jerusalem as its capital.

    * * * * *

    However, this war was not only another episode in Israel’s aggressive policies. In addition, before this latest war and in the last few months if not years, Gaza in special and Palestine in general, has become the theatre of a multifaceted and multilateral regional confrontation. This confrontation encompassed a series of interests and ambitions that went far beyond the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. These ambitions and conflicts have reached unprecedented levels especially on the eve of the power transition in the U.S. where each of the regional actors used this war to enhance their bargaining position as negotiators and potential interlocutors.  Open or hidden regional conflicts and competition erupted well before the latest Israeli aggression. Their main purpose was to determine the role and size of each of the parties in total disregard to the Palestinians’ political and human suffering.   

    We in Lebanon were not too distant from these regional manoeuvrings. Throughout the crisis in Gaza, some suspected parties were bent on using Lebanon as a base to launch rockets against Israel in spite of their total awareness that such an action was fruitless in offering any help to our brothers in Gaza. What is outrageous is that these parties were undertaking these actions in total disrespect of the overall Lebanese consensus as it was unanimously expressed by the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. Globally, all political groups in Lebanon have respected the limits set by our constitution concerning support to our Palestinian brothers. In brief, we could say that Lebanon emerged safe and sound from this harsh experience. Nonetheless, this does not constitute a sufficient guarantee for the future (I will tackle this issue later in my intervention).

    The war in Gaza is over but not yet completely.  First of all, military activities ceased with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1860, and two separate announcements of a ceasefire. Each of the two parties picked from the Egyptian initiative what fits their own interpretations. This happened while an Arab summit was taking place in Kuwait. This summit, which began with a high degree of Arab divisions ended with a ray of hope illustrated by the Saudi stand and the ensuing reconciliation between Arab leaders.

    * * * * *

    The lessons learned from this latest tragedy in Gaza can be summarized as follows:

    1. In the Lebanese context: It is of utmost importance to respect the implementation of UN resolution 1701 in order to avoid another war. The Lebanese are against a new war as it is not in their interests. The guarantee for that is to close all the political and security breaches and stop the infiltration of armed elements that want to use Lebanon for their own interests. Weapons available outside Palestinian refugee camps constitute the most blatant security breach.  It is high time to put an end to the spread of weapons outside these camps as was agreed upon by the National Dialogue between Lebanese parties. The most important political breach is illustrated by the absence of an overall Lebanese national consensus regarding a unified strategy that would allow the central government to be the sole sovereign authority to make decisions regarding war and peace.  The Lebanese people hold the National Dialogue Conference and the Council of Ministers responsible for filling these breaches.

    2. In the Palestinian context: It is of utmost importance to restore Palestinian national unity and the unity of governance institutions. The Palestinians will be unable to defend and regain their rights if they do not speak with one voice with the international community, a unified voice that is the expression of an independent Palestinian decision not beholden to any external will. Today, the first immediate step is to strive to lift the suffering of the people of Gaza. Currently, the only available option to achieve this aim resides in the Egyptian initiative.

    3. In the Arab context: There is a need to restore Arab solidarity as the only strategy capable to confront Israeli threats and regional polarizations. A first step in this direction is embodied in the Saudi initiative launched at the Arab summit in Kuwait and the inter-Arab reconciliation that followed. Another step is to uphold the Arab peace initiative as an alternative to both separate peace talks and to fruitless and impossible wars. Upholding the Arab peace initiative should not obfuscate the need to empower this initiative with the necessary leverages, especially in light of President Barack Obama’s clear intention to revive the peace process in the Middle East and his nomination of former Senator George Mitchell as special envoy for the peace process.

    4. In the wider regional context: A major priority ought to be given to establish healthy relations between Arab and non-Arab countries of the region, more specifically Iran and Turkey. What is needed is establishing new rules for relations based on an understanding of mutual and legitimate interests between sovereign states that respect national and international laws. What is also needed are relations that are future-oriented, based on cooperation and exchange, leading to economic development, cultural and scientific advancement, improving and enhancing living conditions and public awareness in our respective countries. Each of our countries has a lot to contribute to the other if we mutually respect these rules.

    Welcome again. I wish you all the success in shedding light on these issues.

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