Hezbollah Seeks to Ease Misgivings Before Talks
By Nada Bakri
The New York Times
January 23, 2011
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hezbollah’s leader promised Sunday that his movement would respect Lebanon’s institutions of state and tradition of consensus if it succeeded in deciding the shape of the next government.
The leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made the promise the day before negotiations were to begin that were likely to determine whether Hezbollah took the lead in forming the government or if its opponents would. If Hezbollah succeeds, it will be a turning point in Lebanon’s history, formalizing the power of a Shiite Muslim movement that rose from the ashes of the 1982 Israeli invasion.
Hezbollah opponents — who are grouped around the son of a former prime minister who was assassinated — warned that the United States and its allies could isolate and ostracize Lebanon if Hezbollah prevailed.
Silvan Shalom, an Israeli vice prime minister, said in a radio interview that it would be “a very, very dangerous development.” He called it the equivalent of having an “Iranian government on Israel’s northern border.”
A dispute over an international court that was expected to name members of Hezbollah in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, led Hezbollah to withdraw from the government and caused it to collapse on Jan. 12. Mr. Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, had presided over the government for 14 months.
The court issued its first indictments last week, but no details were disclosed.
In a speech on Sunday, Mr. Nasrallah said: “We want the new prime minister to form a national unity government in which everyone participates. We don’t want a cabinet that excludes any party.” He has not named a candidate for prime minister.
“We are not seeking authority,” he said.
Mr. Nasrallah’s statements seemed to reflect the difficulties his movement might face if it formed a new government. Many Lebanese say that the Shiite Muslims whom Hezbollah has come to represent already control the state.
To nominate a prime minister, Hezbollah and its allies, which have 57 seats in the 128-member Parliament, need a total of 64 votes. Saad Hariri’s coalition has 60, and Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druse minority, has 11. Mr. Jumblatt, once an ally of Mr. Hariri’s, has emerged as the kingmaker, saying on Friday that he will stand by Hezbollah and Syria, which supports it. But given the divisions within Mr. Jumblatt’s own coalition, it is not clear how many votes will go to Hezbollah’s candidate.
Hassan Khalil, publisher of the leftist Al-Akhbar newspaper, said, “This could change in an hour’s time.”
Anthony Shadid contributed reporting.