The Boston Globe (Editorial)
May 19, 2008 - 5:45pm

THE ARMED confrontation in Lebanon between the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah is ending. Hezbollah fighters are withdrawing from the Sunni neighborhood of West Beirut, opening roads once again, and allowing the airport to function.

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A compromise agreement brokered by an Arab League delegation ended the violence. But the specter of recurring civil war is sure to return unless Lebanon's factions end their power struggles and stop foreign powers from fighting for regional dominance through Lebanese proxies, on Lebanese soil.

The Arab League agreement includes "a return to the status quo before the clashes broke out on May 5," withdrawal of armed men from the streets, renewal of a national dialogue, and commitments from all sides to refrain from political violence and language that might incite violence.

Hezbollah leaders hailed the accord as a victory. They crowed about forcing the government to reverse its shutdown of Hezbollah's private phone network and reinstate an airport security chief who had refused to do anything about a hidden camera pointed at incoming planes.

Hezbollah's triumphalist claims contain a partial truth. Its use of force did oblige the government to accept the group's demands. But in Lebanon as in nature, every action causes a reaction. In proving its military muscle, Hezbollah frightened other factions in Lebanon.

A United Nations resolution requires the disarmament of all of the country's militias. Hezbollah has been the only party to reject that demand, and has been getting away with it by vowing repeatedly to use the arms it receives from Iran and Syria only for resistance against Israel. But by turning its guns on fellow Lebanese, Hezbollah has proven its own rhetoric false.

The crisis also revealed the limitations on Hezbollah's ability to achieve political aims by force. Hezbollah fighters encountered hardly any resistance from Sunnis in West Beirut, but they fought bloody battles with Druze militiamen and with Sunni Islamist forces. Hezbollah's leaders got a glimpse of the counterforces they would encounter in the event of an all-out civil war.

The recent violence ought to have shown all the factions that Lebanon's survival as a pluralistic state will depend not only on remaining free of another Syrian or Israel occupation, but also on reviving a Lebanese political compact based on compromise and a balancing of communal interests.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017