To understand Nabih Berri is to read between the lines of his statements. Throughout my stay in Lebanon, I heard reports of Berri jumping the Syrian regime’s terror ship and repositioning himself as a “moderate” somewhere between the Hizbullah and Siniora lines. Berri, like many other politicians in Lebanon, was subject to the whims of the different Syrian rulers of Lebanon, beginning with Ghazi Kenaan and ending with Rustom Ghazaleh. He was the infamous Mr. X, and the godfather of the National Dialogue, heavily criticized on this blog for being an elaborate delay tactic.
The Israeli war on Lebanon pushed Berri into the center stage along with Fouad Siniora. Unlike Hizbullah, he is fully committed to the Taef agreement. He is also in need of distinguishing himself, though subtly, from Hizbullah’s suicidal Syrian-Iranian line, which puts Lebanon last, as evidenced by Hizbullah’s excesses in their unending fight against Israel and undying support for Assad.
Speaking in Geneva where he is attending an Inter-parliamentary Union convention, Berri said “no one can reject a national unity government because it provides immunity for Lebanon and is very necessary, especially with Israel still occupying part of Lebanese territory.”
However, Berri added that he was against the toppling of the current government before a consensus is reached on the new government, because it would create vacuum. (This part of his statement was completely ignored by the Daily Star). He reiterated that Siniora’s government was a “government of political resistance” during the war.
Berri attributed the current political crisis to the issue of the presidency, saying that the battle for a new president will start now and last 6 or 7 months at the latest. With this, Berri has put an agreement over the next president as a prerequisite for any discussion involving a change in government.
Interestingly, Berri defended Walid Jumblatt and expressed optimism that there could be a meeting between the Druze leader and Hassan Nasrallah because “during the war, Jumblatt played a very important role and was the first to declare the victory of the resistance.”
Contrast this with Hizbullah’s continued demonization of Jumblatt as an accomplice in the war.
Berri’s refusal to join the anti-Siniora campaign is monumental. It translates into support for Siniora and potentially the Hariri tribunal. It also helps heal the sectarian rift that emerged after the war. It could also mean that Berri, unlike Hizbullah, foresees a future without Bashar Assad calling the shots… whether in Lebanon or Syria.
Berri’s national dialogue was read by many of us as a delay tactic to buy time for the Assad regime. But it received international support and broke many taboos when it, for the first time, put Hizbullah’s weapons on the discussion table. The war did away with the Dialogue, which wasn’t getting anywhere in part of because of Berri himself, who took it upon himself to shamefully represent the Syrian side. But even Berri’s apparent unwavering support for Assad and Hizbullah weapons was punctured during the last war.
He now says that there can’t be resistance without national unity. Read that to mean that Berri, through his support for UNSC 1701 and Siniora’s cabinet, which he describes as “political resistance”, will not sign on to future attacks by Hizbullah.
I helped create UNSC 1701. I don’t claim that all of it serves our interest, but it’s not all against us. In any case, we accepted it. There was a unanimous agreement in the cabinet, including Amal and Hizbullah. We don’t want any flaw in the implementation….
On the issue of resistance, he reiterated that the resistance should stay as long as there’s occupation. But...
Hizbullah is concerned with Lebanon’s unity as I am and more. Can you believe there can be a resistance without national unity?
Nabih Berri's efforts can probably be described as an attempt to resurrect the National Dialogue without Bashar Assad dictating the agenda. Will he succeed? And how much is Berri committed to seeing justice served regardless of the implications for the regime next door?
Perhaps this could be a sign that, his sectarian and feudalistic behavior apart, Berri sees the danger in letting Bashar get away with murder:
The Fitr present is against the security violations in the country now, especially in Beirut, and will be for the benefit of all Lebanese, their national unity and the spring that awaits them…
Nobody knows what Berri will announce at the end of Ramadan. One hopes, however, that the spring he envisions originates in Lebanon, and that the national unity he seeks is invested in a forward-looking manner.