The big news Friday is a reported "breakthrough" for Fouad Siniora who has reportedly convinced Hizbullah of backing the 7-point plan that he presented in Rome.
Speaking to reporters after the cabinet session late last night, an elated Siniora said the cabinet voted unanimously on the plan, which goes something like this:
In a speech to an international meeting on the Lebanon crisis in Rome earlier this week, Siniora laid out a plan for a ceasefire that demanded an exchange of prisoners between Lebanon and Israel and a pacification of their common border.
But even more crucially, the plan foresaw the Lebanese government exercising full sovereignty over its southern regions and the UN Security Council making an engagement to put the contested Shebaa farms area under United Nations jurisdiction.
The plan also included an expanded UN role to reactivate the 1949 armistice agreement with Israel. Hizbullah, which some "Western diplomats" are saying is finally "showing some flexibility", is now on the record agreeing to all this.
Hizbullah initially rejected the plan, dismissing Siniora's ideas as personal views. But a meeting between Nabih Berri—who is increasingly playing a pivotal role as a go-between between Hizbullah and the government, and the rest of the world— miraculously transformed Hizbullah's rejection into an acceptance.
The decision of the council of ministers is a surprise and one of the most important decisions taken for years," said the daily An-Nahar. "The government succeeded to address the international community with a single voice."
MP Boutros Harb ("March 14") is hopeful:
"This is a positive development because it reinforces the credibility of the Siniora government towards the international community," said MP Boutros Harb, who belongs to Siniora's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority.
"The decisions of the government have been taken after a profound dialogue and we hope that Hezbollah will respect them," he added.
Will Hizbullah respect the decisions? They will "consider all suggestions" as long as a ceasefire is involved.
But Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah said that the Shiite militant group, which has long controlled much of southern Lebanon and refuses to give up its arms, was ready to consider all suggestions but only after a ceasefire was agreed.
Hezbollah "is ready to study the question of the deployment of an international force on the condition that it respects Lebanese sovereignty. Thus all of us together are taking the same position within the government," said "For the moment neither the composition of this force, its mission or the framework of its deployment are clear. Let's wait for what the international community will propose to us."
"Nobody in Lebanon is opposed to Lebanese sovereignty being extended over all its territory."
Hizbullah also said that they are supporting the Siniora governent to “reinforce national unity". It's a shame they didn't care about this unity before they kidnapped the soldiers, but let's focus on the present situation.
Most important is what Siniora reportedly told Hizbullah, and what maybe got them to agree to back his plan:
According to An-Nahar, Siniora told Hezbollah that Lebanon has to "keep two irons in the fire, that of military resistance to (Israeli) aggression but also put forward plans as the forthcoming diplomatic battle will be hard."
"If we do nothing and play the waiting game we risk the UN Security Council imposing conditions that are not in our favour," he said, according to the paper.
Siniora with this has probably accepted that Lebanon, at this point, should not give up the military resistance as long as the Israeli attack persists. One could conclude, and I'm speculating here, that he is using Hizbullah's resistance as leverage for Lebanon in the upcoming diplomatic battle, given that Israel and the US do not want an unconditional ceasefire.
Despite his perceived failure in chastising Hizbullah, which has incurred the wrath of many Lebanese, Siniora is proceeding down the path that he sees will spare Lebanon an internal conflict and maybe earn the country a long lasting solution to the conflict, a solution that would, eventually, lead to Hizbullah's weapons becoming redundant. That has been his strategy from the beginning, one that didn't work in peace, but in war, things tend to move forward at a faster, albeit tragic, pace.
It may not be clear to all, but what Siniora is doing, despite the uncertainty surrounding his plan and Hizbullah's commitment, is create conditions for a ceasefire. This is probably a European request: get your house in order and we will work on convincing the US to call for a ceasefire. Blair, who is probably now closer to the EU views than the US, is already in Washington working towards that end.
Say what you want about him, but Siniora is our only hope.
Update. Bush and Blair have agreed to support a UN ceasefire resolution and multinational forces to "stabilize southern Lebanon."
Bush said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to the region Saturday, and that "her instructions are to work with Israel and Lebanon to come up with an acceptable U.N. Security Council resolution that we can table next week."
Their plan could be taken up by the U.N. as early as Monday, the leaders said.
... Bush said, "An effective multinational force will help speed delivery of humanitarian relief, facilitate the return of displaced persons [This part was a condition by Nabih Berri], and support the Lebanese government as it asserts full sovereignty over its territory and guards its borders."
Bush said he planned to appeal to the United Nations "for a Chapter 7 resolution setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis, and mandating the multinational force."
With Hizbullah apparently on board and the Lebanese cabinet officially in charge now (see above), it is hoped that a ceasefire is indeed reached early next week.
Let's all hope.
Update 2. Has Hizbullah agreed to disarm? That's what Elaph (Arabic) is now claiming. Hizbullah was reportedly concerned about a UN resolution under chapter 7 that would disarm it by force if necessary. Nabih Berri, Elaph claims, knew about Siniora's plan and agreed to it before the Rome trip, leaving Hizbullah without a political cover in the country. Elaph said Hizbullah chose the lesser of two evils and went with the Siniora plan, which would lead to its peaceful disarmament.
I wonder if Nasrallah's reported visit to Damascus had anything to do with this. If all this is true, then Hizbullah is finished as a military power. But the Assad regime and Iran are still there.