Interview: Walid Jumblatt

The veteran politician tells Al Jazeera Iran's influence threatens Lebanon's stability.

    Jumblatt, left, and Saad al-Hariri, right, hope the international tribunal will deliver a verdict [EPA]

    Walid Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon and one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, a movement triggered by the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister.

    He has for several years spearheaded efforts to free Lebanon from Syrian influence.

    Jumblatt is now calling for a realistic approach to dealing with regional developments, including Syria's emergence from isolation. 
    He says he also realises that Iran has become more powerful and influential in the region, especially with the US hinting that it is willing to talk to Iranian leaders and move away from a confrontation. 

    Al Jazeera's Rula Amin met with the veteran politician ahead of the fourth anniversary of al-Hariri's assassination.

    The following are excerpts from that interview.

    Al Jazeera: al-Hariri's assassination triggered the Cedar Revolution [a movement demanding Syria withdraws from Lebanon]. How much has been accomplished in the last four years? 

    Jumblatt: We had a dream that Lebanon could become independent, that we could have a proper state, control our own security, and our borders.

    This dream nowadays is far from being reached because of regional circumstances, because also the other side - the Syrian-Iranian axis - is very powerful inside Lebanon.

    The Syrian troops are out [of Lebanon] but their allies are very powerful inside Lebanon. 

    But you are in the government and you have the majority.

    We control nothing. We have to control by compromise.

    When you don't control your own security services, when you are infiltrated, when you don't control your own borders, and when you are not able as a state to decide war and peace; well, it's not a very usual situation. 

    Do you feel al-Hariri died in vain? 

    I didn't say that, but his blood paved the way for the departure, the official departure, of the Syrians.

    But the dream that we are still striving to achieve is far away.

    We want to have an independent Lebanon, not anchored in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and removed from the bargaining [with] the Syrians and Iranians on one side, the Israelis and Americans on the other side.

    That dream seems far-fetched. 

    Are you that pessimistic? 

    I'm not pessimistic. I will continue my duty, my fight.

    I have to do it, there's no other way. I hope that the Lebanese population, the young people, are still believing our dream, I hope so. 

    How significant is the tribunal investigating the Hariri assassination which will start on March 1? 

    The tribunal investigating al-Hariri's assassination will start on March 1 [EPA]
    The tribunal will be set on March 1, but it's a long way until the verdict will be announced.

    Also, we will have to see what happens if and when the suspects are called upon.

    We have to see if the Lebanese government can maintain security because they have to go outside Lebanon. It is a big issue. 

    We were expecting this tribunal in 2006, the summer before the war.

    But it is a long process because it is a very unique tribunal.

    In case there is a verdict, and in case the verdict is to our aspirations, indicting the Syrian regime - this will likely be a very complicated tribunal, both politically and legally.

    I don't know if the political side will win over the legal side. I have no idea. 

    How much faith do you have that the tribunal will deliver justice? 

    Justice cannot be reached with such regimes [Syria] as long as these regimes are still alive.

    Look, the last effective tribunal was at Nuremberg. But Germany was defeated and the criminals, the big criminals at that time, were brought to justice and hanged.

    This [Syrian] regime is still there. 

    Do you have concerns that the political atmosphere in the region will inhibit the court and tribunal? 

    I always have these fears in mind.

    For example, maybe tomorrow [Benyamin] Netanyahu, the leader of the Israeli Likud party, will come to power, and he will revive the so-called Syrian track, regardless of Lebanon and Palestine

    The Israelis – neither the Likud nor Labour parties - care about Lebanon.

    They just care about destroying Lebanon and they just care about giving Lebanon to the Syrians to satisfy their purposes.

    So I have to be concerned. 

    What exactly is your concern - what will happen? 

    Things will be delayed. Suspects might be killed. The tribunal will go on, but I mean it's not so easy.

    As I told you, as long as the Syrian regime is strong, there is a big handicap and I'm afraid again that the tribunal could be regarded as a bargaining chip with the Syrians. 

    The Syrians are getting out of their isolation …

    Unfortunately, yes. 

    Did you expect that? 

    Yes - because when the Western governments told me we have to change the Syrian's behaviour, well, this is a very diplomatic answer and very cynical at the same time, to ask for a dictator to change his behaviour.

    I don't like it. 

    Does Barack Obama's election give you more hope or are you concerned?
    Because of the failure of the past president, George Bush.

    In Palestine - total failure - and now with the new realities on the ground - the Iranians here, the Persian Empire somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Gaza, in Lebanon, controlling Syria - well, Obama is going to have to engage them.

    And also because of the total failure of Americans in the so-called nation building process in Afghanistan, the Iranians are going to be a key player everywhere and the Americans will have to abide by the new rules. 

    Do you think it is wise for Obama to engage them? 

    He has no other choice but to engage the Iranians.

    How will that reflect on Lebanon?

    Well, the Iranians will engage the Americans and the West from a strong position, asking for privileges or their interests to be respected in the Gulf, in Iraq of course, in Lebanon, in Palestine - Palestine meaning Hamas. 

    How do you think that the events - the war - in Gaza will affect Lebanon? Does it make the likelihood of another war more imminent? 

    No, it was just a test on the behalf of Hamas.

    Of course, I can understand that being under the so-called siege is harassing, it's suffocating.

    But even listening to Recep Teyyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister and the friend of Hamas, he said that Hamas committed a mistake by breaking the so-called hudna (truce).

    Ok, but now Hamas, I am not going to say they are victorious, it is a victory of a political nature. But at what price?

    They should be dealt with. 

    Do you think that strengthened Hezbollah?

    Yes, of course.


    Because the Arabs are divided, it indicated to Hezbollah, that the Iranians are telling the Arab world 'we are here. We can control Hamas, we can use Hamas and control Hezbollah'.

    And Iran will just deal directly with the Americans. 

    But these Iranians when you speak of the Iranians, these are the Persians - they are dreadful, but very intelligent and patient.

    They make carpets. It takes them years but at the end, they make the carpet. 

    Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president, just announced his candidacy for upcoming elections in Iran - is that a significant development for you?

    Yes, but he controls nothing. 

    Do you think he will win? Does he have any chance of winning?

    I don't see Khatami being able to dismantle the whole apparatus - security, military, economic - which the revolutionary guards control.

    How do you envision 2009 for Lebanon? 

    Whether we win or lose the elections, this is trivial.

    I wish we could be able to fix the economy, basic issues of the economy, and not to engender confessional or sectarian hatred.

    Enough of the sectarianism.

    What do you miss about Rafiq al-Harriri, four years later? 

    I miss a lot of things, he was a great friend. I still have when I speak of him this great emotion. He had a big dream of building up Lebanon, a stable Lebanon, a viable and flourishing Lebanon.

    But we have two countries surrounding us - the Israelis and the Syrian regime.

    They just hate us, they just hate us. And they don't care about our prosperity, or our independence; they hate us. 

    Including the Israelis? 

    Of course, of course, more than ever, of course.

    We saw it in 2006, we saw it in 1996, and we saw it in 1982 when they invaded Beirut.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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