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The five-way meeting on the Lebanese crisis that took place in Doha on July 17 resulted in a distribution of roles among the group’s members, namely France, the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in an effort to overcome the obstacles impeding the election of a Lebanese president.

According to Arab diplomatic sources, Qatar was entrusted with the mission of convincing Iran to help facilitate the stalled presidential election by exerting pressure on its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.

Following the Doha meeting, Qatari State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammad Abdel Aziz Al Khulaifi visited Tehran for talks on the Lebanon situation. Prior to his travel, he was briefed on Hezbollah’s stance and vision for the presidential election by a Qatari security delegation that secretly visited the southern suburb (a Hezbollah hotbed).

In parallel, French Special Envoy to Lebanon Jean-Yves Le Drian resumed his mission under a “new guise” after he had dropped the option of a dialogue and the “possible solution” of electing a presidential candidate backed by the Shiite pair, Hezbollah and Amal in return for the appointment of a prime minister close to the opposing camp. Instead, Le Drian came up with the option of a “working table” at the Residence des Pins, the seat of French Ambassadors, to be held in Beirut in September with the aim of outlining the criteria and program of the future president of the republic.

The camp opposing the “Shiite Duo” saw in Le Drian’s new proposal a way to circumvent the Constitution, a matter that would further obstruct election. While promising to give an answer to Le Drian in August, the opposition groups reiterated their backing to their candidate, former minister Jihad Azour, as long as Hezbollah insisted on the candidature of Marada Leader Sleiman Frangieh.

The opposition also firmly rejected Frangieh’s candidature, refusing another replica of the 2016 experience, when former President Michel Aoun, then Hezbollah’s candidate, was elected after more than two years of a presidential void. An opposition leader lambasted Hezbollah’s intimidating rhetoric of “either Frangieh or a long presidential vacuum.” “What happened to democracy and consensus?” the source rhetorically asked in a message to Le Drian. “The main problem is the weapons which Hezbollah has been brandishing to impose a president of the republic on all political factions,” the source said.

In parallel, Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), offered Hezbollah a deal, proposing to trade Frangieh’s election for large administrative and financial decentralization along with control over the sovereign fund, where future gas and oil revenues would be deposited. However, Bassil maintained his support for Azour’s candidature, as FPM MPs have informed colleagues from the Lebanese Forces (LF) that Azour remains the party’s candidate, and that there has been no decision to change that stance.

According to sources close to the Doha meeting, the participants centered their discussions on the qualifications and priorities of the president. This approach raised concerns among the opposition that Hezbollah could exploit Le Drian’s proposal to delay the election and keep it “hostage” until the outcome of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West becomes clear.

Hezbollah’s senior official Nabil Qaouk recently stated that “there will not be a quick solution.” The fact is that Hezbollah’s so-called resistance axis is betting on developments in Israel, especially in the wake of the controversial judicial reforms, which led to an unprecedented schism inside the Israeli military and to popular demands for replacing Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme right government with a moderate administration. Netanyahu’s immoderate policies stirred regional and international anger, especially on the part of the US administration.

Washington is wary that the Israeli government’s performance could sabotage the Abraham Accords for restoring peace in the region. Should it materialize, Netanyahu’s expected visit to Washington is likely to constitute a turning point in bilateral relations.

In Lebanon, US sources believe that mutual provocations by Hezbollah and Israel along the Blue Line are not likely to lead to war, especially in the wake of the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.

In this context, observers raise the question as to why efforts to resolve the presidential crisis were postponed until September.

A Western diplomat argues that the break was imposed by Le Drian’s annual break and that it offers Hezbollah and the FPM some time to reconnect, and allows ongoing negotiations taking place in Oman between the Americans, the Iranians and the Saudis to materialize. The break would also give Hezbollah and the opposition some time to backtrack on supporting Frangieh and Azour, respectively, in favor of a third candidate.

September will be the last chance to elect a president. According to Le Drian, “The consultations (in September) will tackle the president’s criteria and priorities. If the talks fail, the five countries of the Doha meeting will halt their efforts, and sanctions will be imposed on the disruptive parties.”