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When the five-nation group, known as the Paris Quintet, consisted of just three members — namely the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia — they had divergent views regarding the Lebanese presidential dossier, as the French and the Saudis didn’t see eye to eye on the matter. When Egypt and Qatar joined, disagreements persisted despite the group’s consensus over the president’s characteristics. When the group recently met with Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, disagreements appeared over the timeframe and agenda pertaining to the presidential dossier. This prompted a former minister to say, “The Quintet lacks a coherent strategy. Will this issue be addressed at its upcoming meeting in Riyadh?”
The differences among the Quintet members arose before, during, and after their visit to Berri: they disapproved of Berri’s exclusive meeting with the Saudi ambassador without prior consultation or a pre-meeting to establish an action plan. Consequently, the meeting was postponed and rescheduled for later. As such, the Quintet refrained from meeting the Prime Minister, relevant authorities, and political leaders as reportedly scheduled. Insider sources noted that the encounters were postponed until after the Riyadh meeting, which is expected to outline a roadmap following a ceasefire in Gaza, and prior to French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit to Lebanon.
During a meeting between Berri and the Quintet’s ambassadors, the latter were asked if they had agreed on a candidate. One of them replied that they didn’t have names per se but rather characteristics of the aspiring president. Berri said that from his end, the candidate was Marada Party leader Sleiman Frangieh, adding that a dialogue is needed to reach a consensus. Only then would he call for an electoral session.
Nabih Berri’s statement did not sit well with the opposition, which reacted by urging the Speaker of Parliament to adhere to the Constitution, which calls for holding an open-ended session with consecutive rounds until a president is elected, stressing there is no mention of prior dialogue or consensus. “Any president elected by consensus will remain confined by that very same consensus,” according to the opposition. Berri’s position, as stated during his meeting with the Quintet’s ambassadors, reflects Hezbollah’s, namely that the election of a president is no longer a priority — the same way that it used to be before October 7 — due to Iran’s need to preserve this leverage in its negotiations with Washington.
According to certain sources, the key players, with the exception of a few, are not in favor of having a president, each for their own motives. In fact, electing a Head of State, forming a government, regularizing political life, revitalizing institutions, implementing reforms, and finding a solution for the financial and economic crises could diminish the roles of some and thwart the ambitions of others. In addition, the return to some political stability in Lebanon could reduce the influence and actions of other forces on the local scene.
Moreover, Western circles are concerned about the absence of Christian representation both nationally and internationally due to the presidential vacancy. In parallel, other communities are actively engaging in direct contacts or through regional governments, asserting their role and presence in negotiations in the absence of the region’s only Christian president.
In this context, visitors to the Vatican openly express their concern over the lack of Christian representation and the persistent conflict among Christian factions, preventing Bkerke from unifying them on common ground. This has raised concerns for the Holy See. In fact, the apostolic nuncio has refrained from visiting Bkerke and the leaders of Christian factions. Meanwhile, some local political forces wield influence and actively shape regional developments, pushing agendas that extend beyond Lebanon’s borders.
It appears that Lebanon is excluded from the settlement process, per some diplomatic circles. While no Arab foreign ministers have visited Lebanon since October 7, their Western counterparts are increasingly engaged in efforts to resolve the crisis and prevent Lebanon’s entanglement in regional conflicts. Their aim is to prevent the spread of the war to southern Lebanon.
However, these efforts have failed due to Hezbollah’s refusal to adhere to a ceasefire, implement Resolution 1701, and ensure the security of settlements before a definitive cessation of hostilities in Gaza.
According to well-informed sources, American envoy Amos Hochstein failed to visit Lebanon after his recent trip to Israel because he was informed of Hezbollah’s refusal to discuss land demarcation and implement Resolution 1701 before an end to the war in Gaza.
Lebanon has urged mediators, particularly Hochstein, to convince Israel to honor the 1948 ceasefire agreement, which it says guarantees the security of settlers. However, Israel has firmly rejected this request and conveyed its terms to the French delegation, emphasizing the need for a ceasefire in the south and the withdrawal of Hezbollah fighters and their weapons from the south of the Litani River, otherwise, Israel will opt for the devastating military scenario.
Against this backdrop, some remain optimistic about the election of a president before spring. Following a ceasefire in Gaza, the Quintet is expected to take action based on the “day after” scenario. This could happen through a Madrid 2 peace conference to achieve a comprehensive settlement before the summer, as US President Joe Biden needs to bolster his presidential campaign with an accomplishment. That’s why the Group of Five emphasizes the need for Lebanon to have a legitimate president and a functional government to oversee developments and a potential settlement. Furthermore, they seek to ensure a ceasefire in the south concurrently with Gaza according to the “framework agreement.”
Only then can efforts towards a comprehensive regional solution begin. In Lebanon, Resolution 1701 will be implemented, backed by the Quintet, which will seek the third presidential option: a sovereign, neutral, transparent, and qualified president. One that will kick-start the implementation of the plan, advocating for “no illegitimate weapons and restricting arms solely to legitimate authorities.”
The regional dossier has become a crucial element in the American elections, according to diplomatic sources. Joe Biden’s success hinges on issues concerning the Middle East and finding solutions to the ongoing crises before the end of June to leverage them in his campaign by securing, at least, Israel’s recognition of the two-state solution. At this point, Lebanon stands to gain from the election of a president. Will Biden act accordingly? The incentives are quite compelling. Otherwise, his battle against his opponent, Donald Trump, will be very challenging.