France 'regrets' Lebanese leaders' failure to deliver on independent Cabinet formation
BEIRUT: Paris’ efforts for a swift government formation in Lebanon have reached a dead end, after Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri blasted Wednesday the Shiite duo for their insistence on retaining the Finance Ministry.
Hariri said the finance portfolio did not belong to any a particular sect, arguing that the refusal “to rotate key ministries is violating the last chance to save Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
“The Finance Ministry and other ministerial portfolios are not the exclusive right of any sect,” the former PM tweeted.
Lebanon’s rival political groups have been at loggerheads for the better part of a week over the allocation of ministries, missing the French deadline of 15 days to form a new government.
In response to the stalemate, France issued a statement Wednesday expressing its regret “that Lebanese political leaders were unable to fulfill their assurances to French President Emmanuel Macron.”
The deadline has now been extended by an additional 24 hours, sources say, as France remains cautiously hopeful for the resolution of the conflict.
Hezbollah and Amal have both demanded that the Finance Ministry be headed by a Shiite, either appointed or approved by them in contradiction to Macron’s wishes.
Macron has repeatedly called for the formation of a miniature government free of the grip of Lebanon’s traditional ruling elite.
President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Lebanese Forces and Hariri’s Future Movement have all expressed their willingness to not partake in the government.
The Amal Movement’s insistence on holding on to the finance portfolio was only intensified in the wake of the U.S’ sanctions on Speaker Nabih Berri’s close aid and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil.
Sources familiar with the negotiations told Annahar Tuesday that Prime Minister-designate Moustapha Adib is considering handing in the towel as a result of the gridlock.
His scheduled visit to meet with Aoun at the Baabda Presidential Palace for the latest round of deliberations was postponed until Thursday, sources say, as he considers his next move.
Adib, up to this point, has been hellbent on forming a miniature government of 14 members, with the sovereign ministries, including the Finance, Foreign and Interior Ministries, rotated among rival parties.
PSP leader Walid Jumblatt, for long an influential politician who has found himself on the outside looking in recent years, blasted the unwillingness of his rivals to abide by the French’s demands.
"Apparently some do not understand or do not want to understand that the French initiative is the last opportunity to save Lebanon and to prevent its disappearance, as the French foreign minister said clearly," Jumblatt, the main figure within Lebanon’s Druze community, said on Twitter.
Last month, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that Lebanon risked disappearing without critical reforms that would unlock billions in international support.
If the French initiative flounders, analysts say, the U.S would consider stepping in and steamroll a fresh batch on sanctions targeting Hezbollah and its Christian allies.
Aoun’s son in law and leader of the FPM Gebran Bassil, a Hezbollah ally who had repeatedly clashed with Berri in the past, has been under pressure from the international community to facilitate the formation of an independent government amid reports that he may be the next target of U.S sanctions.
“As the Free Patriotic Movement, we are committed to the success of the French initiative but hold a great fear that it will fail,” Bassil said earlier this week while criticizing Berri for insisting on nominating the upcoming finance minister.
His position was echoed by a member of his party and MP Simon Abi Ramia, who took to Twitter Wednesday urging officials to demonstrate “reason and facilitate the formation of the government.
“We are facing 24 critical hours in which either the logic of reason triumphs and we head towards forming a new government, or the logic of stubbornness triumphs and Adib steps down,” he said.