Lebanon’s election is an opportunity for peace

Lebanon has been a place of violence for so long that it is surely wrong to pin so much hope on one election. The outcome of Lebanon’s parliamentary election today will not defuse ethnic tensions in Lebanon, nor will they stop foreign powers from intervening in Lebanon’s internal affairs. However, they do give the nation a chance for a peaceful future.

Little violence was reported after polls closed. Even in this tight race for power, characterised by two opposing coalitions, each representing a motley group of constituents, opposing parties competed not to kill each other but to hand out flyers, food and water. Amin Gemayal, former president and head of a Christian party in the election, urged his supporters to accept its outcome regardless.

Observers, particularly from Europe, North America and Israel, complain that Hezbollah, recognised by the US government as a terrorist organisation, is competing as a legitimate party. Hezbollah is notorious for being pro-Syrian, despite Syria’s longtime occupation of Lebanon, and has been, to say the least, a thorn in the side of Israelis. However, it is part of a coalition of different ethnic groups and ideologies. If a supposedly divisive group such as this can cooperate with another Shiite party and a secular party, whose leader, Michel Aoun, and his mainly Christian supporters, who oppose Syrian influence, surely it can cooperate with its political opponents. It may not rush to recognise Israel’s existence, but under pressure, in time, it may consider it advantageous.

Moreover, if Hezbollah is a major part of the government, conflict with Israel is less likely, not more. When it was an opposition party and terrorist group, it could cause endless mischief for Israel because it had no shape that a conventional military could strike. It was not a well-defined group with famous actors that Israeli missles could selectively assassinate, and buildings Israeli tanks could shell. If it forms the government, however, it will be forced to act more responsibly. Its members will occupy government buildings that the Israel Defence Forces can target more easily. It will not want to risk an international war because all rich country aid to Lebanon would be cut off. More of its members will be distracted with affairs of state such as improving the economy, too busy building a reputation for responsibility and openness, reaching out to foreign governments for aid.

That, of course, is assuming that Hezbollah plans to build up a reputation for responsibility and openness, still a highly speculative possibility. But a peaceful election, pressure from coalition partners and the impracticalities of continued violent conflict with its neighbours mean the chances of violence in Lebanon are lower than they have been for a long time. Whatever the outcome of this election, Lebanon has a new opportunity for peace.