Lebanese Politics / A Decisive One-third Minority

It had been a month since Hassan Nasrallah's last public appearance. There had been a great deal of activity in Lebanon, with the French foreign minister coming and going, Arab ambassadors getting involved in the Lebanese cauldron and leaving with no results, and now, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy "declared war" on Syria, the Hezbollah leader stepped up to stress that Damascus is not the responsible adult in Lebanon - he is.

Nasrallah will be the one who determines Lebanon's political future, or the lack thereof, unless the Lebanese government is willing to agree to a veto-wielding one-third in the cabinet. Without such an agreement, Nasrallah says there will be no government or president in Lebanon.

The "preventive" or "decisive" one-third is a key concept to understanding the political crisis in Lebanon. According to the Lebanese constitution, only a majority of two-thirds in the cabinet can pass significant decisions. This means that whoever holds one-third plus one in the cabinet can prevent any such decisions.

For example, a peace agreement with Israel, the establishment of a tribunal to try the murderers of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Syria's position in Lebanon, how the budget will be divided, and dozens of other issues. The Lebanese government is steadfast in its unwillingness to acquiesce to Nasrallah's demand because it means a loss of control on policy making. But for at least the past year, the Lebanese government has not been able to make policy in any case.

In clarifying his responsibility for the political situation in Lebanon, Nasrallah is not only trying to protect Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime, he is trying to embarrass the French president. After all, what is the point of declaring that you are angry with Assad if the real culprit is Nasrallah, with whom France has no dealings? This is also a message for the Egyptian president and Saudi king, both heavily involved in trying to resolve the impasse in appointing a president: Unless Hezbollah is involved in the dialogue, there is nothing for them in Lebanon.

Nasrallah has nothing important to tell the Israeli public on the issue of the abducted soldiers, or on the negotiations for their release. Had he anything to tell the Israelis, it would be to blame Israel's security services for what Hezbollah maintains is Israel's role in the murder of politicians, all in an effort to destabilize the country.

The timing of the interview, on the other hand, emphasizes that Nasrallah has a lot to say to the Lebanese, especially on the eve of yet another attempt to reach an agreement on a president.