Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Recipe for a fruitful discussion

Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/11/2009

Bring a thread, not a woven carpet!

g2spv9013pI was reading a couple of blogs today, vast discussions debating over the best solution to the Palestinian question (the more realistic, the more equitable, the more profitable…). Bloggers were parrotting  politicians, proposing package deals and behaving like merchants, trying to sell the best product, the miracle pill.

It reminded me of those humorous pills you find in gadget stores (“Take two pills a day and become blond”, “Four pills to learn German”) or at your chemists (“this pill will make u happier”, “this pill will make u slimmer”).

These discussions have little sens. They do not even qualify as discussions. It’s like merchants yelling their goods. And taking it very much at heart, behaving as if they created the product to start with.
In Lebanon, we have similar discussions. The debate over institutional reform follows the same pattern. People will howl at you the virtues of federalism, others will hammer at you the necessity for deconfessionalisation. Each is convinced that the opponent’s solution is seditious, destructive and morally flowed.

Such discussions are sterile. A one state solution for Palestine/Israel could threaten Jewish existence as much as it could threaten Palestinian existence. It could be a solution just as it could just reframe the problem. All depends on the institutions that will be chosen and the way social and political actors will interact with them. Similarly, a two state solution could reinforce the antagonism between the two people just as it could comfort their fears.
The same could be said about the institutional debate in Lebanon. Federalism could bring the country closer together just as it could be the first step towards a permanent divorce between regions and communities. It all depends on what kind of federalism is adopted and how the social and political actors will interact with the new institutions. These two elements are hardly ever considered. The same could be said about confessionalisation and deconfessionalisation. Up to now, the results haven’t been very positive either way. When President Chehab introduced confessionalism to the public administration in the 1960s, it worked as an instrument of “affirmative action” but increased the hold of patronage networks and gave it a stronger communal flavour. Similarly, when the Taef agreement got rid of the Chehabist parity rule, it didn’t diminish the hold of the patronage networks but encouraged Christian-Lebanese to “withdraw” from the State apparatus (just as they had did since the 1950s from the Municipality of Beirut)…

Wouldn’t it be preferable to stop looking for the miracle panacea and spend all our energy on defending this “global solution” and just tackle the points that we find important, one by one? For example advancing individual and collective rights or dismounting the patronage networks in Lebanon, or working on mobility, security and the respect of individual and collective rights in Israel/Palestine…


2 Responses to “Recipe for a fruitful discussion”

  1. lirun said

    ok so uve criticised discussion.. but ur solution seems to be the same as the object of your frustration.. more discussion 🙂

    • Hey Lirun,
      I probably didn’t express myself correctly. It’s not the principle of discussion that I’m criticising, quite the contrary. I think discussions are essential. What I’m criticising is the solution (ex: final status) driven discussions. I don’t believe they are fruitful, for the reasons that I have already expressed. I think problem centered discussions are much more interesting, and that’s when people actually enter into a dialogue, a real exchange of ideas.
      Let’s take the question of mobility. This is a central issue in Israeli/Palestinian affairs. It can be tackled directly without waiting for a final status for Jerusalem or the Palestinian territories. When one discusses mobility, one discovers many related issues such as access to airports, access to religious places, access to the sea, opportunities to meet and learn about one another…

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