Immersed in his readings with a pile of files at his side, Walid Jumblatt seems at once worried and relaxed. Worried because more than ever he is aware of the responsibilities he carries to put down the fires that more than one arsonist has been provoking for the past several months in the Mountain. These are obvious attempts at trying to contain Jumblatt, and even to crush or kill him, if only symbolically and politically. So he is deploying all his efforts, like a minesweeper would, in order to defuse one by one all the mines that are being laid on his path. He is confronted to two evils (demons in french) which he is trying to put out of harm's way: the specter of 1977 - the assassination of Kamal Jumbled by the Syrian regime who was the major stumbling block to the plan of alliance of minorities - and that of 1982 - the disastrous and absurd Druze-Christian war of the Mountain against the backdrop of manipulations of the communities by foreign forces. But the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party is also relaxed. He refuses to play the game of violence, and yield to the attempts of opposing parties at exploiting the issue of sectarian hatred in order to re-open the wounds of the past and revisit history. But he also says he remains open to dialogue with the pro Syrian and Iranian Lebanese parties, while stressing he will not submit to the logic of force. Walid Jumblatt will not take the path of voluntary subservience, and refuses to revisit history backwards. He will no longer take or use the path to Damascus. For him, it is an era that is "forever gone." "It's over," he says to "L'Orient-Le Jour" from his home in Clemenceau, his black dog Lucy (granddaughter of the late Oscar), frolicking around him. But beyond that, Jumblatt is aware of the gravity of international, regional and local issues that are "bigger than us". Hence, he is appealing Hezbollah’s General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah to reason.
Concerning the "very serious" and deadly incident that took place in Bassatine - and not Qabr Chmoun, Jumblatt points out - on June 30 between his supporters and those of MP Talal Arslane, against a background of hostile protests regarding the visit that day to the Mountains of Minister and Chief of the Lebanese Patriotic Movement (CPL) Gebran Bassil, Walid Jumblatt puts it in the context of various attempts at trying to besiege him politically. First, the electoral law, a "false proportional" which aimed particularly "at reducing his parliamentary group", and which "may have improved the Christian representation", but ended up "dividing even more the country at the community level" . Mr. Joumblatt's group thus went down from 16 to 9 deputies, and the CPL artificially created a sub-block aimed at reinforcing Arslane's leadership. Then, the incident of Choueifat that took place with the Democratic Party of M. Arslane and in the wake of the legislative elections last summer in which a supporter of the PSP was killed. Mr. Arslane never delivered his wanted supporters, and he even covered their flight to Syria. Last January, it was the head of the al-Tawhid party, Wi'am Wahhab, a close associate of the Assad regime (just like Talal Arslane), who mobilized convoys of armed supporters which paraded on the roads of Moukhtara, the ancestral palace of Jumblatt. The provocation nearly degenerated into a confrontation, that ended up taking place two days later in Mr. Wahhab's village. A patrol of the Internal Security Forces, dispatched by the Prime Minister to apprehend Mr. Wahhab, had clashed with his supporters. One of them succumbed from a bullet gunshot under mysterious circumstances. Politically, Mr. Jumblatt and the Lebanese Forces were pressured by Baabda and the CPL to accept -presumably at the insistence of the Tehran-Damascus axis-, a pro-Arslan Druze minister, Assad Saleh Gharib, and to entrust him with the sensitive portfolio of the Syrian refugees. "And then there was the case of Bassatine," continues Walid Jumblatt. "I do not know what the future has in store for us”, he says.
The "ambitions" of Bassil
The Bassatine fight didn’t just happen out of the blues. It is the result of a campaign that has been prepared and led by the CPL leader and his supporters for months, in order to provoke Mr. Jumblatt’s followers on a sectarian level. After the vitriolic and bitter attacks on social medias, and the peremptory statements in the medias since last year's election campaign, there has been the "verbal excesses of Gebran Bassil, that created animosity in some areas of the Mountain". "Mr. Bassil is free and welcomed to go wherever he wants, but not this way. Imagine, if for example I decide to visit Keserwan or the Metn accompanied by an entire Praetorian guard, all in an atmosphere of sectarian tensions caused by my own free will and desires. What would happen then?”, he wonders. Walid Jumblatt then goes on to expresses his attachment to the reconciliation of the Mountain that was concluded with the late Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, and consolidated with Patriarch Bechara Rai and various other Christian components and personalities. "I thank all the Christian parties and personalities who have supported me, and who have protected the stability of the Mountain. I also salute them for rejecting such ostentatious demonstrations on the part of Mr. Bassil. What I can see behind all of this are personal ambitions, short-term political calculations, as well as the fierce hatred that the Syrian regime has towards me…".
Arslan, “Nasrallah’s spokesperson "
Consequently, Walid Jumblatt wanted to immediately calm the atmosphere, by accepting the various mediation efforts led by the Speaker of parliament Nabih Berry and the Director of the General Security, General Abbas Ibrahim. "In my first meeting with Saad Hariri at the dinner arranged by Mr. Berry in Ain el-Tine almost three weeks ago, we have raised the possibility that if the investigation decides on transferring the case to the Court of Justice, this would require a decision by the Council of Ministers. The opposing rhetoric was immediately set in motion, calling for the Court of Justice at all costs. Fair enough. But we insisted that first there should be an investigation that would accurately determine the facts. I handed-in the two people that were implicated, after having handed-in others whose connection with the incident was not established. The investigation determined that one of the two had indeed fired. For its part, the other party still refuses to deliver the ones who were involved in the incident," he says.
And the leader of the PSP adds: "In fact, the verdict was ready early on. I was convicted even before the beginning of the investigation. The interview given by Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to al-Manar TV channel has clarified the situation considerably. Mr. Arslan and his people are just spokesmen for Nasrallah, who himself supported the claim that the incident was indeed an ambush aimed at killing a minister. Nasrallah established himself as both an investigator and a judge. "
"I am paying the price of my disapproval towards Damascus and Tehran"
Asked about the context of the Bassatine incident, Mr. Jumbled offers the following analysis: "At the regional level, the "useful Syria " led by Bashar al-Assad is all set up, and the Syrian regime is now feeling comfortable. Seeing the enormous stakes that the big American-Iranian confrontation hold, the Iranian-Syrian bloc wants to be the only decision-maker than him on the local scene."
But what is Jumblatt being blamed for exactly? "What is unfolding now is the trial regarding my criticisms of the Syrian regime and my support of the Syrian revolution. I am also paying the price of my criticisms towards the Revolutionary Guards, when there was a decision between us and the Hezbollah to turn this page and to stop the verbal game. I have explained my position regarding the Shebaa Farms several times, which is none other than the wordings of the resolution that was agreed on at the 2006 National Dialogue Conference in the presence of the Hezbollah’s Secretary General “, replied Walid Jumblatt.
The “Fattouche connection”
But there is something else, he raises. The case of Ain Dara. "Could it be a matter of bringing us back to the case of the Fattouche brothers' cement factory in Ain Dara, which we have been opposed to for a long time? Although I am convinced that the stakes are much higher, Pierre Fattouche has recently highlighted the privileged nature of his connections with Maher el-Assad, as an obvious reminder. Somehow, there is a conflict of interests around this case to say the least. But even before the story of the cement plant, the ecological disaster suffered by Ain Dara was already very important to me. I tried to solve the problem but without success. In 1998, during a meeting with Hafez al-Assad, I spoke about the story of Fattouche and Ain Dara. Typical of him and of his tricky ways, he did not answer me directly. It was the then Chief of Staff Hikmat Chehabi who told me later on that I have touched on a sensitive point by making this request to the Syrian President, and that he considered that the Fattouche case was nothing more than a family affair”, says Mr. Jumblatt. "I do not understand why Hassan Nasrallah wants to intervene by adding oil to the fire in regards to the feud with the Fattouche brothers. It's quiet disappointing” he adds.
"In fact, they are telling me: you are either with us or against us. It reminds me of Rustom Ghazale's politics in 2004. As if I Walid Jumblatt, could have changed anything on the regional and international arena, and in the immense conflict between the United States and Iran. Right now, they are seeing conspiracy theories everywhere. All these issues and questions are beyond me, and the one pertaining to Shebaa as well”, said the head of the PSP.
"Nasrallah wants to paralyze everything"
As for Hezbollah's intentions, Walid Jumblatt says: "According to me, Talal Arslane does not hold weight in terms of decision making. You have to go to the Sayyed. I do not understand his attitude. Logically, the Hezbollah has a vested interest in reviving the action of the government. it voted for the first time in favor of the budget. The party is concerned with the stability of Lebanon. I do not understand why it refuses to unblock this issue. It is now up to him to ask the question. I can not put myself in his shoes by trying to decipher its logic."
Mr. Jumblatt wants to send a clear message to Saad Hariri: "Hassan Nasrallah wants to paralyze everything. Can he accept any criticism or tolerate a nuanced opinion? Is it impossible to implement another approach to the situation? Am I an obstacle to his politics? I do not have any weight on the Syrian terrain. I made an attempt which has failed, and I acknowledged it. If he thinks I can do anything for the fugitives of the Syrian army, no I cannot. I do not have any influence there. I'm just trying to help with Ankara’s support, the Druze who are in Idlib , and I am in discussions with the Russians ", he adds.
"I will not go back to Damascus"
"We must not delude ourselves. Does the ‘moumanaa’ want to paralyze the country and destroy the justice by following the instructions of the new local ‘Mahdawi’ (referring to Minister Selim Jreissati)? What do they want? To shut me up ? How can I moderate my speech? Anyway, I will not go back to Damascus. This is out of the question. This era is over. I will always maintain my usual judgemental positions towards the Syrian regime, but that will not change anything. I repeat, I do not have the ability to change the situation," he said acknowledging that he “has not been very clever by criticizing the Russians " in regards to the Syrian issue. And he emphasized: "Yes to dialogue. No to capitulation.”
For Walid Jumblatt, the dissociation between the Hezbollah and the Syrian regime on the basis of an Iranian-Russian conflict is pure theory: "From the beginning, the Hezbollah knew that pledging to fight alongside the Syrian regime was a strategic issue for him. Currently, it is about Iran and its historical long-established objectives: those of the Persian Empire ever since the dawn of times. It's done. Iran has established its influence starting from Tehran all the way to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean."
A request to Aoun to make a move
In regards to the President of the Republic Michel Aoun, Jumblatt has a request : "It would be in your best interest to make a move in regards to the Bassatine’s case. We agreed to the idea of a military court, but someone from the opposite camp has to be arrested! There are three more years to go for the mandate. Does Mr. Aoun want the situation to linger this way?”. And in regards to Gebran Bassil: "I'm ready to meet with him. But where is he going? Where are we all going ? He has scored points on the electoral terrain, but is this how he wants to ensure the success of his father-in-law's mandate? Is this how we will spend the next three years? "
"Mr. Aoun said that 300,000 Syrian refugees have returned home and that others should theoretically do the same. But now it is a matter of seeing if the Syrian regime wishes for them to return wherever they actually can. And what about the devastated areas? Who will rebuild Syria? Does the regime want to repatriate the refugees that are from Homs, and which it (the regime) destroyed? And what happened to the Russian-Lebanese commission that was supposed to work on an initiative to settle this issue? What did Vladimir Putin and the president talk about in Moscow during their eleven-minutes talk, from which everyone was dismissed except for the presidential family? So many questions that have no answers," said the leader of the PSP.
Ending with a final allusion vis-a-vis the Syrian-Iranian axis, this time in regards to the Iranian attempt at getting a hold of the Palestinian map: "I welcome the firm position of Mahmoud Abbas, who has not endorsed the deal on Palestine. I would have liked Hamas to follow the example, for the sake of the unity and the strength of the Palestinian political arena and for its cause ... "
(This interview was originally published in L'Orient-Le Jour in French on the 25th of July)