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LEBANON: New Hezbollah platform reflects party's shift to domestic politics

November 30, 2009 |  4:28 pm
Nasrallah nv

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the charismatic leader of the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah, outlined its new platform Monday night, seeking to reaffirm its commitment to pursuing its goals in Lebanon while continuing its ideological war against the U.S. and Israel. 

Nasrallah also sought to assuage Lebanese Christian fears of being shunted aside while staying true to Hezbollah’s conservative Islamic principles and reaching out to secular anti-U.S. movements in other parts of the world.

Nasrallah, who was recently re-elected secretary general of Hezbollah, railed against the effects of “savage capitalism” while reaffirming the party's commitment to Islamic law. He called American policies "the root of all terrorism," praising leftist movements in Latin America and Iran's support for Islamic causes.

"The ‘Unity of the Oppressed’ will always be a pillar of our political thought and our relations and positions regarding international causes," he said.

But even as Nasrallah spoke of a “global front line” against American and Israeli threats, he appeared to take a step back from Hezbollah's previously stated commitment to liberating Palestine from Israel. Instead, Nasrallah called on Arab countries to make Palestine a central issue.

“This is geared for internal consumption and that is why it is such a cautiously worded document,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Hezbollah expert in Lebanon.

Over the years, Hezbollah has evolved from a Shiite Islamist militia whose primary goal was to drive Israel out of Lebanon to a self-sufficient mini-state with its own infrastructure, social services, political leadership and standing army. But after Israel's near complete withdrawal in 2000 the party has had to reorient itself within the internal political landscape and soften some of its stances.

"It’s a very difficult task to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable identities of Hezbollah: the Lebanese, the secular, the Arab, and the Shia, when they all seem to contradict each other," said Saad-Ghorayeb. "In the end it has to cater to so many different constituencies."

The new platform represents Hezbollah’s first official charter since its open letter in 1985 when the party was openly pursuing the establishment of an Islamic state. It comes just as Lebanon’s newly formed Cabinet is wrangling over how and whether to address Hezbollah’s arms, which are illegal under a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Nasrallah did not speak of disarmament. Rather, he spoke vaguely of a defense strategy based on “cooperation” between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army.

“All political decisions should belong to the state,” Nasrallah said in response to a question from a journalist. “The problem is the absence of the state."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Hassan Nasrallah was recently re-elected the secretary general of Hezbollah. Credit: Haitham  Mussawi /AFP/Getty Images

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