Dr. Joseph Gebeily
President of the Lebanese Information Center

Discussion The Road to 1559
United Nations Plaza New York
The Beekman Tower Hotel
Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What I would like to address in my presentation tonight is the exceptional set of circumstances in the early 2000s that surrounded the birth of the UNSCR 1559. A set of circumstances that I would describe as the convergence of 3 separate tracks.

The first track is the American one. Specifically, in the aftermath of 9-11, the Bush administration adopted four principles in combating terrorism: protect the homeland, strike at terrorists, confront their sponsoring states and spread democracy, and particularly in the Middle East). At the same time, and within the Bush Administration, there were strong advocates for Lebanon (Scott Carpenter, Elliott Abrams, Peter Rodman and Walid Maalouf.) The principle of standing for freedom and democracy, coupled with the presence of these friends of Lebanon led to a radical shift in US policy towards Lebanon: from practical indifference towards the Syrian occupation (Lebanon at the end of the 20th century was the only occupied nation in the whole world) to a solid U.S. commitment to Lebanese sovereignty.

The second track is the Lebanese one. Following the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000, pro-sovereignty Lebanese groups began calling for a withdrawal of the Syrian forces. The first of these calls, the path-setter you might say, came from the "Council of Maronite Bishops" appeal in September 2000 which specifically requested the departure of the Syrian army. This was followed by the creation in April 2001 of a Christian political arm for the Maronite Church, the Kornet Chehwan Gathering (KCG) whose main focus was driving the Syrians out of Lebanon. Later, the Kornet Chehwan Gathering started coordinating secretly with Sunni leader Rafic Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and by 2004, an opposition front comprised of the Christians of Kornet Chehwan, the Sunnis of Hariri, the Druze of Jumblatt, and others was established to oppose the Syrian control over Lebanon. In December 2004 - 3 months after the passage of UNSCR 1559, this group met at Beirut's Bristol Hotel and "denounced the amendment of the Lebanese constitution to extend the term of the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's under Syrian duress" and called for "free and fair elections in Lebanon in 2005." (These were elements mentioned in 1559.) Then, in February 2005, the opposition met again at the Bristol Hotel and demanded a "total withdrawal" of Syrian troops from Lebanon." This opposition grouping became the political front leading the March 14 Cedar Revolution in March of 2005.

The third track is the activism of the Lebanese-American groups. In early 2000, and after years of dormancy, Lebanese-Americans were galvanized by the plight of the Lebanese people under Syrian hegemony. In early 2001 Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir's visited the US, toured several localities, and met with thousands of Lebanese-Americans hammering the message of "a sovereign Lebanon free from foreign occupation." This message resonated well within the Lebanese-American community, and Lebanese-American groups began re-organizing and coordinating, working on different fronts to rally the support of the Lebanese-American grassroots as well as the American decision-makers. It was actually around that time when I first met Walid Maalouf.

The Lebanese-American effort consisted then of: Meetings and discussions with US officials in Administration and Congress. Visits to the UN and meetings with the Secretary General team and with Members of the Security Council. Issuance of Policy papers, studies, and reports on the political as well as Human rights situation in Lebanon Joint events and conferences at the US Congress, Policy Institutes and Think Tanks.

This effort first produced the SALSRA in 2003, and shortly afterwards, the establishment of the American Lebanese Coalition (which consisted of the LIC, ALA, ALCC, AFL, WLCU-US, and the AMU). I had the honor of serving as the coalition's first president. In 2004, the ALC organized the Middle Eastern American Convention for freedom and democracy, the largest convention ever that grouped peoples from all areas of the Middle East, all religions, sects, ethnicities in support of the U.S. forward strategy of freedom in the region.

These three tracks would come together on various occasions. From the numerous communications between anti-Syrian Lebanese, the US officials and Lebanese-American groups, the visits by members of the KCG to Washington, the occurrence of the World Maronite Congress in Los Angeles in 2002 to the mobilization of Lebanese Diasporas all over the world by the WLCU . I must add here that for the Lebanese in Lebanon, it was extremely dangerous to be part of this effort. So most of the communication and coordination with them was done in a very secretive manner. And to this day, many details of this interaction have not been made public.

The end result of these three tracks: American, Lebanese and Lebanese-American, and the synergy among them led to what Steve Kaufman has termed in the book as the "perfect storm." A storm that started with the passing of the UNSCR 1559 on September 2, 2004 then, following the assassination of Rafic Hariri on Feb 14, 2005, a sad event we commemorate today, the launching of the Cedar Revolution on March 14, 2005 and ultimately the withdrawal of the Syrian forces on April 26th, 2005 after three decades of occupation.

This story, the story of 1559, described in Steve's book stands as a testament to the effectiveness of activism, commitment and belief in a righteous cause. And what a timely lesson this is, especially now, when the Syrian people themselves are paying in blood for their demands of freedom, democracy and human dignity. A lesson for the Syrian people to keep the faith and a lesson for the United States and the International Community to keep supporting them.

Has the story of 1559 concluded and the storm subsided? Surely, the Syrian regime and Hezbollah would like to think so as evidenced by their constant and consistent attempts at underplaying the importance of 1559 - even going as far as requesting that the position of Special Envoy for 1559 be scrubbed. No, the story is far from concluded, since, in breach of 1559, the militias in Lebanon, Lebanese and non-Lebanese still hinder the full recovery of the Lebanese State Chief among these militias is Hezbollah. But Resolution 1559 will ever stand as a reminder of the commitment of the international community to the sovereignty and freedom of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese government. And 1559 has remained a guideline for all subsequent resolutions on Lebanon such as the 1680, 1701 and probably others to come; as well as the basis for the disarmament of Hezbollah.

Finally, and in light of today's world events dominated by the Arab spring, and most notably the uprising in Syria, one cannot help but think that Resolution 1559, by driving the Syrian regime out of Lebanon, signaled the beginning of the end for the rule of Bashar Assad. Thank you.