Revisiting Past Attempts to End Lebanon's Conflicts
A Project by UMAM Documentation and Research
2015 - 2016
Supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in Lebanon


Similar to previous programs in which UMAM D&R has engaged, this effort combines a documentation and research component with an awareness-raising effort that seeks to advance exchanges (particularly among the Lebanese), that focus on relations within the country's various components, its interaction with neighbors near and far, as well as other vital topics. Of course, this program includes a great deal of work on the past (primarily the recent past), so it should be evident that its purpose is not only to help see the present more clearly, but also to devise useful strategies for the future.

While the name of this program describes its intent, a few remarks may help situate the effort vis-à-vis current development and concerns.

In 2015, the Lebanese commemorated the 40th anniversary of the day on which several coincidences somehow aligned to spark the country’s civil war: April 13, 1975. The Lebanese did so, however with obvious indifference and aloofness
 In reality, that was not the only anniversary the Lebanese could have chosen to observe that year. For instance, they might have opted to commemorate the 380th anniversary of the execution of Prince Fakhreddin Maan II, an iconic figure some Lebanese see as the founding father of the Lebanese entity (April 13, 1635). They could also have observed the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the "War of the Camps" or the 1985 Tripartite Agreement that was signed in Damascus by three of Lebanon's illustrious community leaders/warlords (one of which was killed by a car bomb in 2002 after a parliamentary and ministerial career, while the other two continue to play major roles in Lebanon’s affairs). They might even have opted to reflect on the 25th anniversary of the Taif agreement (1990), which heralded the beginning of Lebanon's Second Republic. In short, the Lebanese could have celebrated could have celebrated any of several other events that influenced the country's history to varying extents. 

Regardless of the myriad reasons that might have distracted the Lebanese from commemorating that 40th anniversary on April 13, 1975, as it should have been observed (though it would be interesting to graph the changes in their enthusiasm/apathy about that anniversary), they still have an opportunity to redeem themselves in 2016. As if by coincidence, the first, serious attempt to end the "war" occurred in 1976. But while that bid has long since disappeared from the country's collective call, it is as worthy of reminiscence as the many peaks and valleys of that war. 
However well-intentioned that initial attempt may have been seen (an assumption that is not immune to criticism), it failed dramatically, and the war persisted. A second, unsuccessful bid took place in 1982 and coincided with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Finally, a third failed attempt was made in 1985, when the Tripartite Agreement was signed.

The Taif agreement that ultimately halted the violence in Lebanon remained largely theoretical until a military operation was waged against the Baabda Presidential Palace (occupied by that time by one of the war's primary actors, who steadfastly rejected its substance).
Yet, while Taif ended the war in Lebanon and marked the beginning of the ear of Syrian tutelage, it also heralded the commencement of a new period. In that case, regional and international powers either blessed or accepted as a fait accompli (directly or indirectly) the nascent yet intimate coexistence of Reconstruction and Resistance within the tiny country of Lebanon, particularly since Israel was still occupying a large part of the country.

As of February 14, 2005 (the day a huge explosion rocked Beirut killing [among others] the champion of the country's reconstruction), Lebanon began yet another (ongoing) phase in its history. In typical Lebanese fashion, however, even this latest stage has been marked by episodic violence, sometimes taken to the extremes. In fact, that seesaw violence lingered until regional and international actors interceded to produce the 2008 Doha Agreement, referred to often as a "booster shot" for the Taif Agreement.

The efforts referenced above are among the most salient points along the timeline of attempts to "end the war." Regardless of the character and sponsors (local, regional or international) of such efforts, all had to consider the extant, domestic Lebanese bones of convention, and none could avoid suggesting "solutions" to those disparities—even when those "suggestions" were extremely temporary in nature. Regardless of the weight exerted by external and foreign factors, they relate consistently to specific local (domestic) or even indigenous terms, such as the ceaseless debates over Lebanon’s Arab identity, its system of "confessionalism," the nature of its relationship with Syria, etc.

Until recent years, existential Lebanese debates over the country’s identity and commitments—manifested periodically through displays of fierce violence—seemed to be exceptions to the general rules regarding political and security "stability" throughout the Middle East. Today, however, those rules have been broken. The entire region has degenerated into a breeding ground for conflicts and wars in which old adversities, long since considered by many to be little more than vestiges of the past, are being reawakened. Like several of its neighbors (though still spared from the levels of violence that has stricken them), Lebanon now appears to have lost its exceptional status. Moreover, like other Middle Easterners, the Lebanese must not only commence some very serious soul-searching efforts, but also explore new intra-Lebanese deals.

Despite all of this, however, it is certainly worthwhile to review some of the historical attempts made to achieve peace in Lebanon. After all, drawing lessons from those attempts—even considering their lack of success—might prove valuable not only for Lebanon, but for other countries as well.

The research conducted by UMAM D&R into REVISITING PAST ATTEMPTS TO END LEBANON'S CONFLICTS is available in the PEACE UPON YOU section of the MEMORY AT WORK website.

Media coverage of PEACE UPON YOU can be found here or in the section UMAM IN THE MEDIA.

PEACE UPON YOU - Snapshots from the Conference