Should the EU designate Hezbollah a terrorist organisation?


Tzipi Livni and Sami Ramadani debate Hezbollah’s status as Europe’s ministers decide on whether to blacklist the group.

 Lebanese Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Photograph: Nabil Mounzer/EPA

Tzipi Livni: Hezbollah attacks civilians. Its status as a political party should not confuse the issue

Tzipi LivniThe European Union is going to decide this week on whether to designate the Lebanese group Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. There is no doubt that it carries out terror attacks targeting innocent civilians within Israel and elsewhere. The most recent was an attack last year on tourists in Bulgaria, which Bulgarian officials have stated was carried out by Hezbollah. The decision to designate it as a terrorist organisation should therefore be obvious. However, European hesitation to declare it as a terrorist group appears to have stemmed from the fact that it is also a political party in Lebanon. This is a mistake.
While Hezbollah is indeed a terrorist organisation, operated by Iran in Lebanon, and a political party, it is ultimately headed by one leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who makes political and terror-related decisions alike.
This “dualist strategy” is not unique to Hezbollah. The free world is frequently exploited by terrorist organisations seeking to cynically use democratic processes in order to infiltrate political systems. Another terrorist organisation that gained power in this way within the Palestinian Authority is Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip. However, winning power through elections has not made these terrorist organisations any more moderate, as might perhaps have been hoped.
Democracy is not merely the notion of “one person, one vote”; it is a whole set of values. An a priori rejection by such organisations of core democratic values must result in their being prohibited from participating in democratic processes, if exploitation and subversion of democratic values is to be avoided. In any democracy underpinned by the rule of law, the government must retain an exclusive monopoly over the legitimate use of force. In Lebanon, however, Hezbollah operates as an independent militia that is heavily armed by Iran and Syria. No democratic nation in the world could reasonably define an armed militia as a “political party”.
History has taught us how necessary it is to set limits and conditions for democratic participation. It has demonstrated time and again the dangers of allowing those pursuing violence and destruction the opportunity to gain strength and power by means of democratic processes.
Organisations that refuse to repudiate violence and terrorism must not be allowed to use the fact of political participation as a shield against counter-terrorism legislation. The notion that one can practise terrorism and celebrate democracy at the same time is deeply flawed: it provides legitimacy to terrorism, encourages violence, and fatally harms moderates. The repudiation of terrorism and violence must be set as a fundamental precondition for participating in democratic elections and for earning international legitimacy.
Preventing democratic exploitation is fully in line with European constitutional rules and practice. Spain, for example, prohibited a political party from participating in elections because of violence. Sinn Féin was asked to do the same in Northern Ireland. Israel has also disqualified extremist parties from participating in elections. The same should be demanded everywhere.
Hezbollah and Hamas have proven the argument that political participation brings about moderation to be false. They have been present in the political arena for many years while continuing to carry out murderous terrorist attacks.
A firm distinction between legitimate political parties and terrorist organisations is crucial for the survival of freedom, democracy and moderation. The clear message must be sent to extremists that legitimacy can only be gained through the repudiation of violence.
• Tzipi Livni is Israel’s minister of justice

Sami Ramadani: it is a legitimate resistance movement backed by the Lebanese people

Sami RamadaniAttempts to brand Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation are not only futile, but fly in the face of the facts of this movement and its history. Like all genuine resistance movements, the Lebanese resistance, led by Hezbollah, was born as a reaction to occupation. And like all successful resistance movements, it draws its strength from the backing of the overwhelming majority of the occupied people. Indeed Hezbollah is the product of not one but two occupations: those of Palestine and Lebanon. Today it is seen by most people in Lebanon not only as the force that ended Israeli occupation of most of the invaded Lebanese territories, but as the shield that defends Lebanon from future Israeli invasion and occupation.
Israeli tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers invaded Lebanon in 1982, besieging its capital Beirut for 90 days, and claiming the lives of thousands of people. The ostensible reason was to defeat the Palestinian resistance movement grouped under the Palestine Liberation Organisation led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO enjoyed the support of Palestinian refugees and many Lebanese nationalist and left organisations. The siege of Beirut was lifted following an international outcry.
However, Israel continued its occupation of large parts of southern Lebanon for another 18 years. The accompanying repression and humiliation suffered by the people, mostly Shia, inevitably produced popular opposition that gave rise to a nationwide Lebanese resistance movement, organised by nationalist, secular left and religious organisations. The latter were led by Amal, whose leader Nabih Berri is now the leader of Lebanon’s parliament. Hezbollah evolved partly from within the ranks of Amal and was led by the young cleric Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. Today, he has become a major political figure in the Middle East, enjoying the support of millions across the region. Hezbollah recently got involved in the war against the Syrian armed opposition near Lebanon’s borders. Nasrallah declared that Hezbollah forces were fighting to defend their “strategic depth” and were part of the broad resistance to Israeli occupation and US-backed forces in Syria and the region.
Hezbollah’s leadership made strong links with the people in the occupied villages and towns. Backed by Syria and Iran, it also built a broad front that gradually encompassed all Lebanon’s religions and sects. Though the resistance in Lebanon is often described as Shia, the coalition of forces led by Hezbollah commands the support of major secular, Christian and Sunni leaders and groups. This is one of the main reasons why Hezbollah has developed into such a formidable force.
However, it is on the battlefields of southern Lebanon that Hezbollah has built its reputation. For the first time in the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict, a military force emerged that could not be defeated by US-backed Israeli forces. Instead of bowing to Israeli and US pressure, the European Union should uphold legality and justice by recognising that resistance movements will not go away unless the reason for their emergence and strength disappears: namely, the Israeli occupation of Arab peoples and lands.

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