Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri revoked his resignation Tuesday following a consensus deal reached with rival political parties, marking an end to one of the most bizarre interludes in Lebanese politics.
The announcement came at the end of the first Cabinet meeting to be held since Lebanon was thrown into a political crisis following Hariri’s stunning move a month ago.
Hariri announced his resignation in a Nov. 4 televised broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s meddling in regional affairs as a main reason for stepping down. The nature of the announcement raised suspicions that it was orchestrated by Saudi Arabia, his main backer, and that he was being held against his will, prompting calls for his release from top Lebanese officials.
The move thrust Lebanon to the forefront of the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and shattered the national unity government that Hariri headed.
Following French diplomacy that facilitated Hariri’s departure from Saudi Arabia to Paris for a brief visit, he returned to Lebanon on Nov. 21 and put the resignation on hold to allow for consultations.
The Lebanese have rallied around Hariri in what became an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia.
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, attended by Hariri, endorsed a statement that calls on rival Lebanese groups to distance themselves from regional conflicts and the internal affairs of Arab countries.
“The Lebanese government, through all its political components, disassociates itself from any conflicts or wars, as well as the internal affairs of Arab countries to protect Lebanon’s political and economic relations with its Arab brothers,” Hariri said.
He then said he had rescinded his resignation.
It is not clear what, if anything, the agreement entails beyond a supposed commitment to tone down inflammatory rhetoric toward regional states from all sides.
Hariri has complained about the Shiite militant Hezbollah group’s meddling in regional affairs, including the affairs of Gulf countries — a reference to Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is fighting Shiite rebels supported by Iran.
Two days before Hariri returned to Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reiterated that it was not playing a military role in warn-torn Yemen and categorically denied any role in launching a missile from Yemen toward Saudi Arabia. In conciliatory remarks that sent positive signals to Hariri, he also said Hezbollah cadres would be coming back from Iraq now that the Islamic State group has been defeated there.
Hezbollah has also sent thousands of fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s forces, and the group is unlikely to scale down its presence significantly in the near future.
Hezbollah, however, needs a Sunni partner in Lebanon and will make an effort to maintain Hariri’s coalition government.
France is expected to host a meeting of the Group of International Support for Lebanon this week, as part of its continued efforts to maintain stability in Lebanon.