Fouad Seniora, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, is thrilled that the Donor Conference for Lebanonís Early Recovery in Stockholm yielded almost one billion dollars to assist in the re-building the 130,000 homes, 78 bridges destroyed and 630km of roads damaged during Israelís war of aggression. The Lebanese government is asking the international community for $75m for temporary housing largely because it is unwilling to open up to refugees hundreds of thousands of square meters of vacant space in the downtown. It has also pledged up to $33,000 per family to rebuild destroyed homes. How these funds will assist farmers who lost $185m in crops, one million chickens, 25,000 goats and sheep lost is unclear.
The strategy of the Lebanese government seems simple. While the 1.2 billion has been promised to Lebanon, the Seniora, a central figure in Haririís construction and financial empire, will finance the remaining two billion dollars in the redevelopment and re-reconstruction throught loans from Lebanese banks, the IMF, and the World Bank. Over the past ten years under Rafiq al-Haririís development plan, Lebanon dug a $40 billion internal debt by borrowing money from local banks owned by the same people, namely al-Hariri, in the government. Many of the top political officials, owning or heavily invested in these banks, also either own or have large interests in the companies responsible for reconstruction, from the cement industry to the construction companies.
This time around , the government has envisioned its re-redevelopment and re-reconstruction in terms of its desire to join the WTO. Seniora and others have stated their desire to reconstruct with the help of the IMF. Paul Wolfowitz has expressed a desire to personally oversee the World Bankís ďFour-Year Country Assistance StrategyĒ to Lebanon.
Several economists are predicting a very bleak future. Kamal Hamdan thinks that Lebanonís unemployment will reach 20% over the next six months due to the loss of jobs and layoffs, meaning that between 50,000-55,000 will lose their jobs (in addition to the current 9-10% unemployment). Fadi Abboud, head of the Industrialistsí Syndicate, says that 2,000 were lost immediately and 80- 90% of Lebanonís manufacturing base was destroyed. Ironically, Abboud endorsed the governments desire to join the WTO but started to change his opinion and express concern about accession in the months preceding Israelís war of aggression. One anecdote about job loss is Liban Lait whose milk factory, as well as Candiaís, was destroyed by the Israeli Air force and US bomb along with hundreds of their cattle.
Economist Mawan Iskandar projects job loss in the industrial sector could reach 10,000 along with 2,000 retail workers. Only 80% of those jobs will be recreated he estimates. While hotel occupency was up to 90% on the eve of the war during Lebanonís tourism high season, the government has pledge tax relief for Lebanonís many hotels (the most prominent owned by mulitnational and Gulfie corporations). However, Pierre Ashqar, head of the Hotel Workers Syndicate, still expects thousands to be laid off, which has already begun.
Lebanonís past experience has shown that much of the funds from the West and Saudi will never be delivered despite the ceremony. We also know that the lionís portion of the aid and loans will go into the pockets of Lebanonís cross-sectarian ruling class. More lucratives than the pedestrian bribe, leading political figures from all political and sectarian persuasion from the Hariri establishment to Walid Jumblatt to rival and notoriously corrupt Nabih Berri own the banks, factories, construction companies and service industries that will win, without competetive bidding, the government contracts the funded by the international aid.
Many people in Lebanonís civil society, particularly those active a growing number non-sectarian groups who were central in the refugee-relief efforts, reject the idea of Lebanon becoming further indebted especially because the development is due to an illegal campaign against the Lebanese people. They believe that Israel should pay full reparation for their illegal destruction of civilian homes, factories, and infrastructure as well as the disastrous environmental, economic, and social consequences of its campaign.
Whether or not Hizbullahís actions were provocative or justified, these groups represent a strong current in Lebanese society that insists that Israelís war on Lebanon was clear violation of international law and human rights conventions. Therefore, as traditional jurisprudence dictates, Isreal is liable and responsible to pay the Lebanese people due compensation for its negligence and reckless endangerment.
Stephen Sheehi is
Associate Professor of Arab Culture and
Director of the Arabic Language Program at the
University of South Carolina.