Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Why Lebanon isn’t starting peace talks with Israel -2

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/10/2006

I haven’t heard lately any Lebanese politician or journalist mention any word about peace with Israel, at least publicly. This is quite understandable when one comes to think of it. The country has just come out of two months of air and sea blockade imposed by the Israeli government and a month of heavy bombing by the Israeli armed forces that destroyed civil infrastructures (roads, bridges, houses, buildings, oil storages…) in most parts of Lebanon, provoked the internal displacement of about ¼ of the Lebanese resident population, not to mention the number of people it killed, injured or destroyed their livelihoods. It’s certainly not the best of times to talk about Peace.

Nevertheless, what I found quite surprising was the prime minister’s use of a strange formula to talk about something related to peace: in his own words, he was searching for a permanent solution with Israel. It wasn’t exactly peace he was asking for, but something similarWhat he meant was a permanent truce that would come about after the Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa farms, the release of all Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel and the end of Israeli violation of Lebanese airspace. These were the basic elements of his seven-points plan proposed in Rome, approved by the Lebanese council of ministers, and supported by the Arab foreign ministers.

Other Lebanese politicians talked about the implementation of the 1949 Armistice agreement between the two countries. And many repeated on the airwaves that Lebanon would be the last country to sign with Israel. Why should we be the last? Where does that claim come from? Is it a sign of Arab patriotism to be the last to sign peace? And why is it thought so? As Fuad Siniora said in a speech to the Arab foreign ministers, Lebanon’s sacrifices to Arab causes are undeniable. No other country has paid such high a price in the name of the Arab, the Islamic or the Palestinian cause. So why should Lebanon refrain from advancing Peace in the Middle East? And why should we be the last to sign a Peace agreement with Israel? 

Is it such an important privilege to be the last? And why is thought so to be? Is there anything intrinsically wrong with signing peace with Israel or getting into talks with its government in order to get there?

Why shouldn’t Lebanon be working for peace knowing that the Syrian regime, which today is the most anti-Israeli regime in the Middle-East, has been actively and officially asking for it for the past couple of years?

Here are a couple of hypothetical reasons that can be easily shown to have no founding. Lebanon cannot envisage peace talks with Israel because of:

a)     Timing. Why could it be wrong to do it today? Haven’t the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Egyptians already signed peace?

b)    Israel’s nature. This argument is founded on the idea that Israel is something evil in itself. Signing peace with it would be like practising with the devil. But if that were true, then Lebanon shouldn’t envisage it even if all Arab countries signed Peace with Israel 

c)     Lebanon’s nature. Why is Lebanon different from any other neighbouring country? Why would peace with
Israel threaten its Arab identity as some politicians claim? Are Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians less Arab now than they were before they entered Peace agreements with Israel? How can it be a sign of lack of solidarity when you know that even Palestinians have engaged talks and signed agreements with Israel? And can’t Arab issues (such as the evacuation by Israeli troops of the Golan) be taken into account during talks with Israel, and even a temporary solution found?

d)     A Lebanese political consensus on that issue. This is undeniable today, even though it is no secret that many political forces such as the Lebanese Forces (Christian) and Future Movement (Sunni) have been in favour of Peace and betting on it for some time. But one can’t help but wonder how this political consensus came about. One could find its origins before the war with the overbidding that Kamal Joumblatt (and his likes) used to do on Arab solidarity issues (such as the support of the “Palestinian cause” that translated in allowing the PLO to have check points in Beirut and elsewhere). Anything less than that kind of support was seen not only as treason, but as un-Arab, as a break away from Arab identity. Walid Joumblatt for some time followed in his father’s footsteps, but now it is Hassan Nassrallah that is doing the Arab nationalist (and Islamic) overbidding. The Christian leadership has since the mid-1980s backed up on this issue. If it tries to venture close to anything related to peace or armistice with Israel, it is reminded of its involvement in the May 17th Agreement (ending in 1983 the state of war between Lebanon and Israel and signed by plenipotentiary representatives of both countries) which in the local jargon is synonymous with high treason.

So basically, there is no real agreement in Lebanon on the issue of peace with Israel, just remnants of a general public consensus forcefully imposed by Syria and its allies from 1983 to 2005. But as there is no public discussion about peace today, the consensus is holding, and nobody is trying to break it up by talking sensibly about the May 17th Agreement or about concrete advancement of Palestinian issues.

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