A Recent Conference in Lebanon Urges “Neutrality” toward Israel

April 29 2022

Last weekend, a group of prominent Lebanese figures—under the aegis of the patriarch of the Maronite church—gathered to discuss the benefits of returning to the country’s historic position of diplomatic neutrality. At the heart of the conference’s agenda was an implicit, and sometimes explicit, attack on Hizballah, the Iran-backed group that exercises extensive control over the country’s political system, and has aligned it with Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow. David Daoud comments on the attendees’ approach to Israel:

Similar initiatives have been attempted in the past, foundering on ambiguity and selective application of neutrality. . . . This past weekend’s conference attempted to close that gap by unambiguously extending Lebanese neutrality to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and defining it to mean just that: neither joining the Arab-Israeli normalization process known as the Abraham Accords nor maintaining Lebanon as a perpetual battlefield against Israel. In furtherance of entrenching neutrality, the conference also challenged Lebanon’s anti-normalization laws, which criminalize people-to-people contacts between Lebanese citizens and Israelis as innocuous as sharing a direct message on Twitter.

Participants stressed that their proposal to repeal the laws was not a call for normalization in the sense of a peace treaty between the two governments. It was rather a case to align the legal system with a core tenet of neutrality: the principle of an open society. The same laws, they noted, also drive a wedge between the country and 300,000 Lebanese citizens residing in the UAE; prevent Lebanese from engaging Palestinian efforts to foster civil society in their territories; and prevent Lebanese individuals and businesses from profitably engaging multinational companies that do not abide by any exclusionary laws.

In adopting these positions, the conference and its participants sought to reclaim and redefine the concept of Lebanese patriotism. For much of Lebanon’s history, that became almost synonymous with supporting perpetual war with Israel in the name of the Palestinian cause. That this permanent bellicosity failed to advance Palestinian rights and resulted only in misery and destructive conflict for Lebanon mattered little. It was an ideological mainstay that many Lebanese feared to challenge lest they be labeled traitors.

As with all purported solutions for Lebanon’s woes, skepticism is warranted. Lebanese activists and politicians have a track record of promising change while failing to deliver.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel-Arab relations, Lebanon

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship