Lebanon’s New Government Shows Hizballah’s Dominance

Last week—nine months since the last Lebanese parliamentary elections—Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed a governing coalition. In accordance with Lebanese custom, cabinet seats are distributed among the country’s various religious groups, but the Iran-backed Shiite group Hizballah saw to it that even most non-Shiite ministers were its allies. Tony Badran explains:

Following its victory in the May 2018 parliamentary election, Hizballah . . . laid out its non-negotiable demands and immediately received Hariri’s acquiescence. Namely, Hizballah wanted to control the lucrative ministry of public health. . . . Then Hizballah proceeded to manage the shares of the other sects and parties. The Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, gained seats in the election but Hizballah marginalized it in the government-formation process. . . . Hizballah thus made sure that the defense ministry went to one of its [Christian] allies, Elias Bou Saab. . . .

The government-formation process demonstrated clearly that Hizballah runs the entire political order, underscoring the reality that Lebanon and Hizballah are, in effect, synonymous.

U.S. policy should reflect this reality. It should abandon the fiction that by “strengthening state institutions” it somehow weakens Hizballah. Instead, the Trump administration should freeze all assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Moreover, U.S. law requires imposing sanctions on agencies and instrumentalities of foreign states that move money to Hizballah. Lebanon’s ministry of public health now fits this category. The U.S. should thus block international funds to the ministry. While the Lebanese will surely protest that the new minister is not technically a card-carrying member of Hizballah, there is no doubt as to whom he represents. There is similarly little doubt that Hizballah will staff the ministry. Washington must act accordingly.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat