Recently, there were a lot of talks about peace with Israel. In Lebanon it is mentioned as an act of treason. Many keep on repeating the same sentence:
Lebanon will be the last Arab country to sign peace with Israel
But we all know how things happen in here, Hezbollah’s still insisting that his disarmament is out of the question… Yeah, Right!
Personally, I am deeply favorable to any peace agreement with Israel. But regardless if my personal admiration for Israelis in general, there are many positive things that Lebanon can gain through by stopping this state of war with Israel.
First of all, a peace agreement will certainly help Lebanon dissociate its fate from the Arab/Israeli conflict and more precisely the Syrian/Israeli conflict. You people have certainly heard about how Syria needs Lebanon to free to Golan, I will not add to that. Just notice one thing, after the July war against Lebanon, the peace process with the Arabs in general was given priority again and the Golan file was opened for the first time (at least it was discussed). And if the Syrians would get the Golan back, then it would be a huge victory that they would have achieved for free! However no agreement between Syria and Israel is being discussed, just some wireless flirting and fighting. Which is ever worse than an agreement itself, because now the Syrians feel closer than ever to getting the Golan back, so they will do anything to keep the tension going on the Lebanese front and would do anything to prove that Syria detains the ability to solve (or not) the Hezbollah armament issue.
This may give the illusion that MAYBE an agreement between Syria and Israel would help solve the problem. NOT TRUE! If the Syrian table is fed with some Lebanese Jambon then this will sink Lebanon more into the Arab struggle and other brothers and friends will refuse to remain hungry and would want some of the Lebanese Jambon.
That’s why the whole dissociation process is so critical. And this is why we, the Lebanese, desperately need to centralise power and neutralise any external influence in Lebanon… But it isn’t so simple you know.
Anyway, another benefit Lebanon might get from any peace agreement with Israel, is a potential trade line, not necessarily importing and exporting with Israel, but simply to get a land bridge, other than Syria. You see, Lebanon only has two neighboring countries: Syria and Israel. The Israeli border is constantly closed (for all the obvious reasons). This leaves us totally dependant to the Syrian mood. Considering how important our transit activity is for us, you could guess how difficult the situation is. Notice, for example, the recent issue made about the borders with Syria. The Syrian part disliked the deployment of Lebanese soldiers on the Norhtern and the Eastern borders, but accepted it because they knew that it would pose a major problem if they play their cards well (in other terms, they knew they could always blackmail us with closing the borders and the army would have to accept their terms). But when there were certain suggestions that there might be an international force deployed… Bashar went nuts! Arguing that there is no need for any international forces, warning that this will deteriorate the relationship between the neighboring countries, threatening that they will close the borders if this happens. Eventually, the UN subdued and said that they cannot and will nto deploy any forces unless Lebanon demands it. And naturally, Lebanon never dared to even discuss the situation.
Another good point about peace with Israel is the stimulation of the tourism sector. I particularly remember the Egyptian example on this point, the Israelis often go there ( it’s obvious since all the terrorist attacks in Sharam Sheikh end up killing a few Israelis). I don’t see why Lebanon wouldn’t for example attract Israeli tourists. Not to mention that the many Lebanese dream of visiting Jerusalem and other holy places, I certainly wouldn’t mind going there for a visit.
And even on the emotional level it could be a good idea to stop this war situation. This would help reduce the Christian sense of insecurity since many Christians trust Israel more than they trust Syria, but we are still forced to consider Israel as an enemy and Syria as a friend?!
In general, ALL Lebanese would feel terribly better if the southern borders would settle down once and for all. This last war and the whole beware the Israeli Monsters is making us all sick to our stomach, the Syrians used it to justify their occupation of Lebanon and Hezbollah still uses it to justify its armament.
Finally, Israel is potentially a strong ally, I recall here the Jordanian example, through its firm alliance with both Israel and the USA, Jordany was able to preserve both its integrity and its wealth. At the same time, Jordany is able to express any criticism it may feel necessary to Israel. That’s a luxury that we as Lebanese are deprived of regarding our relationship with all Arab countries for example. Israel in general is far more reliable than most Arab countries. Israel is a modern country that relies on international relationships and so on. While the Arab countries are dictatorships often ruled by emotional decisions and in which the governments are in total divorce with the people.
For all the reasons that I have mentioned previously, I am convinced that peace with Israel is potentially a good idea. However, the Israeli issue is not at all that simple. Peace with Israel will cause many problems.
The most obvious reason is that Lebanon is one of the most democratic countries of the Arab world. In spite of all its flaws the Lebanese system cannot impose on the Lebanese people to sign peace with Israel. In Egypt for example the peace agreement is not a popular choice; most Egyptians are fully aware that this agreement is for their own benefit and there fore secretly want it but in public they refuse it and they would have refused it if they would have had the choice. And frankly, while many Lebanese are favorable to a peace agreement, many others totally refuse it! Let’s dissect the Lebanese community in a very generalizing way:
When it comes to peace with Israel they stand with the Shiia
Well the Druze have no problem with Israel (many Lebanese Druze immigrated to Israel) but the Druze always need to blend in their society, so they would spit on the Israeli flag if the majority is doing the same.
Ha! They’d never dare to speak it this loud. They have suffered enough from simply being Christians (there fore, friends of Jews). During the last 15 years for example, the LF members were being put to jail for political purposes under which excuse? High treason and cooperation with Israel. And besides they are now, as they always were, divided and fragile.
Maybe the moderate Lebanese, regardless of their religious belonging would support peace with Israel, but frankly, they are a very slim minority, they have no wieght and they are too scared from the radicals. Not to mention that any moderate Arab is already half way out of Lebanon.
Another obstacle facing any peace talks is the question of Lebanon’s Arabism. Lebanon is often seen as less Arab than others. And in fact Lebanon is far less attached to Arabism anyway. After all Lebanon is a country with an Arab Façade, in other terms we speak Arabic but we are not really Arabs. SO any cooperation with Israel will be an act of treason, almost as if we have to prove our Arabic attachment twice as much as other Arab countries.
In addition, some people argue that Israel is totally unreliable, that any alliance or peace talks with Israel is a risk that’s not worth being taken, that Israel only has one ally, and needs no other: The USA. Israel takes a lot from the Arabs, promises them a lot and then sells them as soon as the winds change again. I often hear this argument among the Christians who often regard the final Syrian invasion as the direct result of the Israeli treason to there Christian partners (especially the LF) who totally depend on them. This point is not very convincing and in fact there were never any alliance between Israel and the LF, but the point is that many Lebanese Christians are convinced with this and are emotionally not willing to trust the Israelis in anything.
Now regardless of all these emotional arguments. Putting Lebanon and Israel on the same camp might stimulate tourism and even encourage trade, but wouldn’t that establish an unbalanced competition between the two? In fact, both Lebanon and Israel have a lot in common. They are both small countries with important trade activity, they are both a link between the East and the West. They both suffer from the weakness of there agricultural and industrial sectors. They both represent the only Non-Muslim Arab countries. What will happen if they cooperate? Well, frankly, I think Lebanon would be the losing part of this, because Lebanon’s considered to be an intellectual reservoir, we have a great percentage of college graduates who immigrate to the Arab countries. Israel on the other hand has its own cast of intellectuals and is in fact superior to Lebanon in all sectors, even those in which Israel is weak. This won’t help, we need a cooperation that would help provide jobs for our youth not a country that would compete with them.
But all these problems are negotiable and rather easy to solve. But what can be done about the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian refugees are 400 000 in a country of 4 000 000, that’s the double of the Druze population. For the time being they are excluded from the Lebanese politics, but we can’t keep on doing this for ever, it’s not human. We can’t integrate them in our society either. And last time I checked Israel was not willing to take them back. Any peace talks must certainly discuss this issue, and to be honest it is only natural that Israel would take them back (regardless of their own reserves about it) or find them a solution outside Lebanon. Not that I am oblivious to Israel’s problem regarding this issue, but why would the region’s most fragile country be forced to digest the Middle East’s most complex problem.
As you can see, peace with Israel is not a simple process, none can predict the outcome of such cooperation and judging from the fragility of the internal situation, I’d say that any prediction is useless. Only time will tell.