“When a person feels threatened, he will accept help from the devil.” — Bachir Gemayel
Reconciliation between Israel and Lebanon cannot be more far-fetched today. The two countries have been officially at war since the establishment of the State of Israel, and very few people know of a time when a peace deal was actually quite close to becoming a reality.
I will first give background information on few instances in history I find Lebanon’s relations with Israel to be interesting; then, I will explain the prospects of a Peace Treaty between these two neighbors and the uncertainty surrounding Lebanon’s future, due to Trump’s hawkish-impulsive decision making strategy.
Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982 to push out the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanese territory, which was a menace to both Israel and Lebanon.
Nahariya, 1 September 1982. One week after his election as President of the Republic, Bachir Gemayel met with Menachim Begin, the then Israeli PM in Nahariya, a coastal city in northern Israel. It is reported that the Israelis were very insistent on the strong leader of the Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, to sign a Peace Treaty; with Israel’s defense minister, Ariel Sharon, calling it a “security necessity” for Israel. If the peace treaty was not to be signed, Israel was to keep its forces in southern Lebanon. In fact, Gemayel would not even publicly acknowledge Israel’s support and treated it as an uninvited invading army; this must have been frustrating for the Israelis, as the war would have had another turn, if the invasion did not take place, and the PLO would not have subsequently left Lebanon. He opted for a consensus with the Muslims prior to signing any treaty, which is rather odd coming from Gemayel, a strong, stubborn and determined (Christian) leader.
Bikfaya, 12 September 1982. Gemayel was distancing himself from the Israelis. To make amends and not lose their only chance for peace, Ariel Sharon met Bachir Gemayel in the town of Bikfaya, in Lebanon. They agreed to have the Lebanese Army enter Palestinian camps to disarm those who remain and also attack the Syrian Army with assistance from Israel. Though, yet again, a peace treaty was out of the question for Gemayel. Ironically, he was assassinated 2 days later in an explosion, by a Syrian Social nationalist Party (SSNP) sympathizer, Habib Shartouni. With Syria’s blessing, Shartouni exclaimed he did it out of fear/refusal of Lebanon signing a peace treaty with Israel.
May 17 Agreement 1983. Bachir Gemayel’s older brother, Amine, was elected president after the former’s assassination. With pressure from the United States, during a weak Lebanese presidency and uncertain times, Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement that was to be the start of normal bilateral relations with each other, not very different from what was signed with Egypt in 1978. This agreement did not last and was revoked by the Lebanese Parliament in 1984.
A proxy of Iran, Hizbollah was founded in the 1980s, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, to expel the Israelis from Lebanese territory; they also sought to bring the likes of Gemayel to justice.
In May of 2000, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon after a campaign promise from Ehud Barak, in his bid to become the next Israeli PM. This withdrawal put Hizbollah in a difficult position, as it could not justify its existence any longer.
Simply put, Hizbollah claims to have two purposes today: to regain control over the “Shebaa Farms”, a small strip of land claimed by both Lebanon and Syria, but which is under Israeli control, and to protect Lebanon from future Israeli aggression. The 2006 Israel-Hizbollah war attests to the malevolent intentions of this organization. Hizbollah, today, is no longer a ‘resistance’ — because there is nothing and no one to resist against. The Lebanese Army has been disregarded as the sole legitimate protector of the country and is being treated as incompetent and lesser than.
Currently, as the strongest actor in the country, Hizbollah is not going anywhere, not anytime soon — though we can’t be too sure. The deteriorating (non-existent/conflict-ridden) relations between the United States and Iran, and the former’s imposition of sanctions on the latter has had a hard toil on Hizbollah. The organization‘s involvement in the war in Syria has had Hizbollah be wary of future violent conflicts for the obvious reason of not being able to sustain itself in a new conflict; though it is important to add that the Syrian Civil War has helped Hizbollah advance considerably in its war tactics. Both Israel and Hizbollah are stronger than ever — luckily, both fear each other and of the destruction a violent conflict would cause. A Peace Treaty threatens Hizbollah’s reason to exist because its existence is based on animosity with the State of Israel.
Lebanon and Israel do not have a defined maritime border. This has proven to be problematic for the exploration for oil in Mediterranean waters, but also for its potential extraction. Both Israel and Lebanon claim ‘block 9’ and this could be the cause for further disputes — maybe ones that could turn violent. The United States has been monitoring the situation and has sought to mediate between the two countries, but to no avail.
Thus, my question is the following: will Lebanon prioritize oil drilling and subsequently economic prosperity over its animosity with the State of Israel, and as such recognize its legitimacy?
Lebanon cannot afford a war and this is something the country and its people know too well. The country is in economic and financial collapse and the prospects of prosperity through the drilling for oil is probably the country’s only long-term solution. The establishment of bilateral relations with its southern neighbor will also be beneficial for Lebanon in economy and trade. Anyone who ignores Israel’s high human development and innovative advancements in all sectors of society is delusional.
Amer Fakhoury, one major Lebanese figure, and naturalized US citizen, who collaborated with Israel and (allegedly) committed crimes of torture on prisoners, had recently went back to Lebanon from the United States. He was arrested at his arrival and the United States’ Trump got so mad that he threatened sanctions on Lebanon if Fakhoury was not to be released. Luckily, that did not happen because Fakhoury was later released and flew back to the US. Hizbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed he did not know Fakhoury was in the country, nor did he know he was acquitted. The staggering level of absurdity in this story shows how powerful the United States’ role is in Lebanon and the world, that even the all-so-powerful Hizbollah bowed down to the ‘Great Satan’.
Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East includes clauses on how neighboring countries are to generally deal with Palestinian refugees in neighboring Arab countries (most notably the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in their host countries), but it does not elaborate on the sort of relationship Israel and Lebanon will (must) have with one another.
Given Donald Trump’s hawkish-conservative foreign policy strategy — especially with regards to Israel — and Lebanon’s economic collapse, can a peace-deal between Lebanon and Israel be imposed on Lebanon (and bypass Hizbollah) ?
All in all, history has shown us that desperate times call for desperate measures. Lebanon is desperate. It is thus apparent that ignoring the Palestinians’ plight is Lebanon’s only foreseeable path to peace and prosperity. As developments in the region (and the world) is at the mercy of Trump’s impulsive decisions, we can only presume what could happen in different scenarios. One thing for sure is that November 2020 will be a decisive date for both Lebanon and Israel — the date in which Trump will likely get re-elected. If Trump does try to impose a Peace Treaty, what would the repercussions of refusing to agree to it be?
Photo source: European Pressphoto Agency (EPA)