Lebanese FM castigated for saying Israel has right to exist

Politicians in Lebanon harshly criticized Gebran Bassil for saying in a TV interview that “we are not against Israel living in security.”

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

During a long interview on Tuesday on al-Mayadin, a television network that identifies with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil made a few surprising comments regarding Israel that have now gotten him into some trouble.

As reported by An-Nahar, a leading Lebanese daily, Bassil was shown saying that the Jewish state “is not a blind cause, and we are not against Israel existing in security. We are not against it.”

He went on to clarify his comments, stating that his wish “is for everyone to live in peace and to recognize each other,” adding that “Israel is not an ideological cause.”

These moderate statements drew negative attention on Arabic social media, and several Lebanese officials have called for Bassil’s resignation. “The Cabinet should dismiss Bassil if he doesn’t recognize an ideological difference with Israel,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouq reportedly tweeted.

In response to the criticism, the foreign minister’s office issued a statement accusing Al-Mayadin of taking his words out of context in order “to distort the minister’s image and his position, which has always been that Israel is an aggressor that practices state terrorism.”

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Interestingly, along with more harsh language slamming Israel’s alleged denial of Palestinian and Arab rights, the statement also made specific mention of Lebanon’s continued support for the March 2002 Arab peace initiative, which calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and a “just” solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in return for normalization of relations. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party reject such a withdrawal, in 2016 he said that the plan also “contains positive elements” and that its spirit of reconciliation was an important change from the Arabs’ former total refusal to accept Israel’s presence in the region.

The Lebanese foreign ministry statement added that “it is known who is behind this campaign” against Bassil, and deemed it “suspicious,” but provided no names.