Arab writers opine on issues ranging from the divisive damage of the Trump legacy on sustaining democracy and unity in America to the prospects of Israeli generals salvaging the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and President Macron of France’s frustration with Lebanon’s ruling elite.
Trump’s Last Days in Office
By Abdel Monaam Said
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, December 19
What we’re currently seeing unfold in US politics is far from normal. Typically, a “lame duck” president – a term used to describe an outgoing president after his successor has been elected – simply focuses on the orderly transition of power from one administration to another. But Donald Trump is no ordinary president, and he refuses to abide by any political traditions or norms. Historically, incumbent presidents who lose the election call their competitor on the election night itself to offer their congratulations and accept their defeat. Then there is a ritual of meeting at the White House, with a customary handshake in front of the press pool. Furthermore, the outgoing president typically makes resources available to the elected candidate, in order to ensure that the new administration can begin working come Inauguration Day. However, with Trump, not a single one of these things happened. At the time of writing these lines, the Electoral College already cast its votes and affirmed Joe Biden’s victory.
However, Trump refuses to accept these results and continues to pursue far-fetched policies, both at home and abroad, that presidents in his situation should avoid. The recent recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara and the normalization deal between Rabat and Tel Aviv is just one example. Trump remains adamant that the elections were rigged, despite the fact that all evidence points to the contrary. He took this issue to Congress and even the Supreme Court but failed to prove his case in these forums. America today is more divided, perhaps, than it has ever been before. The problem is not that 82 million Americans voted for Biden. The problem is that, after learning of Trump’s horrific stance on women, minorities and the world, some 75 million people voted for him. These voters, who constitute a significant portion of American society, are ready to take action to save Trump — including violence. In fact, one cannot rule out the possibility that some states might promote the idea of secession fromthe Union; a testament to how fragmented Trump’s America has become.
– Abdel Monaam Said
Israeli Generals and Peacemaking
By Elyas Harfoush
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 20
“Israeli generals who have tasted the scourge of war are those who want peace the most.” This is a statement made by Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister and alternate prime minister. Unlike the politicians of the Likud bloc led by Benjamin Netanyahu today, who are driven by religious ideology and by insistence on controlling the land and obtaining peace at the same time, Gantz and many other senior officers in Israel acknowledge that comprehensive peace with the Palestinians will come with a price, including a territorial one. When Benny Gantz talks about the role that the Israeli army generals can play in making peace with the Palestinians, one might think of Israel’s former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who, during his tenure as minister of defense in the 1980s, said Israel should “break the Palestinians’ bones.” Later, however, he signed the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat and called to “stop the bloodshed of Israelis and Palestinians.” This change in Rabin’s positions, from a “bone breaker” to a peace partner, was met with defiance by Israeli religious zealots, who considered Rabin a traitor. Their incitement eventually led to his assassination on Nov. 4, 1995, leading to an abrupt ending of Israel’s peace talks with the Palestinians. Like Rabin, Benny Gantz also seems to have come a long way from his military days. From the chief of staff of the Israeli military who led two wars on the Gaza Strip, Gantz became a “civilian” who admits that full and comprehensive peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without a settlement with the Palestinians. He went on to say:
“The Palestinians deserve an entity in which they can live independently.”
Even the division of Jerusalem was not off the books for Gantz, who suggested that “the city of Jerusalem is large enough and has plenty of sacred sites for all religions.” This statement, coming from the most senior officer in the Israeli army, is very revealing. It is a stark reminder that Israel’s military superiority alone is not enough to end the conflict and provide long-term stability for the region. Notably, it is not usually the job of the military officers to make peace. In Arab countries, many leaders walked the opposite way, turning from civilians, who have no experience on the battlefield, to “generals” who hung stars and medals on their chests, and led their people and armies into defeats and disasters. In Israel, it is difficult to question the experience of military leaders. Therefore, they are often more willing to speak freely. And more and more of them are realizing that power and force alone cannot bring about peace. Of course, we all know that appeals alone do not make peace, and that moderate worldviews like that of Gantz’s are only good insofar as they resonate with a wide audience. Unfortunately, in Israel, the general public seems to identify with a more extremist worldview that seeks to maximize Israel’s gains without making any concessions. That’s why Gantz’s vision remains a mere slogan and not an implemented reality. Here, we return to the role played by extremist groups in any chance for peace. Those calling for extreme solutions on both sides of the conflict are not satisfied with any concessions. Israeli extremists raise the banner of territorial control and expansion, alongside military supremacy. Palestinian extremists rally around the idea of “resistance” and refusal to recognize Israel. Both of these camps are spoiling whatever chance there is to salvage the situation in the Middle East. And neither one of these groups is actually promoting their respective side’s long-term political interests.
Will Macron Launch a New Initiative to Incite the Lebanese Against Their Ruling Class?
By Ali Hamadeh
Al-Nahar, Lebanon, December 18
French President Emmanuel Macron was supposed to visit Lebanon next week, as part of a series of visits he has been conducting to Beirut following the port disaster in August. During his last visit, Macron gathered representatives of Lebanon’s political echelon at the French embassy in Beirut and presented to them a political-economic reform initiative, sponsored by France. Those in the room unanimously agreed to accept it, in light of the deteriorating conditions in Lebanon. However, since then, nothing has happened. Despite announcing their approval for Macron’s stimulus plan, these lawmakers and business tycoons did what they do best: allowed the initiative to drown in Lebanon’s political bureaucracy. The cancellation of the current visit, caused by the fact that Macron tested positive for COVID-19, places an even greater question mark over the French initiative.
In his planned visit, Macron was slated to meet French forces operating in southern Lebanon as a part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). He also planned to hold meetings in Beirut with President Michel Aoun, to express his dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to assume any responsibility over the country’s dire situation. It is safe to assume that, during the visit, Macron also planned to address the Lebanese people in an effort to turn them against their irresponsible leadership, which is busy playing petty political games. He also was expected to criticize the country’s ruling class for its failure to accept the financial reforms presented to them. In light of the visit, Prime Minister Saad Hariri submitted a brief to President Aoun, in order to sign the decrees that would allow him to form a government in line with the spirit of the French initiative. But the latter kept Hariri waiting and suspended the formation of a new government. Without a new government, the French initiative cannot move forward and Lebanon will not receive any of the aid it had been promised. In any case, it is possible that Macron will still want to address the people of Lebanon from Paris, despite canceling his visit. In doing so, he will send a message to the Lebanese leadership that Paris will no longer put up with Beirut’s political ineptitude. In fact, there are rumors that Macron might announce an entirely new initiative for Lebanon; one which calls on the Lebanese people to rebel against the ruling class and organize in new political groups ahead of the 2022 elections.
– By Ali Hamadeh
*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (O&EO).