Did Lebanon just normalize relations with Israel? If so, it would constitute a strange way of being inducted into the Abraham Accords. But then, much about Lebanon belongs to the realm of the peculiar.
Lebanese officials of course have been rushing to deny that any such normalization took place through the agreement to demarcate the maritime economic zones of the two adjacent countries. But the agreement essentially says: Here is the line separating our zones, and what is on this side is ours, while what is on that side is yours. This is a more-than-implicit declaration of recognition by each side not only of the other’s existence, but of their legitimacy as a country.
For two neighboring states with no diplomatic relations and a decades-old technical state of war between them, this is quite a significant development. Moreover, Lebanon accepted to sign off on the notion that what is “on the other side of the line” is Israel’s, not occupied Palestine’s, as the official terminology has called it for decades. Even more bizarre is the quick congratulations for the deal that came from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, to say nothing of Hezbollah. If everyone agrees that the oil and gas reserves under the sea on the side opposite to Lebanon belong to Israel, and not to Palestine or the Palestinians, then what does this do to the other Palestinian claims these very same entities have been allegedly fighting for?
The fact that the deal was brokered indirectly by a third party, the Americans, and that representatives from the two sides never sat in the same room together, nor did they sign a joint document in one another’s presence—all this amounts in the end to little more than choreography and theater. The bottom line is that Lebanon and Israel just concluded an official compact over how to split the maritime hydrocarbon deposits now lying on both sides of an agreed-upon internationally recognized line in the sea. To call this pact historic would be an understatement, given what has transpired between the two nations over the past three-quarters of a century.
Whether admitted or not, this demarcation between Lebanon and Israel, now being referred to by some as an “economic peace,” is in reality the first step in the direction of normalization, coming remarkably with the full acquiescence of the most bellicose elements and organizations on the Arab side. It follows that henceforth all accusations of treason hurled by these militants, especially Hezbollah, at anyone in Lebanon who contradicts their policies and opposes their perpetual warlike disposition must cease, since these very elements have now surreptitiously hopped on board the bandwagon of normalization, a cudgel they had been using viciously to silence any of their political opponents.
Most urgently, Christians in Lebanon specifically have endured decades of overt discrimination as Christians by being prevented under threats from visiting Jerusalem and the Holy Land since Lebanon and Israel until now had presumably been sworn enemies at war with one another. Even if theologically and as pertains to their personal salvation Christians anywhere do not need to visit these places, having the option to do so, as nearly all other Christians around the world do have, is something those Christians of Lebanon, geographically closest to the Holy Land, must enjoy—but they don’t. This has now become untenable and unacceptable. Hezbollah has no right to continue calling such Christians, and it makes less sense than ever now that Israel and Lebanon are headed toward normalization. And it does no good to continue to deny that this is in fact what has happened—such denials only betray a mean desire to continue to discriminate against Lebanon’s Christians.
Habib C. Malik is a Senior Fellow on Lebanon and Middle Eastern Christians at The Philos Project and works also with the Charles Malik Institute at Philos. This piece was inspired by a video by the Lebanese blogger Pierre Hashash. The views expressed are the author's own.