Lebanon PM's brother calls for peace in interview with Israeli journalist

"I think everybody at a certain point will move forward to have peace. We are tired."

Demonstrators stand on a bridge decorated with a national flag during an anti-government protest along a highway in Jal el-Dib, Lebanon, October 21, 2019 (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)
Demonstrators stand on a bridge decorated with a national flag during an anti-government protest along a highway in Jal el-Dib, Lebanon, October 21, 2019
(photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)
Lebanese businessman and billionaire Bahaa Hariri, the brother of prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, stressed that Lebanon and Israel "need to have peace," in an interview with Israeli journalist Barak Ravid published on American news outlet Axios on Tuesday.
The interview raised controversy as it is illegal for Lebanese citizens to deal with Israelis or people or entities based in Israel in any form, directly or indirectly, including in media interviews, under the 1943 Lebanese Criminal Code and the 1955 Lebanese Anti-Israeli Boycott Law.
For example, in January, a US national residing in Lebanon was arrested after being accused of live-streaming protests in Beirut for the Haaretz newspaper.
Within hours of Axios's publication of the interview, Hariri's legal office released a statement saying that he was unaware that the journalist conducting the interview was Israeli and that if he had known "he would have refused to do the interview."
Ravid is the diplomatic correspondent for Walla! News and is marked as the "author from Tel Aviv" on his byline on articles on Axios's website.
In the Axios interview, Hariri called for negotiations on the land border with Israel as well, calling the issue an "open wound that gives Hezbollah room to maneuver."
"We have issues between us and the Israelis and we will resolve them, but at the end of the day we need to have peace," said Hariri. "I want my children to live in peace, I don't want my children to live in war."
The Lebanese businessman stressed that once important issues with Israel are resolved, normalization would be a good thing, adding that he respected the recent normalization agreements reached by the UAE and Bahrain. "We have to make sure that once these issues are resolved then peace must move forward."
Hariri added that he believes a "huge part" of Lebanese society would welcome normalization.
"I think everybody at a certain point will move forward to have peace. We are tired," added the Lebanese businessman.
Hariri told Ravid that he wishes "the best for the Palestinians to move forward," adding that Lebanon has "no right to decide for them" and would wait for a Palestinian decision concerning Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
The billionaire's comments on possibly pursuing peace with Israel join comments made by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Aoun's daughter, Claudine Aoun Roukoz, on the issue in the past year.
In October, Roukoz told Al-Jadeed TV that she would "not mind" if Lebanon makes peace with Israel as long as border disputes and Palestinian refugee issues are resolved first.
"I defend the interests of my country, Lebanon, first. Are we required to remain in a state of war? I do not have an ideological dispute with anyone, but my dispute is political," said Roukoz to Al-Jadeed. "I defend the sovereignty and independence of my country, but today we ask who is the victim? They are the Lebanese people."
In August, Lebanon's president Aoun expressed willingness to consider peace talks with Israel in an interview with the French BFM TV news channel, just days after the United Arab Emirates signed a historic normalization deal with Israel.
In response to a question concerning whether Lebanon would consider making peace with Israel, Aoun stated, "That depends. We have problems with Israel, and we have to resolve them first." Aoun did not specify what problems would need to be resolved.
In 2006, Aoun signed a formal agreement of alliance between his Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah, and has consistently backed the Shi’ite group ever since.
In a television interview in 2005, Aoun pointed to peace deals made between Israel and Jordan and Egypt, stressing that "Lebanon, which has been resisting for 35 years, cannot continue to resist Israel all by itself. It cannot go against the general Arab trend," according to Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). He added that he was "not calling for peace" and that Lebanon would be the "last to sign a peace agreement with Israel."
In October, Israeli and Lebanese officials began conducting US-mediated negotiations about the maritime border between the countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.
While Bahaa Hariri has largely stayed out of politics, leaving his brother to succeed their father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in the political scene, he recently reentered the Lebanese public scene, voicing opposition to government corruption in the country and Hezbollah's role in the government.
Hariri told Ravid that he wants to start playing an active role in Lebanon's public life, but does not plan on running for political office.
"I don’t want to be a prime minister, or a member of parliament or a minister. But I intend to serve my country," said Hariri in the Axios interview.
Hariri called on his brother not to form a government with Hezbollah, saying that when Rafik Hariri, his father, was prime minister, Hezbollah was not part of the government.
"Hezbollah have caused a lot of damage to Lebanon internally and externally," said Hariri. "They managed in 15 years to break Lebanon. Hezbollah and their cronies manage to bring down an empire. Their failure is huge.”
"I love my brother and I care about him, but the political differences between us are stark and very big," added Hariri. "To me it is clear that anyone who forms a government which is under the control of Hezbollah is not doing the right thing."
In October, Saad al-Hariri was designated by Aoun as prime minister to form a new government.
Sunni leader Hariri's last coalition government was toppled almost exactly a year ago as protests gripped the country, furious at Lebanon's ruling elite.
Reuters contributed to this report.