Voices of the Arab press: Will Macron incite Lebanon against its rulers?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron speaks during a video conference with international partners to discuss humanitarian aid for financially-strapped Lebanon, in Paris on December 2. (photo credit: IAN LANGSDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)
FRENCH PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron speaks during a video conference with international partners to discuss humanitarian aid for financially-strapped Lebanon, in Paris on December 2.
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. –Ali Hamadeh
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, which presidents in his situation should avoid. The recent recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the 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.
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 from the Union; a testament to how fragmented Trump’s America has become.
 –Abdel Monaam Said
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 November 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. –Elyas Harfoush
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.
Al-Etihad, UAE, December 20
The American administration has run out of patience, and it has become clear that Donald Trump wants to apply sanctions against the Erdogan regime before he leaves the White House. Did the Turkish president think that Trump’s hands would be tied and that he wouldn’t be able to act against him? It seems as if Erdogan always makes the worst bet.
Last week, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), for procuring S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia’s main arms manufacturer. This was the first time that Washington used such a tool against a NATO member state. Erdogan is a man who lives in the past. He believes that by restoring Turkey’s glorious past he will be able to save his fate. But the truth is that he refuses to learn the lessons of history.
Those in Turkey who claim to “restore” the Ottoman Empire are the very same ones who are detached from the people, living in their ivory towers while the masses starve for bread. Erdogan doesn’t seem to understand the geopolitical shifts that have unfolded around him, and his country’s diminishing role in the world. Turkey’s geopolitical significance today is a far cry from its significance during the Cold War, when it served at the forefront in the fight between Washington and Moscow.
The Incirlik Air Base in Turkey is no longer America’s stronghold against the Iron Curtain in the same way it was in the 1950s, 1960s and even 1970s. NATO countries, and the United States in particular, have deployed their strategic military installations in other parts of the region and the world. In addition, the development of hypersonic missiles and new weapons technologies – which can hit a target at unfathomable speeds – makes US bases on Turkish soil much less important than in the past. The problem with Turkey at the present time is that it is facing massive American anger in the last five weeks remaining of the Trump administration. And even though Biden would like to de-escalate tensions with Ankara, there is no guarantee that he will be less harsh on Erdogan. –Emil Amin