First split opens up in new Lebanon government

Lebanon named the president’s diplomatic adviser as new foreign minister after Nassif Hitti (pictured) quit the post. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 03 August 2020

First split opens up in new Lebanon government

  • Foreign minister quits over lack of reform, warns of ‘failed state’

BEIRUT: The first major split opened up in Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s barely six-month-old government on Monday when his foreign minister resigned.
Nassif Hitti said there was “an absence of a real will to achieve the comprehensive and structural reform demanded by the national and international community,” and Lebanon was “sliding toward becoming a failed state.”
Hitti was swiftly replaced by Charbel Wehbe, diplomatic adviser to President Michel Aoun and a career diplomat. Wehbe, 67, is a former secretary general of the ministry, and is close to Aoun and his influential son-in-law Gebran Bassil, a former foreign minister 
Lebanon is enduring an economic crash, with the value of its currency plunging. The government has appealed to the International Monetary Fund for billions of dollars in aid, but there has been little progress on the reforms demanded in return for a bailout.
Diab’s administration has also been attacked by its opponents for weak decision-making and depending on dominant forces in the cabinet, most notably Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement. As he resigned, Hitti launched a veiled attack on them.
“I participated in this government on the basis that I have one employer called Lebanon, and I found many employers and conflicting interests in my country, who did not agree about the interest of the Lebanese people and its rescue,” he said.
Hitti was said to be upset by the government’s poor performance, and because it had not carried out any of the pledges it made to the Lebanese people or the international community to root out corruption.
He was also uncomfortable at the growing diplomatic role given to security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim in communicating with some countries at the expense of the foreign ministry. He viewed this encroachment as depleting his “professional and diplomatic credit,” he said.
Government opponents praised Hitti’s courage. “The political forces holding on to the actual power will make Lebanon a failed state,” said Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party. “Hitti’s testimony came after a performance that lasted more than six months, and Lebanon’s situation will not settle as long as Hezbollah, the FPM and their allies have authority in Lebanon.”
Marwan Hamade, a member of the Lebanese parliament, said Hitti had “risen up” against the government to join the people and the revolution again. Another MP, Henri Helo, said: “We hope that more follow suit, which paves the way for a new government that meets the Lebanese people’s ambitions.”


Ashrawi urges American Arabs to unify for Palestine

Updated 28 September 2020

Ashrawi urges American Arabs to unify for Palestine

  • Hanan Ashrawi: Arabs are not identical and we are not monolithic. We have to celebrate our diversity
  • Ashrawi: What we have to do is to mobilize to make our space in the public discourse

Hanan Ashrawi, a Ramallah-based member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and popular English language voice for the Palestinian cause in the US, urged American Arabs to “mobilize” and set aside their differences to strengthen the voice of the Palestinian diaspora.

During a Zoom discussion Saturday with American Arab leaders, hosted by ArabAmerica.com, Ashrawi said the US Arab community faced many of the same “very difficult conditions and obstacles” that Palestinians face around the world.

But, Ashrawi said, if they could bridge their differences and unite around common principles of justice, they could become an important voice as advocates for the Palestinian cause.

She argued it was especially important as US society becomes more polarized, but argued that Palestinians and Arabs needed to respect each other in order to unify.

“You cannot antagonize others. You can’t intimidate others. You cannot insult others. You have to work with them to find common ground,” Ashrawi urged.

“Even when you challenge. I challenge a lot. I am known to be very blunt. I don’t mince words. But at the same time I don’t insult. I don’t bring other people down. What you need to do is to be able to challenge in a way that shows you respect yourself so that others will respect you. This is extremely difficult.”

Asked about how to bridge the divisions that segment Palestinians in the US and abroad, Ashrawi urged all sides to embrace their differences, saying: “Arabs are not identical and we are not monolithic. We have to celebrate our diversity.

“We are all under attack,” she said. “In the US, you are seeing the rise of identity politics … You cannot be neutral in the face of such racism … and such distortions. You must embrace your Arab identity and be proud of it. What we have to do is to mobilize to make our space in the public discourse.”

Ashrawi criticized the Arab League, calling it “a disaster” in confronting Israel’s atrocities and oppression. She acknowledged Palestinians could do a better job of communicating, but said that they were working under oppressive conditions and without major funding or backing.

“It’s difficult because what we do, we do voluntarily and there is no funding,” Ashrawi said.

“We have a problem, if you want me to be very frank with you. We have a problem with many in the leadership think that they know it all.”

Ashrawi also said that rivalries prevented there from being a clear and powerful strategic message.

“They don’t think anyone else has the ability to present the cause. We don’t have the funds. We don’t have the institutions … we try desperately to face a real assault,” Ashrawi said.

She assed it was important for Palestinians and Arabs in the US to engage in the political system as a unified voice.

“You need to speak out. You need to stand up and speak out. You need to challenge. You need to make the facts known, to get people to unlearn what they have learned because for a long time Israel was dictating the agenda,” she said.

“Work within a group. Work collectively; organize, use the system. Work with other people because it is an intersectional issue. You can work with women. You can work with African Americans. You can work with youth. You can work with indigenous people. You can work with others who feel marginalized, excluded and oppressed. The mentality of oppression is the same everywhere.”

She stressed: “You have natural allies in the state. You have to work together … Within the system you can influence political decisions. Hold your representatives accountable.”

Ashrawi defended the Palestine National Authority, adding they “do not make political decisions” unlike the PLO.

“It is unfair to say failure, failure, failure … they did many things. They built many institutions,” she said.

“You have to place it in context. The Palestinian leadership is working under extremely adverse conditions and circumstances. They have no powers. They have no rights like everyone else. Israel controls everything, the lands, the resources, the water, our lives.”

Ashrawi added that while Palestinians continued to push for action from the International Criminal Court, Israel and the US continued to obstruct that legal process.

“They are punishing the individuals who are in charge of the global judicial and accountability system,” Ashrawi said. “This is unconscionable.”