Lebanon’s top Christian clerics blast politicians as hunger, hardship bite

Anti-government protesters scuffle with Lebanese policemen after they removed a part of a concrete wall that was installed by security forces to prevent them from reaching the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 05 July 2020

Lebanon’s top Christian clerics blast politicians as hunger, hardship bite

  • Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai accused politicians of thinking only of their own vested interests

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Christian authorities slammed politicians on Sunday for failing to remedy an economic meltdown that has left many poor, piling pressure on the country’s leaders as it spirals deeper into crisis.
In a sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, the top Christian cleric, accused politicians of thinking only of their own vested interests and urged the president to take action.
“It appears politicians want to hide their responsibility in emptying the treasury and not enact any reforms,” he said.
Hopes of salvation through an IMF deal have retreated, with the government unwilling or unable to enact reforms, hamstrung by the conflicting agendas of sectarian leaders who don’t want to yield power or privileges.
The crisis, which has decimated the local currency and raised fears of mass hunger, is seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since its 1975-1990 civil war.
“Political officials...do not have the courage nor the freedom to meet and find ways out of the suffering,” Rai said. He warned this was depriving the country of help it needs from foreign donors.
Economic woes, rooted in state waste and corruption, came to the fore last year after capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against leaders in power since the war.
Lebanon’s sectarian political system parcels out state posts based on religious sect, with the presidency reserved for a Maronite Christian.
The largest Christian bloc, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, is close to the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement. Both backed the current cabinet, which took office in January.
In another sermon in a central Beirut church, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi also lambasted the political elite on Sunday.
“Oh respected leaders, I address whatever conscience remains in you,” he said. “Do you sleep comfortably at night while those under your care starve, and die of thirst and by suicide?“
Earlier this week, dozens of people mourned a man who killed himself in a busy Beirut district, blaming the country’s leaders for the hardship which they said caused his death.


Palestinian politicians voice dismay over ‘historic agreement’

Updated 20 min 38 sec ago

Palestinian politicians voice dismay over ‘historic agreement’

  • This agreement is a betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause, complains Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas
  • A widespread Palestinian fear is that the UAE-Israel agreement could weaken the Arab Peace Initiative

AMMAN: Palestinian politicians have reacted with dismay to the US-brokered agreement that will postpone the annexation of the West Bank while the UAE and Israel establish full diplomatic relations.

The deal was reached after talks between US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League after Thursday’s joint announcement by the UAE, Israel and the US.

“The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the surprising UAE-Israeli-US trilateral announcement,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a senior adviser to Abbas, reading from a statement outside the president’s headquarters in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Abu Rudeineh described the agreement as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause.”

Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flags of the UAE and Israel as the countries announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties on Thursday. (AP)

If implemented formally, the deal will pave the way for the UAE to become the third Arab country to have official relations with Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel signed the Oslo accords in 1993 and 1995. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, while Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords in 1978.

A widespread Palestinian fear is that the UAE-Israel agreement could weaken the Arab Peace Initiative, brokered by then Crown Prince (later King) Abdullah in 2002, which called for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land in return for full normalization with Israel.

Jamal Dajani, a former spokesman for the Palestinian prime minister, said Palestinians feel betrayed by the UAE, whose move at this critical time undermines their struggle for independence.

“Israel’s so-called plan of annexation is illegal and a non-starter. Netanyahu knew this, so did Trump,” Dajani told Arab News.

“President Trump said that the ‘ice has been broken,’ but in fact trust has been lost.”

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Mustafa Barghouti, head of Al-Mubadara (the Initiative), an independent Palestinian political party, issued a statement calling the UAE action a “stab in the back of Palestinians.”

He said the deal endorses Israel’s decision to suspend rather than cancel the planned annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Hamadeh Faraneh, an Amman-based member of Palestine National Council, said the decision is neither historic nor surprising because it has been known for some time that Israel and the UAE have been in regular contact.


ALSO READ: Full text of joint statement on UAE and Israel normalizing ties


He said the decision is at odds with the Arab Peace Initiative and “amounts to a reversal of the order of things.”

“Instead of the end of occupation preceding normalization, we have now normalization without any idea if there will be an end to the occupation,” he told Arab News.

The joint statement by the UAE, Israel and the US said: “Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East’s most dynamic societies and advanced economies will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation and forging closer people-to-people relations.”

However, Aaron David Miller, a former US peace envoy to the Middle East and a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, described the agreement as a “historic decision” that represents three wins and one loss.”

According to Miller, it is a win for the leaders of Israel, the UAE and the US, but a loss for Palestinians.

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Twitter: @daoudkuttab

 

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