BEIRUT: Lebanese politicians on Thursday criticized Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil over a television interview in which he said that Lebanon did not have an ideological problem with Israel and was not against it having security.
The comments, made to the Al-Mayadin television channel during a lengthy interview on Tuesday, have just started attracting attention.
A former government minister called on Bassil to resign and a member of Parliament also criticized him.
Bassil’s office later said Al-Mayadin had distorted his comments through its editing of the interview, without explaining how.
“We are not against Israel living in security,” he was shown saying in a clip that was circulated widely in Lebanon on social media.
Social media sites showed a section of the interview with Bassil saying: “We do not reject the existence of Israel and its right to have security.”
The declaration provoked reactions from politicians and media specialists, prompting a response from Bassil’s press office claiming that “what has been circulating is a partial section.”
In the video, the reporter said to the foreign minister: “I’ll ask you a question, and I hope I do not get a diplomatic answer, maybe information if possible; do you think that normalization with Israel has become a reality, the normalization between some Arab countries and Israel?”
Bassil replied: “I want to tell you something. It is not an ideological issue for us. We do not reject the existence of Israel and its right to security. We say we want all peoples to live in security and that they recognize each other. The issue for us is not a blind case. We as people accept the others, and we have a disagreement with them, but what if the others do not accept you?”
Bassil’s press office said: “The media and social media have been circulating a partial section of an interview … It is clear that the aim of the section, which was taken out of context, is to misrepresent the position of Bassil and distort it, which is a known position regarding Israel as a hostile entity which practices state terrorism. It is also known who stands behind this campaign and who follows it to make it planned and programmed to attack the position of Bassil in the Arab League and the issue of Jerusalem.”
The press office added: “The Lebanese position of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian cause is firm, and it supports the international legitimacy and the Arab and Palestinian rights and their total restoration in the context of the Arab Initiative, which was agreed upon unanimously in Beirut in March 2002, and which Lebanon still supports.”
The press office said: “What Minister Bassil has been saying over the years, and in this interview in particular, about the rejection of the existence of an Israeli entity which usurps the rights of Palestine, Lebanon, and Arab rights, and that Israel is the enemy of Lebanon, will not be changed by taking something out of context. The position of Lebanon and its foreign policy, and the position of Minister Bassil about Lebanon’s support of a just and comprehensive peace in line with the relevant resolutions of the international legitimacy, starting with Resolution 181 through to Resolution 1701, will not be changed by this suspicious campaign.”
Former Minister Mohammed Mashnouk said: “If Gebran Bassil does not see an ideological difference with Israel and calls for its security, the Council of Ministers should remove him because he is violating the constitution, the laws, the ministerial declaration, and the agreements of the political coalition.”
Mashnouk added: “Is this the position of Lebanon at international forums? This is shameful.”
Charles Ayoub, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Diyar, said: “This is the most dangerous statement of a Lebanese foreign minister, in which he states that there is no ideological dispute between us and Israel and that we recognize its right to exist and live in security.”
Ayoub added: “How do you say this, your excellency minister Gebran Bassil, while Lebanon is, according to the international law, at war with Israel and currently has a truce agreement (with it). We have a big ideological difference with a racist state which is based on Zionism, usurps the land of Palestine, subjects 5 million Palestinians to the Israeli occupation, and displaces four million Palestinians who have scattered in refugee camps and the diaspora for about 70 years.
And you say there is no ideological difference between racist Zionism and Lebanon which has many religions and sects! Are you talking as the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement? Is it allowed for a Lebanese party to announce that Israel has the right to exist and live in security while we in Lebanon have been suffering from continuous Israeli aggression for about 70 years?”