Exclusive: Bahaa Hariri says Lebanon and Israel should resolve disputes, move toward peace
Bahaa Hariri, the billionaire son of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, told Axios he thinks Lebanon and Israel should resolve their border disputes and move toward a peace deal.
Why it matters: Israel is an enemy country under Lebanese law, making this a very unusual statement from a member of one of Lebanon’s most prominent political dynasties. Bahaa’s brother Saad is currently trying to form a new government in Lebanon and is known for holding hardline positions on Israel.
The big picture: Several weeks ago, following normalization agreements signed by Israel with the UAE and Bahrain, Lebanon opened direct talks with Israel for the first time in 30 years. They are attempting to demarcate their maritime borders to resolve a dispute over natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
What he's saying: Hariri said the negotiations were a positive step and that he hoped they were connected to the changing dynamics in the region regarding Israel.
- “This is a positive thing for Lebanon, but we have to make sure it doesn’t give Hezbollah any breathing space," he said.
- “We have issues between us and the Israelis and we have to resolve them, but at the end of the day we need to have peace. I want my children to live in peace not war," Hariri said, adding that he thought a "huge part" of Lebanon agreed with that view.
- Hariri said Lebanon and Israel should also resolve their land border dispute — mainly in the area called Shebaa Farms — which Hezbollah uses as the main point of friction with Israel. “The land border is like an open wound that gives Hezbollah room to maneuver," he said
The state of play: There have recently been several positive statements from Lebanese public figures regarding Israel.
- In an interview with the French network BFMTV in August, President Michel Aoun, who is known as a Hezbollah ally, didn’t rule out peace with Israel but said “we need to resolve our problems with Israel first."
- Aoun’s daughter Claudine, who is a major public figure in the country, said several times in recent statements and interviews that she is not ideologically opposed to peace with Israel if both countries resolve their disputes, and stressed she wants to visit Jerusalem.
Flashback: Bahaa and Saad's father, Rafik Hariri, was one of Lebanon’s most prominent politicians and business tycoons. He was assassinated in 2005 several months after resigning as prime minister.
- An international tribunal ruled last August that members of Hezbollah were behind his murder.
- After the assassination, Saad became Rafik's political heir while Bahaa, the elder brother, focused on the business world.
- Bahaa Hariri, who lives outside of Lebanon, runs an investment firm and has an estimated net worth of $2 billion.
- After years outside of the public eye, he has started raising his public profile in recent months in part by supporting the civil society groups demanding reforms in the country.
- He told Axios that his brother must not form a new government involving Hezbollah.
This is part two of our exclusive interview. Read part 1.