BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt Monday defended Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s recent visit to occupied Jerusalem and Israel, saying regional developments affecting Christians required such a trip.
“Although I did voice my reservation with regard to the visit ... I wonder why there’s all this commotion? And more importantly, why some politicians who abandoned Rai without defending him are so questionably silent,” Jumblatt said.
He said the prelate’s visit aimed at giving hope to Arabs and Palestinians living in dire circumstances in Israel, adding that Rai refrained from saying anything that Israel could have used in its favor or that could be interpreted as an attempt by him to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
“The political and security developments in the region, from Palestine to Syria and Iraq, and the negative repercussions they have had on Christians required this trip, which highlighted the need for people to hold on to their land,” Jumblatt said in his weekly Al-Anbaa column, praising Rai for his “courageous and brave stances.”
Rai’s trip last month to the Holy Land sparked controversy in Lebanon even before the patriarch embarked on it, with some describing it as a “historical mistake.”
The patriarch brushed off criticism over his visit and reiterated that he went to occupied Jerusalem to welcome Pope Francis to the region and to visit Maronite parishes.
Hezbollah has been particularly critical of Rai’s meeting during the visit with former South Lebanon Army members who fought alongside Israel in south Lebanon and fled to the Jewish state in 2000 after the Israeli army withdrew from the area.
“As for the issue of collaborators with Israel, it is worth noting that they belong to various sects. The collaborators should be tried, but their families and their children who were forced to deal with the enemy should not be called collaborators,” Jumblatt said of former SLA members.
“Although I am against normalization ... we must look into new policies that urge Palestinians to stick to their villages,” he added.
Rai called Jumblatt later Monday and “praised him” for his stance, according to the PSP’s media office.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also defended the trip, saying attacks against Rai were cruel and assaulted national coexistence.
During a phone call to congratulate Rai on safely returning to Lebanon, Geagea expressed his disapproval of the campaigns waged against the prelate, calling them “cruel and overstepping the institutions ... of Lebanon,” according to a statement from the LF leader’s office.
Geagea added that in some ways the negative campaigns “even violated the pact of coexistence.”
He also expressed his severe dissatisfaction with parliamentary blocs that have been boycotting the presidential vote, and the two discussed steps to end presidential vacuum.
They agreed to keep channels open to try and solve the gridlock, with Geagea saying that “a vacancy would not be tolerated” in the highest Christian post in the country.
Change and Reform bloc MP Nabil Nicolas also expressed support for Rai’s visit to the occupied lands, saying it was expected of the patriarch, according to a statement released by his office.
Separately, Rai lamented Monday the presidential vacuum, saying that the presidential palace “is the symbol of our pride,” according to Bkirki.
At a lunch with former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term expired last month, the prelate said the presidential vacuum had “hurt our pride.”
Parliament has been unsuccessful in its five attempts to elect a president.
Rai also met with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale in Bkirki, where they discussed latest political developments.