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What’s in a photo? A lot for Lebanon as talks with Israel begin

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Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s landmark border talks with Israel have raised a thorny issue: how to negotiate with a state you do not officially recognise and consider to be an enemy.

It’s a question that filters down to the very mundane, including the manner in which both delegations greet each other – and even whether they take a commemorative photograph.

Lebanon and Israel are technically at war, with the latter fighting a bloody 2006 conflict with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group.

Open-ended, United States-mediated talks to demarcate the countries’ maritime border – a decade in the making – finally began on Wednesday at a United Nations base on Lebanon’s southern border.

Hezbollah and its main ally, the Amal Movement, said in a joint statement on Wednesday that Israel was trying to push Lebanon towards some form of normalisation with Israel, less than a month after landmark US-sponsored normalisation agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar said the two groups also rejected a “normalisation-style picture” in the form of a commemorative photograph.

Lebanese army spokespeople could not be reached for comment on whether a photo had indeed been taken. None has yet been published.

A couple wearing face masks visit Israel’s Rosh Hanikra border crossing with Lebanon [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Such a photo would have large propaganda value for both Israel and the US, but would embarrass Lebanese parties that draw legitimacy from so-called “resistance” against Israel.

Laury Haytayan, Middle East and North Africa director of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, told Al Jazeera: “They can take the picture and send it to [US President Donald] Trump, and he says ‘I’m Mr. Peace and Stability, I can even make the Israelis and Lebanese sit round the table to negotiate normalised relations.’”

A Lebanese presidential source told Al Jazeera that President Michel Aoun had discussed Lebanon’s etiquette at the talks with the delegation and rejected any form of normalisation – but said they had decided to leave the issue of the photograph up to the UN.

At the negotiations, the two sides have gotten closer – if only physically.

Under a 1996 understanding that ended Israel’s two-week Operation Grapes of Wrath military campaign against Lebanon, the Lebanese and Israeli militaries coordinated on security issues from “two separate rooms, with someone mediating in between”, Elias Hanna, a retired Lebanese Army general, told Al Jazeera.

“Now it’s direct, in the sense that they’re in the same room, sitting close to each other,” he said.

Still, he said protocol would likely remain the same: “No picture or greeting, no gestures or wink – don’t even look, it’s forbidden” he said.

Brigadier General Bassam Yassine, the head of the Lebanese delegation, made no reference to Israel itself during Wednesday’s talks, instead referring to “other parties,” according to a transcript published by the Lebanese army.

The talks broke up after an hour, with Lebanese state media reporting a second round to be held on October 28.

But some in Lebanon are now saying that the country’s attitude should be subject to change, especially as it seeks to explore for oil and gas in the hydrocarbon-rich waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

As the talks were ongoing, Ziad Assouad, a member of President Michel Aoun’s party, said Lebanon’s dire economic situation meant that it should have no qualms about holding even direct negotiations with Israel – a notion that remains taboo.

“What’s the difference if I speak through another side or directly?” Assouad asked on a morning TV show.

“We can’t solve it via war and don’t have the economic power to do that, and I’m waiting for the oil to pay off [part of] our debt … So why do Lebanese want to live in this duality?”

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World

The War Over Mexico’s Beaches Is Done, For Now

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PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Maria Chuc celebrated her twelfth birthday with her family by eating Burger King on the beach in the famed Mexican getaway of Playa del Carmen. Until recently, the local family usually only went to beaches that were farther away and not laced with hotels and restaurants, even though they lived in the seaside city.

But that changed last week when the Mexican federal government passed a law that guaranteed public access to beaches that landowners have long dubiously claimed are private.

“I think (the law) is good. Before you couldn’t walk around here and you couldn’t even get in,” said Maria’s father, Henry. “You definitely couldn’t come and spend time.”

Under the new law, the family was able to enjoy their burgers and fries while hiring a man with a guitar to sing a birthday ballad for Maria’s special day, without worrying that beachside businesses would run them off the sand.

Prior to the recent change, it was common for hotels and restaurants across the country to hire guards and set up barriers to keep people off the beaches, which they wanted to reserve for their paying guests, much to the dismay of local residents.

The long-simmering issue of beach access rights boiled over in Playa del Carmen in February when two Mexican tourists were arrested and detained for allegedly sitting in a part of the beach that a restaurant claimed was private property.

But after a video of police forcibly removing the young couple went viral across Mexico, the incident reignited the long-standing national debate about general access to the country’s many beaches. Days later, the local government publicly apologized to the two lovers, and the federal secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco Marqués, took to Twitter to clearly state that “in Mexico, the beaches are public.”

In the months that followed, the issue took on extra importance during the coronavirus pandemic because public beaches were closed in much of the country and the only people able to enjoy them without risk of penalty were tourists – usually foreign – who were staying at resorts with direct access.

In an effort to finally solve the issue, lawmakers began drafting the new law that officially passed on October 21. The legislation establishes large fines for hotels, restaurants, and other property owners who don’t comply with allowing public access to all stretches of the beach.

While Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula became the public face of the issue in 2020, the new law is now in effect across the nation.

Victor Sanchez, who sells ceviche along the Playa del Carmen beach, said he’s happy about the change. In his opinion, it’s better that the beaches aren’t perceived as private because it made them only accessible for tourists staying at the hotels, and not local residents.

“I see people enjoying (the beach) more,” said Sanchez since the law has passed. In his opinion, the beaches belong to “el mexicano, it’s for the people.”

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The War Over Mexico’s Beaches Is Over, For Now

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PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Maria Chuc celebrated her twelfth birthday with her family by eating Burger King on the beach in the famed Mexican getaway of Playa del Carmen. Until recently, the local family usually only went to beaches that were farther away and not laced with hotels and restaurants, even though they lived in the seaside city.

But that changed last week when the Mexican federal government passed a law that guaranteed public access to beaches that landowners have long dubiously claimed are private.

“I think (the law) is good. Before you couldn’t walk around here and you couldn’t even get in,” said Maria’s father, Henry. “You definitely couldn’t come and spend time.”

Under the new law, the family was able to enjoy their burgers and fries while hiring a man with a guitar to sing a birthday ballad for Maria’s special day, without worrying that beachside businesses would run them off the sand.

Prior to the recent change, it was common for hotels and restaurants across the country to hire guards and set up barriers to keep people off the beaches, which they wanted to reserve for their paying guests, much to the dismay of local residents.

The long-simmering issue of beach access rights boiled over in Playa del Carmen in February when two Mexican tourists were arrested and detained for allegedly sitting in a part of the beach that a restaurant claimed was private property.

But after a video of police forcibly removing the young couple went viral across Mexico, the incident reignited the long-standing national debate about general access to the country’s many beaches. Days later, the local government publicly apologized to the two lovers, and the federal secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco Marqués, took to Twitter to clearly state that “in Mexico, the beaches are public.”

In the months that followed, the issue took on extra importance during the coronavirus pandemic because public beaches were closed in much of the country and the only people able to enjoy them without risk of penalty were tourists – usually foreign – who were staying at resorts with direct access.

In an effort to finally solve the issue, lawmakers began drafting the new law that officially passed on October 21. The legislation establishes large fines for hotels, restaurants, and other property owners who don’t comply with allowing public access to all stretches of the beach.

While Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula became the public face of the issue in 2020, the new law is now in effect across the nation.

Victor Sanchez, who sells ceviche along the Playa del Carmen beach, said he’s happy about the change. In his opinion, it’s better that the beaches aren’t perceived as private because it made them only accessible for tourists staying at the hotels, and not local residents.

“I see people enjoying (the beach) more,” said Sanchez since the law has passed. In his opinion, the beaches belong to “el mexicano, it’s for the people.”

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The best (or worst) $20,000 I ever spent: The money to start a small business

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When people tell me they’re thinking about opening a small business, particularly in a goods-based industry like fashion, my first question is, “Do you have money?” I don’t mean having savings or good credit or the knowledge of how to take out a loan, although those things certainly help. I’m talking family money, access to friends who will think nothing of loaning you six figures interest-free: that kind of money.

People at parties — or, these days, in my inbox — don’t expect this question. They tend to not appreciate this question. It is, in fact, one of the more abrasive questions I am comfortable asking total strangers.

But people tend to only approach me, seeking advice, after learning that I once owned a lingerie boutique for a number of years. They want to know the trick, the secret sauce, how I opened a well-known business with no money and no experience when I was in my late 20s and how I did it for four years. They want affirmation that their idea is a good one, the one that will land them on 30 Under 30 lists, that will definitely make them money. They aren’t too interested in why my own business closed — they just see that I am relatively young, queer, and that I did it, and so, obviously, they can, too.

Still, if there’s one thing owning a small business taught me, it’s that just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

I started a business for the reason so many people do: I had an idea that I thought could make a difference. I wanted my work to have meaning — and, on the cusp of having to write my dissertation prospectus, I was no longer finding that meaning in my English PhD program. Committing an unknown number of years to the pursuit of a degree almost guaranteed to not result in a tenure-track position seemed untenable. I started to look elsewhere.

Bluestockings, my e-commerce lingerie boutique geared to the LGBTQ+ community, was an outlier. The store, solely focused on stocking ethically made goods from indie designers, including kink-friendly and gender-affirming underthings, was one of those late-night, drunk-on-the-porch ideas that, by all accounts, should have been forgotten the next morning, lost to the heady summer nights of Boston. That I ran with an idea I was not qualified for and had no resources for speaks to my desperation to get out of grad school by any means necessary, but it also speaks to the extent to which I, still very entrenched in academia, had bought into the idea that I should do what I loved.

In Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Petersen articulates how the longstanding desire for “a well-paying job” has morphed into the cultural prestige of “a cool job,” which she calls a distinctly modern and bourgeois phenomenon. The cool job is “a means of elevating a certain type of labor to the point of desirability that workers will tolerate all forms of exploitation for the ‘honor’ of performing it.” The cool job is one that can be defined by that famous, and at this point excoriated, axiom: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

When you “love” what you “do,” there is a slippage between the work and the self. When do you turn off? When do you stop working, if your work is your hobby, what you always want to be doing? Academia is the kind of industry that Petersen, herself an ex-academic, cites as thriving on this slippage. But so, too, is entrepreneurship — MLMs, for one, but also retail businesses, such as Bluestockings, that require an extraordinary amount of time, money, and effort, all with the reward of LinkedIn titles like “small business owner,” one of those great American archetypes that politicians of all stripes so love to cite on the campaign trail.

Personally, I had no money, and with my working-class background, I came from a family with no money. I was deeply in debt, already divorced, and financially illiterate, having made no attempts to learn how to manage my finances in my mid-20s. Like my other millennial grad student friends, all from various class backgrounds, I had the attitude of, “I’m already in so deep — what’s more debt?” But I was also part of that peripatetic but highly educated “creative class,” and I wanted to do work that aligned with my values, whatever that meant. While I would have been better off looking for temp work or even simply taking on more hours as a nanny, which had supplemented my income throughout graduate school, I instead took on more than $20,000 in debt through credit cards and loans to start a retail business, not fully understanding what I was committing to.

I spent a lot of money to start Bluestockings, ostensibly to do something I loved, to make a difference. In this, I’m not alone: How many millennials have driven ourselves deeper into debt in the pursuit of work that was our “passion”? How many folks have gone back to graduate school or taken out loans to move to a big city for job opportunities? Gone into credit card debt trying to keep up with the lifestyle the industry they worked in required of them? In some ways, my story is unique; in others, it is profoundly similar to many of my peers.

These days, my relationship to Bluestockings yo-yos between ambivalence and shock at my naivete and hardheadedness. I ran the store on the leanest budget possible for four years, never once taking a paycheck. I ultimately closed the store in 2018, unwilling to drive myself deeper into debt and also wanting to focus more on my writing.

But then, it would be dishonest to discuss the hardships without also naming the blessings: I met some of the best, most enduring friends of my life through the lingerie industry. Bluestockings is what got me onto Twitter, a platform that would become integral to meeting still more queers, writers, and creatives over the years. I learned more about running a business (mostly through mistakes) than I ever thought possible, lessons that would translate to every kind of work I would do in the future. It was ultimately Bluestockings — not academia — that opened up the doors for me to work at tech startups in New York, leading to marketing work that would pay my bills for years.

And then there is, of course, the people who Bluestockings did reach, the folks I’ve met in gay bars and at queer camp who told me they bought their first binder from my store, that the photo shoots and blog posts helped them learn to appreciate their bodies and aesthetics in a world saturated by the Victoria’s Secret cis-hetero norms. There is that.

As with so many things in life, it’s a mixed bag. I don’t know that I would recommend going into a significant amount of debt for the sake of doing what you love if you don’t also have a plan to get yourself out. It is debt that, thanks to a very recent, very generous book deal, I am going to be able to pay off very soon. The business debt and the accompanying credit card debt that paid for my living expenses during that time will be wiped out, a clean slate, clearing up a significant chunk of my monthly budget that I won’t have to spend on credit card interest masked as a “minimum.” Luck is what that is, sheer fucking luck, and I am dearly aware of it.

It’s hard to put a price tag on one of the most formative experiences of my life. Couching it in binary terms of “good” or “bad,” “best” or “worst” feels simplistic and disingenuous, both. The store, and my experience of small business ownership, is like an old relationship that started with the highest of hopes and ended with a mortgage for a house I don’t live in anymore but am still paying off. There are good memories, to be sure, but would I do it again?

What an impossible question.

Jeanna Kadlec is the author of the forthcoming memoir Heretic.


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