Faruq Qaddumi, head of the PLO Political Department and Palestine foreign minister, has reaffirmed that "the question of easing the entry and exit of Palestinians to and from Lebanon is being discussed with Lebanese officials, but behind closed doors." He reiterated his firm rejection of resettling the Palestinians in Lebanon and expressed fear that the region may be headed for violence.
Qaddumi arrived in Lebanon on Saturday [16 November], leading a delegation that includes Faysal al-Husayni, official in charge of Jerusalem affairs, and met yesterday with a delegation from the unified command of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Walid Junblatt, minister of displaced persons' affairs; and Muhsin Ibrahim. He is scheduled to meet today with Foreign Minister Faris Buwayz and Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Qaddumi spoke to AL-NAHAR at his room in the Marriott Hotel, where he and his delegation are staying. [passage omitted]
Asked about his contacts with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] to resolve the problems that cropped up recently and to improve the conditions of the Palestinian refugees, Qaddumi said: "We are pushing for the continued existence of the UNRWA, because there are attempts to terminate its work a few years from now; that is, by the end of this century. This is actually what we are trying to prevent, because this is an international responsibility. The UN must continue to shoulder its responsibility in providing care to the Palestinian refugees until they return home. Resolution 194 is clear in this regard. We also call on European and rich countries to extend constant aid to the refugees, particularly those in Lebanon, to ease their suffering. We appreciate the economic crisis which fraternal Lebanon is going through as a result of conditions in the region as a whole. For this reason, we must cooperate with our brothers in Lebanon to lift the suffering of our Palestinian people, ease their movement, and earn them much international care and increasing attention for the Palestinian issue, particularly regarding the refugees. We should take into account that the issue of the refugees will be discussed in the negotiations soon."
On the transfer of an important chunk of the UNRWA's budget to Gaza and the West Bank and the reduction of its services in Lebanon, which is exacerbating the problems, Qaddumi said: "The agency distributes its budget according to the number of refuges in Arab states. The Advisory Commission takes into account and discusses many of the problems, particularly with the host countries. For this reason, we call for doubling the Western and European countries' donations to the agency, particularly the donations of the United States, which assumes a major responsibility in this regard. There are Palestinian refugees at home. I say that it was a mistake to transfer the agency's headquarters to Gaza so as not to give Israel the chance to contain the issue of the refugees and besiege this headquarters. The headquarters is supposed to remain abroad to continue to get international attention. The refugees problem is the core of the Palestinian issue and their return will remain a matter of extreme interest for us until Israel recognizes their right to return. This will not be attained without international pressure on Israel, particularly by the United States."
Asked about the issue of resettling the Palestinians resurfacing once again with the recent visit to Lebanon by Canadian official Andrew Robinson [RWG Gavel-holder] amid reports that Canada is sponsoring this plan, Qaddumi said: "Canada is not sponsoring such a plan. Our friend Robinson came to say that we are here to improve the living standard and provide financial backing to the refugees. I myself sent him over. To say that Canada is sponsoring the resettlement plan is an injustice to Canada. As for the Lebanese fear about resettling the Palestinians, this is another story. We want to reach an understanding with them about the conditions of the Palestinian refugees, who are not allowed to work. We appreciate Lebanon's circumstances, but at the same time the entry and exit of the Palestinians have become difficult, which is another problem. This siege will affect their living conditions. We frankly and clearly want the Lebanese brothers to view this issue with interest so that the Palestinian issue can continue to gain attention as a refugee problem and to stress the rejection of resettling the Palestinians, particularly in Lebanon." [passage omitted]
Rex Brynen * email@example.com * 22 November 1996