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The Palestinian Predicament in Lebanon

Source: Middle East Quarterly, Sept 2000 v7 i3 p29

by Simon Haddad

What to do with the Palestinian refugees has been a core issue the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948. And of all the countries hosting Palestinians, Lebanon probably confronts the most sensitive and serious problems.

Lebanese authorities consider Palestinians a threat to the sensitive balance of religious and ethnic communities in their country. So, fearing that the Middle East peace process will try to implant Palestinians in Lebanon against the will of the Lebanese, the government continues to deny the Palestinians basic social and economic rights in order to discourage them from remaining there. As a result, Lebanon hosts the highest percentage of Palestinians living in camps (55 percent or 200,000 people).(1) But then Lebanon's worries stem also from the continued presence of these armed Palestinians in the camps, because they represent a potential for instability, threatening to reenact the civil war days unless a solution for the Palestinians is found: "If Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were not given the right to return home, they will become a time bomb."(2)

In light of the foregoing, it is important to understand how Lebanese citizens look at the Palestinians resident in their country, and especially the prospect that they might settle permanently there. Toward this end, the author conducted a survey exploring several aspects of this question in late 1999 and early 2000. Survey questions probed the awareness of issues, attitudes, and expectations of likely results. The study has shown that barriers to social integration of Palestinians exist among the native population, although to varying degrees. Christians are manifestly more reluctant to tolerate Palestinians than their Muslim counterparts. Unexpectedly, though, there is a shared consensus on granting the refugees their basic rights, in a clear opposition to the Lebanese government's actual strategy. However, most Lebanese are aware of the ongoing debate over Palestinian settlement in the country, tend to oppose the idea, and call for preventing its imposition. Most Lebanese communities view the Palestinians as a major destabilizing force capable of upsetting the precarious sectarian balance of inter-group relations, and possibly even bringing on a renewal of civil war.

The Predicament
A community of Palestinians numbering about 400,000 lives in Lebanon,(3) representing not less than 10 percent of the country's population. Moreover, conditions in the camps are grim because Palestinians in Lebanon suffer from discriminatory official policies preventing them from improving their living conditions.

Only a small fraction of Palestinians have acquired Lebanese citizenship, with a mere 3,000 naturalized until the 1980s. Although 60,000 were granted citizenship in 1994,(4) the overwhelming majority of Palestinians remain stateless and are treated as foreigners who have no rights of property ownership, investment, or employment--at most, they have privileges granted by a complex and lengthy permit process. Large institutions are essentially closed to Palestinians because these are governed by rules that make allocations in accordance with sectarian affiliation.(5) Moreover, Palestinians continue to be excluded from more than seventy-two professions. Basic Lebanese labor law says that non-Lebanese must obtain work permits for all regular jobs: construction, sanitation, agriculture. A second law restricts the practice of most professions--medicine, engineering, pharmacy--to Lebanese, forcing Palestinians to take jobs that offer low wages, insecurity, and no benefits.(6)

Travel restrictions on Palestinians were always tight, passports rarely given, and the only documents issued by the government were temporary. Then, on September 22, 1995, the Lebanese government made visas obligatory for Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon who are holders of Lebanese travel documents. This meant that Palestinians who left the country faced the possibility of being refused a reentry visa to come back. However, that decision was annulled on January 12, 1999, when the government decided to treat Palestinian refugees who are holders of Lebanese travel documents on the same basis as full Lebanese passport holders, facilitating their movement to and from foreign countries.

In the past, high levels of education enabled Palestinians to compete for jobs even though they were disadvantaged as non-nationals. Educational achievement was also a source of collective pride and individual motivation--an interim substitute for a country and a passport. Today, after years of destruction and disruption, Palestinians in Lebanon are facing an educational crisis. While the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides Palestinians in Lebanon with primary education, they find it extremely difficult to enter the government secondary schools, which is a prerequisite for access to the university, and they continue to be excluded from public institutions for higher education. The resulting lack of education has jeopardized the economic independence and productivity of Palestinians.(7)

The Lebanese state's reluctance to absorb the refugees means that 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians live in twelve registered refugee camps intended to accommodate just 50,000 refugees. Restrictions on building and reconstruction in the camps contribute to the insecurity of Palestinians in Lebanon, forcing them to live in buildings partially or totally destroyed during the civil war,(8) in as much as rebuilding has been strictly and legally controlled.

It bears noting that Palestinians living in other Arab countries, such as Jordan and Syria, are not so marginalized. In Jordan, Palestinians constitute approximately 60 percent of the total population and 95 percent of them hold citizenship.(9) They are a powerful force in the nation's economy and can work in any occupation of their choice; indeed, they have served as generals in the army and prime ministers. Palestinians in Syria are integrated into society at all levels and rarely suffer discrimination in employment, ownership, or political activity. Although they are not eligible for citizenship, they do enjoy a full legal equivalency with local nationals in almost all areas, including employment and governmental services.(10) There are, however, some restrictions on Palestinian property ownership and mobility in Syria, as well as tight controls over political activities.(11) To be sure, in other parts of the Arab world (Iraq and Egypt particularly), Palestinians have been subjected to harsh treatment and restrictions, but their numbers in those countries are much smaller than in Lebanon.

Reluctance for Palestinian Settlement
Why this especially poor situation of the Palestinians resident in Lebanon? One Lebanese writer, Raghid as-Sulh, has listed four reasons for opposing the permanent settlement of Palestinians:

  • Original Intent : Granting the refugees sanctuary was undertaken as a humane, emergency measure; it was never intended to be permanent.
  • Economic : Lebanon is a small country with limited resources, which makes it unable to absorb the Palestinian refugees, especially following the devastation inflicted by the civil war.
  • Political and historical : Lebanese see themselves as having paid a much higher price for the Palestinian cause than any other country, for they blame the Palestinians for all the wars and troubles their country has been through. Lebanese feel they cannot be asked to pay more in the form of the consequences incumbent on settling the Palestinians in Lebanon.
  • Demographic : Absorbing the Palestinians would alter the country's complex sectarian balance and unsettle the political structures that have been crafted to reflect that balance. Specifically, in a country divided between Muslims and Christians, an influx of Palestinians would dilute the power of the Christians, and particularly the Maronite Christians.(12)

Formally speaking, Lebanese officials reject the prospect of permitting Palestinians to become naturalized Lebanese because this "would constitute a negation of the Palestinian right to return to their homeland."(13) But most Lebanese have other motives for resisting this prospect: they see citizenship for Palestinians upsetting the delicate confessional balance in the country's political structure that is predicated on demographics. Reflecting the complete lack of popular support for Palestinian citizenship, Interior Minister Michel al-Murr recently announced that a new clause has been added to the naturalization draft law to prevent Palestinians from gaining citizenship.(14) At the same time, as Table 1a shows, well over a majority of Lebanese believe that Palestinians should be allowed some social and economic rights, such as the right to work.

Table 1

                                         Greek      Greek
                           Maronites   Catholics   Orthodox

a. "Do you think that Palestinians
should be granted": (N=946)(*)

Citizenship                   3           8           2
Civil and social rights      63          59          62
No rights                    34          33          35

b. Feelings of closeness to Palestinians (N=716)

Closest                       6           6           7
2nd closest                   3           5           7
Neutral                      17          12          24
2nd least close               3          12           9
Least close                  71          66          53

c. Level of Lebanese comfort in interaction
with Palestinians (N=872)

Warmest                       8           5           2
Warm                          9          21          22
Neutral                      20          16          23
Cold                         15          18          13
Coldest                      49          40          39

d. "Would you support sending Lebanese students to
schools where Palestinians are a majority?" (N=1,061)

Yes                          14          18          21
No                           78          76          72
Unsure                        8           6           7

e. "Do you think that the Lebanese government should
ban intermarriage with Palestinians?" (N=1,059)

Yes                          32          28          34
No                           56          57          53
Unsure                       12          16          13

f. "Do you agree with the claim that if resettlement
was imposed another civil war will break out?" (N=1,057)

Yes                          66          62          57
No                           16          18          22
Unsure                       18          20          22

g. "What is your expected course of action
if resettlement was imposed?" (=1,008)

Acquiesce                    23          28          27
Protest non-violently        52          44          51
Resist militarily            26          28          22

h. "What would be your preferred
political alternative?" (N=1,008)

Decentralization             61          68          59
Religious State               5           3           4
Authoritarian State           2           3           1
Other                        32          28          35

                           Sunnis   Shi'is   Druze

a. "Do you think that Palestinians
should be granted": (N=946)(*)

Citizenship                 15        9      10
Civil and social rights     75       69      82
No rights                   10       23       9

b. Feelings of closeness to Palestinians (N=716)

Closest                     27       13      17
2nd closest                 18       10      27
Neutral                     24       22      29
2nd least close              4       13       3
Least close                 27       42      24

c. Level of Lebanese comfort in interaction
with Palestinians (N=872)

Warmest                     33       20      22
Warm                        28       28      43
Neutral                     21       14      14
Cold                         8       11       6
Coldest                     10       28      15

d. "Would you support sending Lebanese students to
schools where Palestinians are a majority?" (N=1,061)

Yes                         51       37      55
No                          41       58      40
Unsure                       8        5       6

e. "Do you think that the Lebanese government should
ban intermarriage with Palestinians?" (N=1,059)

Yes                          6       16      13
No                          82       70      83
Unsure                      13       14       4

f. "Do you agree with the claim that if resettlement
was imposed another civil war will break out?" (N=1,057)

Yes                         22       44      22
No                          60       37      63
Unsure                      18       19      15

g. "What is your expected course of action
if resettlement was imposed?" (=1,008)

Acquiesce                   44       26      26
Protest non-violently       49       59      61
Resist militarily            7       16      13

h. "What would be your preferred
political alternative?" (N=1,008)

Decentralization            20       25      56
Religious State              9        5       -
Authoritarian State         11        5       3
Other                       60       64      41

(*) Here and in all tables "N" represents the number of respondents; figures are in percentages and columns may not add up to 100 because results were rounded to the nearest whole number.

In sum, the Palestinians' adverse conditions appear to result from a deliberate strategy to discourage Palestinians from remaining in Lebanon. Seeing Palestinians as a threat to the Lebanese people, Beirut has treated them as second-class citizens, denying them basic social and economic rights since 1948 and keeping them apart from the Lebanese population, so as not to be able to assimilate. The authorities constantly repeat the mantra of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, uttered in 1998, that "Lebanon will never, ever integrate Palestinians. They will not receive civic or economic rights or even work permits. Integration would take the Palestinians off the shoulders of the international agency which has supported them since 1948."(15)

I. Close Relations?
The integration of Palestinians in Lebanon depends in good part on the attitudes of others in that country.(16) How do they feel? As Table 1b suggests, there is little warmth toward Palestinians, with the exception of Sunni and Druze respondents.

This pattern of responses can be explained by the history of Lebanon's political conflicts. Most Christians have always been hostile to the Palestinians, due mainly to Palestinian exploitation of the internal tensions of Lebanese society for their own ends. When Palestinians entered the country in 1948, communal tensions were already endemic. After 1967, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) gained significant political and military power and increasingly touched a resonant chord of sympathy among Sunni Muslims, who had "their own home-grown grievances against the institutionalized domination of their state apparatus by the Maronites."(17) Thus, many Lebanese blame the Palestinians for providing the fuel for the civil war that laid waste to Lebanon from 1975 to 1990 and are reluctant to recall the murderous fighting that went on between Lebanese militias.

Lebanese are also quick to point fingers at the Palestinians for the cross-border attacks on northern Israel after 1969. After these raids prompted the Israelis to invade Lebanon in 1982, the situation reversed and Palestinian refugees went from being a political threat to being targets for violence by Christian right-wing militias, notably in the Sabra and Shatila camps.

As for Shi'i hostility to the Palestinians, it resulted from the Syrian-backed Shi'i militias having in 1985 launched "the war of the camps," with devastating results for the Palestinians. It was supposed to ensure a dispersal of the Palestinian refugees, destruction of the camps, and such a diminution of their numbers that they would never regain political power or autonomy in Lebanon.(18) This enmity may explain in part Shi'i respondents' feelings toward Palestinians.

Sunni and Druze respondents seem much more ready to interact with Palestinians, as indicated by Table 1c.This pattern of responses may be explained by the history of political conflict in Lebanon. Sunnis expressed a moderate attitude during the Lebanese civil war, refusing to build a militia or get involved militarily in the Lebanese conflict. But Israel's eviction of the PLO from Lebanon in 1982 resulted in a serious decline of Sunni influence in the country, the first manifestation being the Sunnis' exclusion from the tripartite agreement of 1985.(19) As for the Druze, in 1976, their leader Kamal Jumblat felt that the Palestine Liberation Organization's military presence in Lebanon offered the Druze a rare opportunity to extract political concessions from the Maronite ruling class. Military and political alliances between Druze and Palestinian leadership facilitated closer ties between the Druze and Palestinian communities. On the other hand, the Druze standpoint in the poll probably has to do mainly with the outcome of the 1983 mountain war, when the Druze alliance with Palestinian factions proved to be the turning point for the former's victory over the right-wing Lebanese Forces militia.

II. Integration?
Integrated housing, where different groups live side by side, is believed to lessen prejudice, compared to segregated housing or the regional separation of minority groups.(20) Segregated housing results in segregation in much else. It means, for example, that children go to schools attended largely or entirely by members of their own group. In Lebanon, Rosemary Sayigh finds that

evidence from the third generation of refugees in Lebanon indicates marked discrimination in universities, the work place, and social life, and indicates the presence of uncrossable boundaries.

Julie Peteet offers an American comparison:

Palestinian refugees have been pathologized in a manner reminiscent of turn-of-the century American hyperbole that immigrants carried tuberculosis. Segregating Palestinians would facilitate normalization of post-war Lebanon with national health restored through the isolation of an infectious presence.(21)

The first question regarding residential integration was: "Would you accept Palestinians to live in your neighborhood?" This question is designed to tap respondents' perceptions of Palestinians and whether they consider residential contact a threat because "Palestinians residing in their neighborhood" may result in tension or hostility. The responses show that 50 percent of the respondents do not consider living side-by-side with Palestinians a menace, as opposed to 41 percent who do. By contrast, only one-fifth of respondents "accepted living in a Palestinian neighborhood." Since violent clashes inside Palestinian camps are frequently reported, fears of endangering their own life and property probably explain Lebanese respondents' desire to avoid Palestinian localities.

In the past, refugee camps had been scattered among the different Lebanese regions, and some like Shatila and Burj al-Brajnat in Beirut, and `Ayn al-Hilwa in Sidon, had merged with surrounding Lebanese areas. Contacts between the camp population and Lebanese were frequent and normal. People did not seek deliberately to avoid contact with Palestinians (as they do today).

The survey also asked, "Do you think that Lebanese and Palestinian students should go to the same schools or separate schools?" Some 43 percent favored common schools and 45 percent preferred separate schools. To understand the findings, one must remember that schools promote the dominant culture of the society and undermine other cultures. In Palestinian schools, the Palestinian history of struggles and revolution tends to be preponderant(22) and provides the means by which a revolutionary consciousness is inculcated. This explains Christian and Muslim avoidance of the common school, as attested by Table 1d, since many among them do not identify with the Palestinian cause.

Respondents were also asked "Would you accept a relative of yours marrying a Palestinian?" One-third said yes; approximately a half said no. While the percentage saying yes may seem low, it fits into a context in which most people marry within the same religious faith, and probably within the same sectarian group; marriages between members of any different Lebanese communities are infrequent. It is noteworthy that proposals for introducing civil marriage in 1998 came under scathing attack from all spiritual leaders representing various Lebanese communities except the Druze sect. Therefore, if one wishes to marry from outside his religious faith, he would have either to convert or become a dissident.

The Christians' response to the far more stringent question in Table 1e, the question of banning intermarriage with a Palestinian, may seem to indicate religious prejudice. In this case, however, difference in faith is only part of the story; the long legacy of bloodshed between Christians and Palestinians undoubtedly contributes greatly to this attitude.

III. Civil War?
The permanent presence of Palestinians in Lebanon worries a substantial portion of the Lebanese population, especially Christians. In particular, Lebanese agree that permanently settling Palestinians in their country would unhinge Lebanon's delicate sociopolitical balance, which is upset by even the slightest change of one of its components. The Lebanese government's involuntary acquiescence in the presence of armed Palestinians in the refugee camps exacerbates this view.(23) The pro-Arafat and Palestinian rejectionists refuse to hand over their weapons in the absence of a clear understanding with Lebanese authorities concerning the camps: "Weapons may be needed to cope with particular instances,"(24) says Shafiq al-Hut, the PLO's former representative in Beirut. Fear and a sense of equal treatment lead Christians likewise to hold on to arms. The net result: a high degree of expectation exists that a permanent Palestinian presence would mean a new civil war, as expressed by 47 percent of the respondents. (See Table 1f.)

Absent a true mobilization and a commitment to strong political parties and leaders, only a minority of Lebanese are willing to take part in military activities to prevent the imposition of settlement. However, this does not mean Lebanese will passively accept Palestinian settlement, as confirmed by the conference of Lebanese spiritual leaders, in September 1999, which aimed to foil the permanent settlement of Palestinians. In addition, a range of Lebanese political forces joined in the call by National Liberal Party leader Dory Chamoun for a national convention to take joint action or necessary non-violent steps to resist settlement.(25)

All six communal groups show a low predisposition toward armed action, something that has to do in part with the increased jurisdiction assumed by Lebanese authorities. (See Table 1g.) The Ta`if Accord of 1989 established a modicum of security in much of the country and Lebanese citizens have grown increasingly accustomed to the authority of the Lebanese state and are less likely to resort to violence to resolve conflicts. Within this agreement, however, there are differences. Most Lebanese Christians see the Palestinians as an infringement of the country's sovereignty; thus, during the civil war, right-wing Christian parties were the first to clash with Palestinian guerillas. In contrast, Muslim Lebanese, and especially the Shi`is, clearly disapprove of violence against Palestinians, perhaps because they, like the Palestinians, are engaged in a conflict with Israel.

IV. Political Impact?
Respondents were asked, "As a consequence of Palestinian settlement (in case Palestinian settlement was imposed) would you continue to support the Ta`if agreement?" Only 34 percent said yes; 47 percent said no. In 1989, under Arab sponsorship, Lebanese parliamentary deputies met in Ta`if in Saudi Arabia and ratified the "Document of National Understanding" or what is commonly known as the Ta`if agreement. The accord ended fifteen years of civil war in Lebanon and established internal conditions for peace. The Ta`if accord not only attempts to achieve intercommunal equilibrium but embraces a consensual, sectarian logic and dictates procedures that distribute public offices among the various communities, that provide communities with a veto, and that regulate conflicting sectarian interests. Basically, although not all parties consented to the accord, its imposition as a solution in the form of communal contract was made possible because no party (community) emerged victorious during the war and also because no community can claim a demographic majority. Maintaining the peace, therefore, was and is a matter of maintaining a balance of sharing power and of preserving the rights of communities that view themselves as the bedrock on which the Lebanese state is constructed.(26)

Under the existing political arrangement, most Christians feel politically underrepresented, alienated, and excluded both from the government and from the Christian parties that have accepted the new order while dissenting on details. In the past, the Palestinization of the country prompted Lebanese Christians to take up arms and think the unthinkable: an alliance with Israel and a full commitment to partition. Palestinian settlement would push the Christians to bring demands for fair, just, and equal representation in the system in the light of new demographic shifts.(27) It is assumed that Palestinian settlement would tip the sectarian balance in the country leading to an increased Sunni population. This would lead to demands for increased political representation for the Sunni community who would, in a sense, become dominant. In turn, this could aggravate the situation for other groups.

Sunni respondents, more than any others, seem to accept the legitimacy of the Ta`if arrangement. The Sunni community recovered some weight in Lebanon, with the resurgence of the older upper class, the eclipse of the militias, Maronite misfortunes, and an enhanced role of a Sunni prime minister.

Although the Shi`is won at least on the political level, since they achieved greater visibility and enlarged participation compared to their marginalized position in the pre-war period, there are important numbers of them who consider that the Sunni community has been the major beneficiary from the Ta`if reforms. They fear that the settlement of the Sunnis' Palestinian coreligionists will strengthen their political power.

Druze support for the actual political arrangement depends on continuous benefits in terms of political power and resources. The Druze maintain a political position beyond their demographic strength. If that position is subject to change, their preferred option is decentralization, which they experienced in the Shuf Mountain between 1983 and 1990. (See Table 1h.) Given their small numbers, their second option is a secular de-confessionalized state where they would be able to gain an important share in politics.

Implications for Arab-Israeli Diplomacy
The survey results have shown that permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon triggers wide public opposition and may pose a threat to the country's security and political stability. Although not all Lebanese factions consented to the Ta`if agreement, it nevertheless marked a turning point in the fifteen-year conflict. The accord managed to reestablish a modicum of security in the country. As a result, Lebanon moved into a reconstruction phase. Resettling the Palestinians would invite more Sunni political demands that would threaten Shi`i gains accorded by Ta`if and also threaten to undermine Maronite power further. The unwillingness of all Lebanese groups to return to the trauma of the civil war, hopes for a better future, and worries of what the future might hold--all of these factors seem to unify the Lebanese in opposition to settlement. Equally, however, the trauma of the civil war might also explain why only a minority is prepared to resist militarily if settlement was imposed on the country.

The study also shows that, more than any other group, Druze and Sunni respondents are ready to accept settlement. This is noteworthy because settlement has long been seen by many Sunnis--traditionally strong advocates of Arab nationalism--as an admission of final defeat by Israel. Not all of them appear ready to accept the loss of an Arab cause that is linked to the repatriation of the refugees.

For Israel, however, whatever the legal and moral merit of the Arab claims of the "right of return," this will not under any conceivable set of circumstances be realized. No Israeli government will ever accept changing substantially the demographic balance of the Jewish state--since the state's very raison d'etre is its Jewish character. Former prime minister Shimon Peres has voiced the Israeli position on this point:

a maximalist claim; if accepted, it would wipe out the national character of the state of Israel, making the Jewish majority into a minority. Consequently, there is no chance it will be accepted, either now or in the future.(28)

By the same token, Maronite Christian opposition to Palestinian settlement in Lebanon is openly expressed by Maronite patriarch Cardinal Nasrullah Sfeir on the basis that it will tip the delicate sectarian balance in the country:

the peace that is being promised may have adverse consequences. If the resettlement of Palestinians in vast underpopulated Arab countries is not acceptable, then the effect on a small overpopulated country like Lebanon would be even more dire.(29)

In line with these popular attitudes, Lebanese officials continue to refuse settlement and to insist on repatriation. While Israel has refused even to consider repatriation, Lebanon has made resolving the refugee crisis a precondition for peace. If the present attitudes hold, they would constitute an obstacle to the U.S.-brokered negotiations between the Arabs and Israel.

The current negotiating process, which began in Madrid in 1991, addresses the Palestinian issue in two ways. First, because the matter affects all Arab states hosting Palestinians, one track of multilateral talks is devoted to the issue. Secondly, it was placed on the agenda of the "final status" negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. What most frightens Lebanon is the likelihood that its own Palestinian population will be neglected in both tracks of the negotiations. Beirut would like the various peace talks to provide for the Palestinians' departure, but it doubts that will happen and it lacks the leverage to accomplish its goal. For example, Lebanon has no presence in the talks between Israel and Syria that bode to reshape its neighborhood. Lebanon is absent from the multilateral talks' Refugee Working Group, chaired by Canada, since that group's main objective is to improve the conditions of Palestinian refugees without considering their repatriation, an approach unacceptable to Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon. It has also withdrawn from the bilateral talks between itself and Israel because Israel's prime minister Ehud Barak ruled out the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Israel, suggesting instead that "a solution for them should be found in the countries where they are now living."(30) Beirut has expressed its complete disagreement and has made the return of the refugees a precondition for peace with Israel.

An Imposed Settlement
What about the future? Certainly, a number of respondents do not know whether Palestinians will be repatriated, or settled; they are nevertheless quick to point out their opposition to the latter. Opposition to settlement appeared to cut across the religious affiliations of the respondents, as can be seen from Table 2, and this is the declared position of all political forces and religious authorities in the country. True, there are slight variations between Sunni and Christian respondents, particularly the Maronites: the former leads in support and the latter in opposition. Should some of those giving "unsure" responses among the Sunnis turn out to support settlement, the Palestinians could well become a divisive issue in Lebanon's sectarian politics.

Table 2

                        Greek      Greek
          Maronites   Catholics   Orthodox

Are there plans for resettlement?

Yes         58          59          58
No          26          26          32
Unsure      16          15          10

Will resettlement be imposed?

Yes         66          59          66
No          17          23          16
Unsure      18          18          18

Will you accept resettlement?

Yes          4           7           8
No          84          79          73
Unsure      12          14          19

Is your opinion likely to change in the future?

Yes         27          30          22
No          60          55          57
Unsure      14          15          20

          Sunnis   Shi'is   Druze

Are there plans for resettlement?

Yes        50       61      59
No         37       27      27
Unsure     14       12      14

Will resettlement be imposed?

Yes        57       59      75
No         23       28      13
Unsure     21       14      13

Will you accept resettlement?

Yes        27       11      15
No         48       74      72
Unsure     26       15      17

Is your opinion likely to change in the future?

Yes        32       26      39
No         45       60      52
Unsure     23       13       9

(*) Here and in all tables, "N" equals number of respondents; figures are in percentages; columns may not add up to 100 because results were rounded to the nearest whole number.

Table 2 also shows that the regular Lebanese media reports of alleged U.S., Canadian, or Israeli support for a Palestinian settlement scheme as part of the Arab-Israeli negotiations has made an impact. Lebanese respondents appear aware of these supposed efforts and widely reject such plans. The claim that foreign plots exist to impose the settlement of Palestinians on Lebanon has increased worries among Lebanese about the probability that Palestinian refugees may stay in the country indefinitely.(31) There is a widespread impression that the future of the Palestinians will be decided by the United States as the Arab-Israeli peace talks reach a decisive stage.

In fact, U.S. proposals to settle refugees in Arab states have so far proven unworkable. They were met with official rejection in the case of Jordan's King Abdullah: "Everybody wants to solve this problem but it will not be at the expense of Jordan."(32) The Gulf states also rejected the proposals as a potential danger to political stability.(33) As permanent status negotiations resumed, the Palestinian Authority has shown no enthusiasm for taking the Palestinians in Lebanon into a future Palestinian state. Interestingly, like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, the Palestinian Authority considers itself one of the countries hosting refugees.(34) Arafat prefers to hold onto the Palestinian right of return in order to keep the pressure on Israel and also because of economic obstacles facing those who want to relocate to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

One proposed solution to the refugee problem is emigration to Western countries. In a study involving Palestinian refugees from the Ain Al-Hilwa camp near Sidon, Hilal Khashan found that 98 percent of the respondents wished to emigrate to the West.(35) Probably, that would also be the most popular alternative among the population at large. To date, Canada has offered to absorb 15,000 Palestinians.

Still, there will continue to be a significant Palestinian presence in Lebanon and some very tentative steps have been taken to address this fact. In October 1992, Lebanese foreign minister Faris Buwayz stated that the permanent settlement of 50,000-100,000 Palestinians in Lebanon should be viewed as acceptable.(36) One solution is for a portion of the Palestinian community to have its legal status normalized through extended Palestinian citizenship coupled with permanent residency status.(37) The U.S. green card or the French carte de sejour could serve as a model: full civil and economic rights but not political rights (voting, office-holding) thus promoting socioeconomic integration without hampering political stability.


(1) Steven Edminster, "Trapped on All Sides," The Marginalization of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon (Washington D.C.: U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1999), p. 14.

(2) President Emile Lahud, The Daily Star (Beirut), Apr. 26, 2000.

(3) Palestinians in Lebanon, Report on the Conference Held at Oxford, September 27th to 30th, 1996 (Oxford: Center for Lebanese Studies, 1996), p. 10. Without a census and with the lack of comprehensive survey, political interests and motives play a part in the debate over figures.

(4) Julie Peteet, "From Refugees to Minority: Palestinians in Post-War Lebanon," Middle East Report, July-Sept. 1996, p. 29.

(5) Naser Aruri and Samih Farsoun, "Palestinian Communities and Arab Host Countries," The Sociology of Palestinians, ed. Khalil Nakhle and Elia Zureik (London: Croom Helm, 1980), pp. 131-32.

(6) Julie Peteet, "From Refugees to Minority," pp. 28-29.

(7) Rosemary Sayigh, "Palestinians in Lebanon: Uncertain Future," Peace For Lebanon? From War To Reconstruction, ed. Deidre Collins (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1994), pp. 105-06.

(8) Edminster, "Trapped on All Sides," p. 14.

(9) Rex Brynen, "Palestinian Refugees and The Middle East Peace Process," paper presented for the New Hampshire International Seminar/Yale Maria Lecture in Middle Eastern Studies, University of New Hampshire, Apr., 3, 1998, p. 4.

(10) Naser Aruri and Samih Farsoun, "Palestinian Communities and Arab Host Countries," The Sociology of Palestinians, ed. Khalil Nakhle and Elia Zureik (London: Groom Helm Ltd., 1980,) pp. 117-120.

(11) Brynen, "Palestinian Refugees," p. 5.

(12) Mideast Mirror (London), Sept. 1, 1999

[Graphic omitted] (13) The Daily Star, Nov. 27, 1999

(14) An-Nahar (Beirut), July 28, 1999.

(15) International Herald Tribune, Dec. 21, 1998.

(16) Morton Weinfeld, draft paper (Miami: Trans-Atlantic Learning Community, Migration Group, Apr. 1, 1998); The Social Integration of Immigrants and the Response of Institutions (Toronto: McGill University, Department of Sociology, 1998), p. 2.

(17) Helena Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 47.

(18) Julie Peteet, "Identity Crisis: Palestinians in Post-War Lebanon," Worldwide Refugee Information (Washington D.C.: U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1999), p. 3.

(19) Agreement signed in Damascus on Apr. 28, 1985, involving the leaders of Amal (Shi'i), Lebanese Forces (Maronite), and Progressive Socialist Party (Druze).

(20) G.W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (Cambridge, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1954), pp. 268-69.

(21) Rosemary Sayigh, "Dis/Solving the Refugee Problem," Middle East Report, Summer 1998, pp. 22-23; Julie Peteet, "Palestinians in Post-War Lebanon: From Refugees to Minority," Middle East Report, July-Sept. 1996, p. 28.

(22) Khalil Nakhle, "Palestinian Intellectuals and Revolutionary Transformation," The Sociology of the Palestinians, ed. Khalil Nakhle and Elia Zureik (London; Groom Helm Ltd., 1980), p. 195.

(23) Hilal Khashan and Simon Haddad , "The Coupling of the Syrian-Lebanese Tracks: Beirut's Options," Security Dialogue, June 2000, pp. 201-214.

(24) Murr Television (Beirut), Nov. 8, 1999.

(25) Mideast Mirror, Sept. 1, 1999.

(26) Joseph Maila, "The Ta`if Accord: An Evaluation," Peace For Lebanon?, pp. 31-44.

(27) Naamatullah Abi-Nasr, former president of the Maronite League, "Lebanese Identity: Between Naturalization and Implantation," conference at the University of Saint Esprit (Kaslik, Lebanon), Nov. 26, 1999.

(28) Shimon Peres, with Arye Naor, The New Middle East (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), p. 189.

(29) Al-Hayat, Mar. 13, 2000.

(30) The Economist, Aug. 28, 1999.

(31) An-Nahar, Nov. 9, 1999; International Herald Tribune, Dec. 13, 1999.

(32) The Scotsman (Edinburgh), Oct. 7, 1999.

(33) Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Jan. 2000.

(34) As`ad Abd ar-Rahman, chairman of the PLO Refugee Department, news conference, Ramallah, Feb. 28, 1999.

(35) Hilal Khashan, "The Despairing Palestinians," Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Fall 1992, p. 16.

(36) L'orient Le Jour (Beirut), Oct. 2, 1992.

(37) Nawaf Salam, "Between Repatriation and Resettlement: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon," The Journal of Palestine Studies, Autumn 1994, p. 26.

Appendix: Research Methodology

The study was based on a quota sample of 1,073 Lebanese respondents drawn from the country's six major religious communities, interviewed in Arabic between December 5, 1999, and January 25, 2000.

In most respects the sample reflected the important characteristics of the adult Lebanese population, with the exception of gender and education. The sample includes 688 male (64 percent) and 385 female respondents (36 percent); the female number is lower because interviewing women in Lebanon is not an easy task. Better-educated individuals were deliberately over-represented in the sample, with 58 percent college-educated, 33 percent who said they completed secondary education, and 9 percent who completed elementary education. Less-educated Lebanese generally have a problem in forming political opinions.

The age distribution of the respondents included 40 percent in the category of 18-25 years, 32 percent in the category of 26-35 years, 18 percent in the category 36-45 years and 11 percent in the category 46 years and older. The socioeconomic status of the respondents was 6 percent upper class, 62 percent middle class, and 32 percent working class. The representation of each confessional group is, as close as possible, in proportion to its actual size in Lebanon's population: 29 percent Maronites, 9 percent Greek-Orthodox, 10 percent Greek-Catholics, 27 percent Shi`is, 18 percent Sunnis, and 7 percent Druze.

As a measure of consistency, a pretest was administered to 35 people of varying ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. They were asked to complete the questionnaire and give their comments and critiques. Consequently, proper additions, deletions, and adjustments were made on the final version. In general, respondents attested that the questions were easily understood.

Respondents were interviewed by individuals of the same religious background who were instructed to be objective during the administration of the questions and not to interfere or to attempt to influence the responses. The response rate, based upon the number of completed interviews, as compared with those attempted, was 80 percent. In practice, not all selected people were interviewed. Some refused and others completed only part of the questionnaire.

After the compilation of the data, the "congruence with reality" and "response bias" tests were applied to the data to ensure the reliability of the responses.

In all of Table 1, the Cramer V value establishes a meaningful association between the independent variable which is "religious affiliation" and the dependent variable which is the question, permitting a breakdown by religious affiliation. Table 2 lacks this statistically meaningful association but the breakdown by religious affiliation is provided for comparison.

Simon Haddad is lecturer in the political studies and public administration department at the American University of Beirut.

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