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Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

Source: FOFOGNET Digest, various (July 1996).

Notes and comments on Rosemary Sayegh's NACC paper:

RE: Leila Zakharia

RE: Rex Brynen

RE: Leila Zakharia

RE: Rex Brynen

RE: Elaine Hagopian

RE: Hussein Amery

RE: Salim Tamari

From: Leila Zakharia, Association Najdeh
Subject: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Date: July 5, 1996

It is true that Palestinians in Lebanon suffer from a crisis of representation. But this is not for lack of representatives. There is a Palestinian political leadership in Lebanon including most PLO groups as well as leading PLO members such as Shafiq El Hout. The representation crisis is the result of the current marginalisation of Palestinian refugees in the peace process and the Oslo agreements. In Lebanon, various concerned actors have different motivations for encouraging the marginalization process: 1) PLO members in Lebanon are in the main opposed to Oslo, therefore the PLO leadership is at loggerheads with its membership there. The democratic factor is not its guiding star and even if it were, this would prove to be a liability in its relations with Israel. 2) The Lebanese authorities, though in frequent contact at all levels with the local Palestinian leadership (as well as those who belong to factions outside the PLO) will not open formal dialogue to regulate and adjust the relationship with resident Palestinians because of the conviction that granting them civil rights would be one step towards their permanent resettlement in the country. On the contrary both the lack of civil rights and the restrictions on travel and residency are aimed at encouraging as many Palestinians to leave the country as possible. A dialogue would impede this objective.

This does not mean that alliances do not exist between Lebanese and Palestinian civil society representatives. A committee on Palestinian rights (national and civil) was formed earlier this year. It includes Lebanese and Palestinian personalities, NGOs, with Lebanese former diplomats and government officials. The going is slow but steady.

On travel restrictions: Hundreds of Palestinians who travelled abroad before June 1995 for study or work have been unable to return to Lebanon even though they are holders of legal resident status and their families reside there. In a Catch 22 situation, their applications at Lebanese Embassies are generally not denied but the approval from the Ministry of the Interior never comes. Besides the humanitarian and psychological impact of family separation and the financial burdens of the exit-entry visa, these measures have seriously eroded the residency rights of Palestinians and have indirectly nullified the validity of the Lebanese travel document issued them.

On space restriction and displacement: There is a mistaken belief among some Lebanese sectors that the elimination of Palestinian camps would somehow make the Palestinian problem disappear. This is short sighted and detrimental to Lebanon itself. The continuing operation of UNRWA and its refugee camps is the guarantor against forced Palestinian resettlement. In effect UNRWA's mandate (in the political and legal sense) maintains international responsibility for Palestinian refugees until the implementation of resolution 194.

Meanwhile, the ban on construction threatens at least 2O,OOO Palestinians with virtual homelessness. This includes displaced families currently living in temporary squatter premises and the inhabitants of two Beirut camps (Shatila and Borj El Barajneh) located within the boundary of a new development site. Palestinians have yet to be approached regarding proposed alternatives, if any.

Employment: Though it is true that comprehensive surveys on most aspects of the Palestinian situation are lacking, UNRWA surveys remain a basic indicator of general trends. Its 1995 figures show that unemployment touched 40% of the Palestinian work force, up by 6% from the previous year and that as a result 60% of the population live below the poverty line. Unabated PLO cutbacks also continue to contribute to the crisis. In February 1996, the Palestine Red Crescent dismissed 75 staff members, including doctors and nurses, out of 350 targetted for future dismissal. In Lebanon today, there are Palestinian engineers who work as street cleaners and Palestinian doctors who face prosecution for practicing their profession.

Education: The report of the Commissioner General of UNRWA to the 1995 Session of the General Assembly states that the need to increase the number of UNRWA schools in Lebanon is one of the most critical problems facing the Agency. This is corroborated by 1993 UNRWA statistics on school-aged children not attending school:

Age Group % Out of School
6 to 11 42.7%
12 to 14 46.5%
15 to 17 71.8%
18 to 19 93.3%

Although UNRWA cautions that these figures may be inflated due to lack of accurate information on Palestinian attendance of Lebanese public and private schools, the results do not surprise anyone in the Palestinian community, particularly NGOs. Child labor was already in evidence several years ago. A 1988 PLO study on working Palestinians in Lebanon reveals that 7.3% of the sample group were 10 to 14 years of age. That was seven years ago. In addition, 1995 UNICEF statistics on street children in Lebanon show that 18% are now Palestinians. A new phenomena that can only underline the scope of the degradation suffered by Palestinians in Lebanon today.

UNRWA's Regular Budget in Lebanon: The Comissioner General's report for 1995 expressed deep concern for the deteriorating living conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon. In addition to the need for schools, the problematic areas were: lack of employment opportunities, the high proportions of families headed by women (our note: close to 10,000 families or about 15% of the Palestinian population) and the problem of housing displaced families. But take note of this: while UNRWA's regular budget for 1996-97 was increased globally by 5.14%, its budget in Lebanon rose only 1.69%. The lion's share went to Gaza (10.7%), in addition to the Peace Implementatjon Program, followed by Jordan (6.78%), with the lowest proportion (0.46%) in the West Bank. This writer asked a well placed government official from a major donor country to explain the discrepancies and got the reply: "this is what the Palestinian authority wishes." Perhaps, but if donor countries were not in agreement with the PA, then it would'nt happen.

Few Palestinians in Lebanon believe that the economic stranglehold they are subjected to is caused primarily by the absence of civil rights. The real responsibility lies with the decision-makers in a peace process that ignores their inaleanable national rights and espouses unconditionally Israel's diktat: the dissolution of the Palestinian refugee question through their resettlement in Arab host countries and the termination of their national claims.

From: Rex Brynen
Subject: Re: FOFOGNET Digest - 3 Jul 1996 to 4 Jul 1996
Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 03:01:18 +0200

Greetings from Jerusalem, one and all. Due to the joys of internet--and thanks to my trusty laptop and a compatible phone system at the National Palace Hotel that uses RJ-11 phone jacks--I'm never too far away from FOFOGNET...

Thanks, Leila, for your very useful comments on Rosemary's paper--if you don't mind, I would like to archive them on the PRRN website when I get back to Montreal

I would like to add a few comments on your comments, regarding the refugee issue in the peace process:

"Few Palestinians in Lebanon believe that the economic stranglehold they are subjected to is caused primarily by the absence of civil rights. The real responsibility lies with the decision-makers in a peace process that ignores their inaleanable national rights and espouses unconditionally Israel's diktat: the dissolution of the Palestinian refugee question through their resettlement in Arab host countries and the termination of their national claims."

Undoubtedly the Oslo process marginalized refugees by focussing so intently on the WBG. However, it is a mistake to see that process as one that "espouses unconditionally Israel's diktat: the dissolution of the Palestinian refugee question through their resettlement in Arab host countries and the termination of their national claims." The logic of the process was one of establishing eventual Palestinian sovereignty in (parts of?) the WBG, a logic evident not only in revision of the Labour party platform but in the comments of a number of israeli officials (admittedly, usually off-the-record). A sovereign Palestinian entity would have the right, obviously, to control its own citizenship and immigration policy, making it possible for Palestinian refugees to return to Palestinian soil, albeit perhaps not their 1948 homes. The clearest statement of this was Shlomo Gazit's JCSS paper on the refugee issue; Yossi Beilin has said much the same thing on occasion. Still, as Salim Tamari's earlier postings to FOFOGNET have made clear, Israeli negotiators were far from this forthcoming at the negotiating table.

My fear is that all of this has changed with the change in Israeli government. Palestinian sovereignty is not even remotely on this government's agenda; on the contrary, its opposition to future Palestinian sovereignty is clear and central to its platform. Given this--and given the dim prospects for any forward movement on final status issues, especially the refugee issue--what are the implications for those that deal with the refugee issue (NGOs/PA/UNRWA/RWG/host countries/diaspora communities/etc.)?

From: Leila Zakharia, Association Najdeh
Subject: Re: FOFOGNET Digest - 4 Jul 1996 to 5 Jul 1996
Date: July 7, 1996

When there are opposing opinions, eventually one will turn out to be mistaken, but how will we learn, if either one of them is not spoken or worse of all not heard?

1. Natanyahu will not renege on Oslo because he does not need to. That is exactly what is wrong with the Oslo agreement. What is binding for the state of Israel, regardless of who is in power, is a cantonized self-rule system. In return Palestinians have obtained continued Israeli occupation, growing Israeli settlements, and final status negotiations which may allow them to discuss core issues within the sole legal framework of Oslo. Gone are UN resolutions on the Palestinian question and international conventions.

Promises, good intentions and positive expectations are not binding and Israeli occupation and settlements remain concrete illegal facts. Palestinians have the legal right to establish an independent state with full sovereignty over every inch of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Did the Palestinians feel that they were unable to cope with the responsibility of independance and self-determination and therefore requested Israel to stay on board until they got their act together? Who set the rules on this one?

Likewise, Resolution 194 is clear about the right of return, as well as the UN charter and the International Declaration of human rights. Israel under both Labor and Likud refuses to comply. Is this Israeli refusal instigated by the Palestinian negotiator? Who set the rules on this one too?

Negotiations will not be fair and cannot lead to a just durable peace,if they are not anchored in the laws and the universal values that govern the relations between peoples and states. Negotiations involve compromises, but these compromises are not imposed a priori by the other party. Certainly, there are Israelis who support Palestinian rights, some completely, some conditionally and Palestinians (in Israel, in the Occupied Territories, in the Diaspora) cannot see the full fruition of all their aspirations unless they have the support of a substantial segment of Israeli society. This may or may not happen, and only the international legal framework can draw the boundaries between what is or is not negotiable and what is or is not applicable.

2. The marginalization of Palestinian refugees is a political and not a topical matter linked to the timing of negotiations. It is the result of a negotiating process which, in form and content, has fragmented the Palestinian people into separate residential groups and has transformed the Palestinian refugee issue into a solely humanitarian concern. (My NACC 1995 intervention on the issue is posted separately).

From: Rex Brynen
Subject: Re: FOFOGNET Digest - 4 Jul 1996 to 5 Jul 1996
Date: Sun, 7 Jul 1996 11:39:19 +0200

Comments on comments on comments on comments...

i) Much as some of us would have preferred an immediate transfer of the WB/G to Palestinian sovereignty, such a process has never been "in the cards", nor will it ever be. Call it unfair, call it wrong-headed, call it a rational response to Israeli security concerns, or call it force majeure: however, even under optimum conditions, Israel was never going to hand over the keys, apologize, and depart.

Instead, an ambiguous process of interim self-government was required to shift to eventual Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza. In many ways, the PLO's gamble at Oslo appeared to be paying off: by the beginning of 1996, it was amply clear that the Labour Party establishment had largely accepted the idea of a two-state solution, albeit one on Israeli terms. Unfortunately--and a tiny minority of Hamas militants bear significant historical responsibility for this--the Israeli elections turned out differently, either delaying or endangering the process.

ii) Regarding UNGAR 194 and the Right of Return, several points can be made. Before making them, let me underline that I happen to believe that Palestinians (like Bosnians or Rwandans) have an unassailable moral right to return to homes from which they have been forcibly displaced. However, it has been amply clear since 1948 that Israel sees this as an existential issue, that there are *no conceivable circumstances under which Israel will allow a substantial number of refugees to return to 1948 territories*, and that there is absolutely no possible outside compulsion that would lead them to do so. One can cite UNGAR 194 as much as one wishes to, but it never really has carried much weight with the international community (and indeed, as a General Assembly resolution, it is not binding in the way that Security Council resolutions are). As a further observation, very few refugees from massive, sustained conflicts return to their actual original homes: few Bosnians will (despite Dayton), and few Rwandans will.

Return to national territory is another issue, however. As I noted earlier, the logic of the Oslo peace process--belatedly accepted by the bulk of the Labour establishment, if not yet expressed in political negotiation--was that a future sovereign Palestinian entity would have the right to readmit whatever Palestinians wished to return to their national soil in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian negotiators, incidentally, can hardly be blamed for Israel's opposition to the right of return: they have cited UNGAR194 at every turn. But I also believe that they are wise enough to seek the best achievable deal--the most "attainable justice", to paraphrase Rashid Khalidi's excellent analysis of the refugee issue--within the realm of the possible. The return of some Palestinians to 1948 territories, and of the bulk to Palestinian sovereignty in the WBG, is achievable. A "pure" right of return to 1948 territories is simply not possible.

iii) Some quick observations on points raised in Leila's 1995 NACC paper:

  • While Madrid multilateral ground-rules may have originally barred non-WBG Palestinians from participating in negotiations, the Palestinians (with the general support of most of the international community) were successful in having these rules abandoned. If the PA wants to assign (more) diaspora refugees to RWG delegations, it is free to do so.
  • The RWG did not make UNGAR 194 the basis for all negotiations because, obviously, neither Israel nor the US would participate under those conditions--which would effectively end the RWG. The Palestinians are free to insist on UNGAR194 as a precondition, but in practice they will then lose the refugee forum.
  • Neither in the RWG nor elsewhere has the refugee issue been transformed into a "a regional Arab-Israeli issue encompassing all regional refugee questions". The RWG discusses Palestinians. Moreover, there is no requirement that the RWG shy away from political issues, although (as Jill Tansley and I discuss in our Isreal-Palestine piece) this has tended to be the case for a variety of reasons.
  • The Israeli-Jordanian Treaty talks about resolving the refugee issue "in accordance with international law" (Article 8.2), and mentions the RWG as only one of several fora. Nowhere does the treaty propose resettlement/absorption. It does mention "settlement," a deliberately ambiguous term which could refer to settlement in place or settlement in Palestine.
  • "UNRWA's discontinuance" has never been an objective of the RWG, other than in the sense that (as is obvious) UNRWA will be discontinued as the refugee issue is resolved. It might be noted, that at one time or another, the PA, Israel and the US have favoured both i) UNRWA's early demise, and ii) UNRWA's non-early demise--depending on circumstances. Other than those observations, however, I fully agree with Leila on the issue of UNRWA.

From: Elaine Hagopian
Subject: Re: FOFOGNET Digest - 5 Jul 1996 to 7 Jul 1996
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 1996 10:17:52 -0400

I have read Rosemary's and Leila's pieces with interest. I have also read Rex's reponses with greater interest. If Leila represents the maximum moral and legal position, Rex is depressingly, and incorrectly "realistic". At a later point when I have time, I will share my own thoughts with Fofognet. For now, I want to say, the Leila has the more accurate interpretation. I don't know why Rex believes that a real sovereign state would have developed under Labor. Perhaps something called a state might have developed, but it would have been based on extraordinary discretionary rights for Israeli intervention, that it would not have looked any different from Netanyahu's self-rule. You have to remember that Oslo was not a process for real peace, but an opportunity to dispose of the Palestinian problem which Israel was unable to do with dispersion, dispossession, and bombardment. This way it has "defanged" the PLO and split up the Palestinians. Arafat is no so disgusting, that he threatens the lives of critical Palestinians. Until Oslo is renegotiated and becomes a real peace process. We are in for co-optation show. The potential problem now is that Netanyahu may try to split Lebanon from Syria, something which appears to many impossible. But..... Netanyahu may offer with Bill's support to withdraw from South Lebanon, and to offer some American money to aid Palestinians in Lebanon. The withdrawal part is what Lebanon and Syria have been requesting; the rest is another nail in the Palestinian coffin. Netanyahu would like to isolate Syria and arrest is power and influence in the region. Bibi would love to penetrate Lebanon's reviving commercial activities, and do joint stuff to penetrate the Arab regional investments.

From: Hussein Amery
Subject: FOFOGNET Digest - 7 Jul 1996 to 8 Jul 1996 -Reply
Date: Tue, 9 Jul 1996 08:48:05 -0500

Comments on Elaine's Analysis:

Given the rapid and fluid situation in the ME right now, I would tend to agree with Elaine in some respects, such as doubting the sincerity of the Labour Party's intentions.

On the other hand, withdrawing from Lebanon would hardly split Lebanon from Syria. Israeli strategy in dealing with the Arabs should be characterized as reluctant incrementalism. Given up pieces of territory, in exchange for peace treaties, but always holding back from a full committment to total piece -- which means the end of occupation. Syria basically controls Lebanon, and an incremental peace with Israel, would therefore require Syrian approval prior to opening negotitions.

Further, a look at the Likud Cabinet hardly displays any likely candidates to spearhead a peace initiative.

For the Palestinians, I believe that Arafat, having tried just about every other approach to pursuing Palestinian goals, has adopted the Israeli approach to peace and turned it on its head -- one of incrementalism: in the acquisition of land; acquisition of authority and of distribution of democratic rights.

From: Salim Tamari
Subject: Rosemary Sayigh and her critics (fwd)
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 1996 15:23:51 +0200

I have been following with great interest the debate generated by Rosemary Sayigh's essay on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It is a pity that Rosemary herself--who I understand is not connected--cannot follow this debate. Perhaps people in Lebanon can make available a hardcopy of this discussion to RS.

Now for a little nitpicking. In Leila Zakharia's otherwise worthy reponse to Rex Brynen I was struck by the following sentence:

"Resolution 194 is clear about the right of return, as well as the UN charter and the International Declaration of human rights. Israel under both Labor and Likud refuses to comply. Is this Israeli refusal instigated by the Palestinian negotiator? Who set the rules on this one too?"

[Salim Comments: Israeli refusal to comply with Resolution 194 is as old as the state of Israel itself. I am surprised the author believes that this refusal is instigated by the Palestinian negotiator. The only time Israel came around to confront the issue of refugees before the representatives of the Palestinian nation (diaspora and homeland) was in Ottowa in 1992, when the multilateral negotiations began. Since that day the Palestinian team has raised the need for implementing res. 194 in every plenary session. In Tunis, Cairo, Oslo, Antalya, etc... (You can check that from the record)

Repeating the sacred words however does not bring the Messiah. Zakharia seems to believe that Palestinian 'flexibility' in the negotiations has allowed Israeli to marginalize the issue of refugees. I am sure there is a lot to criticize in PNA performance, and I can add my bit here, but I do not think this happens to be the guilty party in this context.

According to this logic Lebanese and Syrian intrasigence in the negotiations should have brought about a substantial Israeli withdrawal.

The fact is, Israeli 'non-compliance' on the issue of refugees is a much more complicated question, and cannot be resolved at the moral level--though I agree with you that international agreements in negotiations must be based on morality if they are to have binding effect. At the heart of the matter is Israel's formidable military power, backed by Amerian strategic support.

At the begining of her intervention Laila makes the following suggestion:

"When there are opposing opinions, eventually one will turn out to be mistaken, but how will we learn, if either one of them is not spoken or worse of all not heard?

Indeed. I suppose you refer to yourself and Rex Brynen. But have you thought of the other possibility, that BOTH opposing views might be mistaken?

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