Peace coupled with rights is a vital interest for Lebanon
As I am writing about the Palestinian cause, I have mixed feelings. Shall I write about the grave injustice done to a people for a crime it did not commit ? Shall I write out of solidarity with humanity and the Arabs in the broad sense ? Or shall I write as a Lebanese citizen driven by my feelings towards this question and my sense of solidarity with it, by our suffering and our shame and that of the world about the conditions of the refugees ? It is a question that does not fall into oblivion.
I would like to make a useful suggestion out of our common interest in the right of return according to agreeable terms and out of interest in improving the living conditions of the refugees.
First, the sober approach adopted by the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) to this difficult question yields, through its publications, activities and conferences, an important corpus in terms of research, publications and a stepping stone to feasible policies.
It is also necessary to appreciate the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority and forces with the Lebanese State to ensure the security of the camps, non-interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs, and ensure that the camps will not be used as centers of any activity that damage international relations.
I also need to positively underline the special welcome extended by the President of the Palestinian Authority to Patriarch Al-Rai’s visit and the good relations established by this Authority with Lebanese political actors, especially Christian parties such as the Lebanese Forces Party and the Kataeb Party.
The Lebanese-Palestinian issue is manifold and includes Arab solidarity, the interest in securing the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland, post on the borders of Palestine as well as the issue of the camps.
The socio-economic aspect of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon assumes a major importance. I endorse progress made in this regard in as much as we advance in our endeavor to preserve the right of return. The law on foreign ownership of property can be used for inspiration, i.e. there are non-sovereign rights that can be subject to negotiation, and other sovereign rights that are reserved to the Lebanese. However, the most important idea is that sensitivities about the civil rights of the Palestinians in Lebanon vary with the geographical location. Therefore, a better solution to this issue may be reached within a centralized framework and a decentralized one as well. For instance, the issue of travel documents pertains to the central authority, whereas it may be more appropriate that the local authority takes decisions regarding the issue of ownership and work, which is related to the geographical location, within the frame work of the forthcoming decentralization in Lebanon.
The Palestinian issue, with all its complexities, is always salient in Lebanon. Being bordered by Palestine and Israel, Lebanon always comes under attack, willingly or unwillingly, in addition to suffering the deportation of refugees to its territories by Israel, and the establishment of armed movements seeking liberation across its borders. They end up building a state within a state, under the banner of defending the cause of Palestine or self-defense, on the pretext that the Lebanese State lacks the military and political capability to take the decision to confront Israel. Consequently, peace coupled with rights represents a vital interest for Lebanon
Since the 1967 defeat and especially after the 1973 war, the Arabs have tended to coordinate with the West to resolve the issue of liberating the occupied territories and the Palestinian cause. With the cease-fire agreements and the first Israeli withdrawals, especially after Camp David and the 1982 war in Lebanon, the Palestinians started to rely on direct negotiations with the West, leading to the Oslo Accords and the first return to Palestine after the Nakaba. In his negotiations with Israel, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat forced Israel to consent to the right of return, while Lebanon received guarantees through Palestinian and American public stances during Clinton’s term according to which a large proportion of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would return to Palestinian territories.
For the West, Saudi Arabia has always carried considerable weight. The Kingdom has lent the Palestinians the strongest support as far as their rights are concerned, and it is necessary to build on its stances by which there is no normalization until after the realization of these rights.
In addition, all forms of negotiations with Israel, including border demarcation, must be accompanied by an affirmation of the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Here are important areas for Palestinian-Lebanese diplomatic cooperation to push for the réalisation of right of return.