Two Memories: Anxious and Desperate

Two Memories: Anxious and Desperate
*Lebanese expert on public policy and refugee issues  
The establishment of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee in 2005 dictated an in-depth examination of both Lebanese anxieties and Palestinian expectations. The years of fighting were devastating for both partners in the cause. While rights and justice often converge, their non-convergence presupposes a catastrophic confrontation in which everyone is a victim. 
It was necessary from the start to set straight political, sovereignty-related, and diplomatic tracks, regardless of their humanitarian import, to dispel any remembered anxieties or concerns of the Lebanese regarding the constriction of the horizon of a solution to the Palestinian cause, a constriction that would impose difficult existential choices on Lebanon. At the same time, it was necessary to dispel the possibility in the memory of Palestinian refugees and their leaders that Lebanon would become, as a result of that same constriction, an alternative homeland.
The closed horizons of the peace process in the Middle East is complex. Despite some of the pillars on which this process has been based, including the geography of its involvement in Madrid and Oslo and the ensuing ailing rebounds to this day, and despite a pragmatic generosity in the Arab peace initiative, and given that this constriction has increased both the anxieties of the Lebanese and the despair of the Palestinian refugees, the process of restoring the shared Lebanese-Palestinian memory will not be set straight by either side barricading themselves behind political, demagogic, populist, and improvisational slogans. Rather, this urgent restoration process requires understanding the sources of anxiety and the swamps of despair. In my view, the anxiety and despair are internalized by both sides, despite the marked improvement since 2005.
In any case, when you meet veterans who experienced the Lebanese-Palestinian conflict, you see them in two opposing camps. Some of them are determined to engage in a critical revision of the past. Others insist on their ideological or pragmatic position in public or private affairs, aligning themselves with the side-taking logic of the “executioner” and the “victim”. In both camps it has never occurred to some to opt for truth-seeking as a relative endeavor. The truth for some of them is absolute. They are keen to support it with the necessary arguments, whether in defense or in attack. But the defense or attack strategies won’t cure two memories enfeebled with wounds. This supposed healing does not mean embellishing the events of history, or ignoring or justifying them; but in the end it means a sincere call for understanding the Lebanese, Palestinian, regional, and international geopolitical situations that dictated that confrontation. It also means a call for working on restoring the balance between Palestinian human rights and Lebanese national sovereignty, and achieving a solution to enforce the Palestinian right of return in line with the requirements of international justice. It is in this enforcement that the foundations for tackling despair and anxiety are to be found.
Human rights!
Since 2005, a unifying national incubator has sought to improve the socio-economic conditions of Palestinian refugees, out of the conviction that human encirclement—confinement of the refugees and limitations on their economic access—does not lead to preventing permanent settlement. Indeed, such encirclement is completely contrary to Lebanon’s cultural heritage in respecting human rights, on the one hand, and paves the way for malicious infiltrations into the refugee community, on the other. However, improving socio-economic conditions also remains dependent on continued UNRWA intervention for greater effectiveness in terms of relief and development.
In this context, the Lebanese people’s conceptual belief that improving the living conditions of the refugees is existentially prohibited has shifted, as has the refugees’ conviction that their impoverishment is inevitable. What we have before us, even if incomplete, is the first step toward strengthening human resilience of both sides until return. However, the distance between humanitarian improvement and permanent settlement remains controversial.

National sovereignty!
Since 2005, a national incubator has also emerged, even if ambiguous, to end the effects of the Cairo Agreement, which was repealed by the Lebanese Parliament in 1987. This national incubator has been joined by the Palestinian legitimacy choice to respect the sovereignty of Lebanon. Palestinian actors of certain persuasions objected. So far, some of the Lebanese have gone along with them out of an understanding for their views at least. But the failure to implement the decision to put an end to the presence of Palestinian arms outside and inside the camps has continued the violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, and put the refugees’ safety at risk due to repeated turbulence. The battle of Nahr al-Bared camp is an example.
Unless the question of sovereignty is resolved—both sides have interest in resolving it—it is illogical to swap roles in this or exchange accusations. Unless this issue is resolved, explosive detonators could be revived in collective memory, probably for malicious uses.

Enforcement of the right of return!
Since 2005, the rejection of permanent settlement has run parallel to the assertion of the right of return. Rejection ism, in parallel with the reality of justice, appeared to have structural affinity. What has been achieved in rectifying the concepts of human rights and national sovereignty has not been accompanied in depth by the formulation of a Lebanese-Palestinian diplomacy, except in insisting on the principle. But principles that are not accompanied by practices are fragile. 
 Urgency does not allow for the expansion of diplomatic options, but it is enormous in its implications for international law, Palestinian rights, and Lebanese sovereignty. I do not yet understand our joint withdrawal from a promising process of diplomatic engagement with regard to the right of return.
Restoration of the Lebanese-Palestinian memory has begun. But its rise to the realm of public policy is still lacking…