The situation of Palestinians in Lebanon, always the least secure of the Arab host countries, has become palpably more tense since mid-1999. The mysterious assassination of four judges in Sidon (June 1999), blamed on the outlaw Abu Mehjan who terrorizes part of Ain Helweh camp, became the pretext for tightening the army siege on all the camps of the south.1 Palestinians point out that the Lebanese authorities could arrest Abu Mehjan if they really wanted to. He is more useful, they suggest, unarrested, as bogeyman and informer. Some also allege that Saudi Arabia funds Abu Mehjan in its campaign against the Ahbash movement. A month later, Arafatists took over Ain Helweh, supposedly with Lebanese and Syrian consent, but on October 27 Sultan Abu Aynain, Arafat’s quasi-official representative in Lebanon, was charged with organizing a militia and condemned to death in absentia by a hastily convened special court. A few weeks later two of his lieutenants were arrested and charged with serious crimes. Clearly, Syrian compliance in the “Arafatization” of the camps in the South had been stretched too far.
Meanwhile, Lebanese politicians and media began to sound the alarm about camp re-arming. Dory Chamoun announced a plan for a national conference to mobilize public opinion against towteen (implantation).2 Speaking at a conference on refugee return organized by St. Joseph University at the end of November, Higher Education Minister Michel Eddeh put the case against towteen, accusing the Lebanese of neglecting its threat, and Arafat of abandoning the refugees in the final-status negotiations just inaugurated in Ramallah.3 The Guardians of the Cedars repeated their slogan, “There will not remain one Palestinian on Lebanese soil” (January 4, 2000). Within a few months, the image of the camps as arsenals and Palestinians as a threat to Lebanon’s security was reinflated by the political establishment and official media, provoking a robust response from Shafiq al-Hout, who said everyone knows that all heavy arms were removed from the camps after Taif, and that if the southern camps have arms it is because the Syrian and Lebanese governments want them to.4
Analysts attributed the sudden rise in tension to Israel’s approaching withdrawal from South Lebanon, which Barak announced late last year would be implemented with or without a settlement with Syria. A spotlight on armed Palestinians serves the Lebanese state by reminding the world and its own public of the Palestinian threat and of its unconditional refusal of towteen. Syrian aims were more complex. On the one side, before beginning serious negotiations they reminded Israel of the “Palestinian threat”; on the other, they demonstrated to the United States that only Syria can control Hizballah and the Palestinians – the “wild cards” – in South Lebanon.5 Another crucial factor was the upcoming final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), with both Syria and Lebanon accusing Arafat of abandoning the refugees and cutting out the host countries. Media warfare and tension have persisted through the current year, creating a climate of fear and rumors.
Ever since the Stockholm meetings that preceded Camp David Two, there have been stories of a “deal” reached between the United States, Israel and the PNA to give priority to the refugees in Lebanon when the moment arrives to deal with the refugee problem. Concurring evidence from differently positioned sources suggests that there is (or was) a much more solid basis for this story than for rumors of transfer to Iraq or Canada. Not given to pro-refugee statements, President Clinton remarked in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from South Lebanon, after meeting Barak in Lisbon, that the retreat “will heighten the anxiety of Palestinans in Lebanon.” Around the same time (July 6, 2000), The Washington Post published an article by Phyllis Oakely, a former assistant secretary of state, entitled “Act Now on Mideast Refugees,” in which Oakely proposes “an international resettlement program, starting with the refugees in Lebanon” which “could begin now.” Such an initiative would help unblock negotiations between Lebanon and Israel and “could prevent the resurgence of Palestinian violence and terrorism from Lebanon.” 6 Syrian-Lebanese “partnership” has kept Lebanon tightly tied to Syria’s timetable and priorities, and prying the two apart is believed by some observers here to be an American policy goal. Independently, leaks from Stockholm spoke of an agreement reached there for a repartition of Lebanon’s refugees between the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, with Israel to take back an unspecified number, perhaps 70,000, under the label of family reunification.7 Other versions of the deal exclude “implantation” in Lebanon.
Palestinian National Authority assent to the “Lebanon First” project is well attested. Asad Abdel Rahman, PNA minister of refugee affairs, is reported to have talked along these lines at a workshop organized in Oxford in March by the Lebanese Studies Centre, attended by unofficial representatives of Palestinians and host countries.8 More important, Arafat himself has affirmed his interest to several different audiences, including a rally in Ramallah soon after returning from Camp David Two, and a delegation of the American Anti-Defamation League, to whom he is reported to have said, “It is important to solve . . . the problem of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon . . . . The rest is less important to me.”9 Their miserable conditions might have swayed some of the refugee community to accept redistribution, had the scheme been presented to them as a real one and as a final choice. Politicized Palestinians view such schemes as a means to fragment refugee opinion and weaken the demand for return, but their influence over the non-politicized has been sapped by their inability to solve daily-life problems.
Whatever agreements were reached at Stockholm went down in the shipwreck of Camp David Two. Since then, the outbreak of the “al-Aqsa intifada” has added new sources of uncertainty to a political landscape where every shift arouses complex reactions from near and distant actors. In setting the framework through which to review the current situation and the future of the refugees in Lebanon, we have to consider an America with a new president in the White House, an Israel in the throes of governmental crisis, a Lebanon with Hariri back as premier in the midst of calls to review relations with Syria, and a Syria with a new, untested president in charge. In addition, other regional powers – Jordan, Iran, Egypt and possibly Iraq – may intervene in negotiations that concern them, but from which they, along with the United Nations, have been excluded by the “separate track” formula established at Madrid. There is also the possibility of growing European Union intervention in the Palestine/Israel arena as disillusion with American handling of the peace process colors public opinion not only in the Arab world but also in Europe and beyond. The Arab street is another factor not to be ignored as long as the “al-Aqsa intifada” continues, challenging the Egyptian and Jordanian governments in particular with unrest and possible explosions. All these factors interact with each other, and all have their repercussions on Lebanon and on a Palestinian refugee community that feels increasingly threatened at the same time as new hopes are kindled by events across the border.
ISRAEL AND THE REFUGEES: A SYMBOLIC RETURN?
For the PLO negotiators, it was implicit in the Oslo accords that in return for U.S. and Israeli recognition of the PLO, which they expected to lead within six years to a sovereign state, the PLO would forget about the refugees. State-fixation made the PLO miss a historic opportunity at Oslo to bargain the return of the refugees against removal of the Jewish settlements (if the Israelis had refused, it would have been no worse than what happened later).10 The PLO’s readiness to “de-prioritize” the refugee issue, the historic core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is confirmed by the Beilin-Abu Mazin accords (October 1995). In this document, the Palestinian side “recognizes that the prerequisites of the new era of peace and coexistence, as well as the realities that have been created on the ground since 1948, have rendered the implementation of (the right of return) impracticable.”11 The Israeli side acknowledged the refugees’ right to return to a Palestinian state and to compensation; an international commission would fund and organize the final settlement with the PLO undertaking that no additional claims or demands would be made after implementation of the framework agreement. The text makes it clear that in 1995 the PNA was prepared to yield refugee rights as laid down in Resolution 194.
Between Oslo and Camp David Two, changes occurred in the positions of both parties towards the refugee issue. By far, the more dramatic shift was that in the Palestinian position towards reaffirmation of historic national claims. Interpreted by some Israeli observers as maneuvering on Arafat’s part to strengthen his bargaining position, this change was in fact imposed by popular mobilization, with Arafat following refugee and public opinion rather than leading it. Mobilization on the right of return began in the small West Bank camp of Farah in December 1995; by late 1999 it had made a comeback as a major issue, the focus of conferences (Boston, April 2000), mass rallies (Washington and London, September 16, 2000), workshops and Internet petitions. Arafat’s turnaround on the refugees must have also been caused by seven years of disillusionment as, instead of moving toward a sovereign state, Palestinians faced continued occupation, settlement expansion, closure, home demolitions and general reinforcement of Israel’s “matrix of control. ”12 Thus, though Barak’s small concession at Camp David II of a “symbolic return” to Israel, involving at most 70,000 refugees over ten years, went beyond Beilin, it did not begin to meet the Palestinian negotiators’ revival of historical refugee claims.
In his report to the PLO Central Committee on Camp David II, Abu Mazin runs down the Israeli position on the refugees, dubbing it “merely oppositional”: refusal to admit moral or legal responsibility for the refugee tragedy; a hint that Resolution 194 might be accepted if its meaning is restricted to the return of “some hundreds…on humanitarian grounds.” Leaks about the “Lebanon first” deal suggested that any refugees allowed to return to homes in Israel would be 1) from Lebanon; 2) selected for age, as in the offer to the villagers of Kfar Birim; and 3) return would be phased out over ten years. Compensation would have to come from an international fund that should also compensate Jews who had left Arab countries (not mentioned in the Beilin-Abu Mazin agreement). Even the fund set up by Israel after 1948 in custody of “absentee property” was said to be empty.13 The report does not mention a demand that Israeli negotiators would certainly have made had the negotiations made progress towards a settlement. This would have been the addition of an “end of claims” clause.
The importance to Israel that any settlement with the PNA should be endowed with once-and-for-all finality, erasing all preceding U.N. declarations and pre-empting all future claims, is clear from an article by Shlomo Gazit (former head of military intelligence, currently at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv [see Sadat Forum in this journal]).14 Gazit questions whether Arafat can sign an agreement binding the refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. To eliminate all possibility of post-settlement refugee claims, he calls for 1) a public announcement by Arafat saying the conflict is over and that the refugees cannot return to Israel, 2) adoption by the PNA of its own “law of return,” 3) the termination of UNRWA and the transfer of its functions to the host governments, 4) the elimination of the status of “refugee,” 5) the granting of host-country citizenship and economic integration to those refugees not wanting to return to Palestine, 6) the establishment of an international authority to pay compensation. Gazit adds that Arafat must be pressured to comply in PNA-controlled areas; once the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza have accepted compensation instead of return, the rest will follow their example.
Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to return to their homes rests on two pillars: “special case” arguments and American support. Apart from a brief attempt by President Truman to persuade Israel to accept a symbolic 100,000 returnees, the United States has consistently favored the settlement of the refugees in the host countries, initially to be implemented through UNRWA.15 Maintaining Israel as a powerful, Jewish-majority state has been a central element of America’s Middle East policy since 1948 and precludes pressures for repatriation of the refugees, even though recent polls have shown a majority of Americans favor Palestinian return. U.S. preference for the settlement of the refugees where they are has, however, been somewhat dented by Lebanese diplomacy. This, backed by an active Lebanese lobby in Washington, is said to have produced a better American understanding of Lebanon’s “special situation.” Then-premier Dr. Salim al-Hoss said that the United States had given guarantees that Lebanon will not be made to bear the cost of a Middle East settlement.16
A more skeptical view is expressed by political scientist Farid el Khazen, “There’s no real American guarantee [against towteen: RS]. But Americans are more aware than they used to be of the complexities of our situation.” 17 The three-way partition deal brokered at Stockholm would leave around 100,000 Palestinians in Lebanon. But the Lebanese government and political leaderships demand their total transfer, and, according to el Khazen, “No Lebanese government will concede on this issue.”
SYRIA, THE ENIGMA
Since everything that happens in Lebanon is attributed – rightly or wrongly – to Syria, one cannot discuss the present situation of the refugees or their possible future without looking towards Damascus. Yet the Syrians are sparing with policy declarations, forcing even seasoned observers to speculate on the basis of small signals. The usual uncertainty about Syrian policies is compounded by the change from Hafiz to Bashar al-Asad as president. Bashar has been variously seen in Beirut as 1) concerned primarily with economic growth and internal reform; 2) likely to improve Syria’s relations with Jordan, while maintaining the Syrian-Iranian-Saudi axis; 3) ready to renew negotiations with Israel; 4) unlikely to depart radically from his father’s legacy. However, some of these predictions have been shaken by the “alAqsa intifada.” Asked recently by the editor of al-Hayat whether he would renew negotiations with Israel, Bashar said, “Syria will never be a sword to stab the Palestinians in the back.”18
This says little, however, about Syrian intentions towards the refugees in Lebanon. Lebanese officials say that Syria understands the priority for Lebanon of the refugee issue, but agreement on the phasing of bilateral talks means that Syria must recover the Golan before Lebanese Israeli negotiations begin. This would imply Syrian acceptance of the transfer of the refugees in Lebanon. But there is much uncertainty on this point since, even before the “al-Aqsa intifada,” a negotiated settlement seemed too far out of sight to warrant predictions. Understandings based on separate-track negotiations clearly become obsolete if the whole “peace process” machinery collapses, a possibility created by the new intifada.
People opposed to the “peace process” say that Syria’s policy towards the refugees in Lebanon will remain what it has always been:
1) that the refugee problem should be solved as a whole, not broken into bilateral fragments;
- it must be based on the right of return;
- Arafat alone cannot decide the fate of the refugees;
- the host countries, indeed all the Arab countries, must be involved in final-status negotiations.
Such speakers also believe that Syria wants to keep Palestinians in Lebanon as a card to play against Israel in its drive to recover the Golan. Their continuing relevance is underlined by the fact that, after Khaddam was relieved of the Palestinian portfolio, it moved into the hands of (now) President Bashar and army intelligence. This mix of Arabist ideology and Syrian interests would endow Syria with a dual role vis-à-vis the camps, one of control and protection. Some believe that this role would extend beyond an eventual settlement. Thus, if the refugees’ desire to return to their homes were to remain blocked, Syria would in this view support their remaining in Lebanon rather than being transferred elsewhere.
Others who read Syria’s intentions with less faith in its undying Arabism include Lebanese (mainly Aounists and Catholic Christians) as well as Arafatist Palestinans and skeptics from all sides. They point out that the refugee problem was not on the Syrian agenda at Shepherdstown, and that Syrian priorities nowadays are strictly Syrian rather than Arab.19 More pointedly, they say that once Syria has signed a settlement, it will no longer need a Palestinian card in Lebanon, hence will have no reason to oppose their transfer. In this view, the refugees in Lebanon hardly figure on the Syrian agenda. More important, ignoring them gains favor with important sectors of Lebanese public opinion. Syria definitely values relations with Shiite and Maronite leaderships more highly than those with the “Eight,” the anti-Arafat Resistance groups who control most of the camps in Lebanon.20 The fact that Syrian workers have displaced Palestinians from the semiskilled jobs they used to do and that their earnings have helped raise national income and relieve unemployment in Syria is seen as another possible factor in Syria’s apparent indifference to misery in a community with which its own refugees have strong regional and family ties. The most skeptical Palestinians suggest that Syria might even be ready to move towards the transfer of its own refugees, should a comprehensive settlement be achieved.
However Syrian intentions are weighed, there is still one reason for thinking that Syria stands against any scheme for partial resolution of the refugee problem. This is the fact that in spite of U.S., Israeli and Lebanese support for the Lebanon First project, not a step has been taken towards its implementation, not even the outline of a funding-organizing agency. Yet a new factor of uncertainty has been introduced by the rising wave of Lebanese demands to end or modify Syria’s role in Lebanon, a trend strengthened by the recent addition of Walid Junblat (November 9, 2000). Such a shift might enable the Lebanese state to restore direct army control over the camps – up to now believed to be a Syrian red line – and eventually to put an end to the camps themselves.
Jordan also has a close interest in what happens to the refugees in Lebanon. Amman does not want refugee mobilization for the right of return to spread from Lebanon and Syria to the camps in Jordan. The Jordanian government may be equally disturbed by the long-term prospect of the transfer of large numbers of refugees from Lebanon to PA-controlled territories, where insufficient jobs and services might drive them into Jordan.21 A participant at the Oxford workshop referred to earlier said that the Jordanian representative, probably with such future scenarios in mind, advised other host countries to adopt “Jordanization” (ie. towteen).
LEBANON: STATE, SOCIETY AND THE REFUGEES
As long as Lebanese public opinion remains united against towteen and Syria does not stand in the way, total removal will remain the official Lebanese stand on the refugees. This was true under Hoss, and it will certainly remain true under Hariri. But, as the ongoing intifada well illustrates, neither public opinion nor Syria are wholly predictable. To deal with the long and winding road to a final settlement, the Lebanese state has developed a dual policy towards refugees: 1) a formal demand for their return as a first condition for negotiations with Israel and 2) an interim policy of pressures encouraging refugee emigration. To European and Canadian visitors who argue for towteen, Lebanese officials counter that this is explicitly rejected in the post-Taif constitution. But rejection has a political importance that goes deeper than the constitution, as a substitute for the national reconciliation that never happened after the civil war. Lebanese divisions have remained as deep as ever, papered over by a “pax Syriaca” that has worked only because none of the historic Maronite leadership remains to contest it. Indeed, some say that sectarianism has increased, an observation confirmed by the dwindling away of non-sectarian political parties. Opposition to towteen is a glue that helps hold the political system together. The fact that it is Catholic Christians who are most dissatisfied with the post-Taif order is one reason why any government must keep its opposition to towteen constantly on display.
The actual size of the refugee community has always been politicized and problematic. Anti-Palestinians exaggerate the number. There are slight discrepancies between UNRWA figures and those of the Directorate of Palestinian Refugee Affairs. Since no general censuses are carried out (though the camps are regularly surveyed by the PLO Central Bureau of Statistics in Damascus), it is impossible to know exactly how many refugees live in Lebanese residential areas. And, until recently, it was no one’s responsibility to keep account of movement, or of naturalizations. Both emigration and naturalization are thought to have considerably reduced the number of refugee-ID-cardholders. Therefore, though the current UNRWA figure for all refugees is slightly upwards of 350,000, a more realistic figure for residents is probably 200,000. The actual number of residents, however, has little to do with the negotiations, since Lebanon intends to base its claims on the number who are registered as having residence rights in Lebanon, said to be 400,000, wherever they are currently living.22
Keeping the Palestinians unrepresented and divided has been another basic of Lebanese policy. It has been an effective way of keeping this once-influential community off-balance, and is part of a perennial balancing act between powerful neighbors. Lebanon’s “partnership” with Syria means that the pro-Syrian resistance groups enjoy quasi-official status and freedom of movement in Beirut, the North and the Beqa. Yet Lebanon has also allowed Arafatist leader Sultan Abu Aynain to flourish in Rashidiyeh and even extend his influence to Ain Helweh, Lebanon’s largest camp with an estimated population of 45,000. One theory at the time Ain Helweh went Arafatist, on June 22, shortly after the assassination of the judges, was that Syria had blessed the takeover as a way to stabilize South Lebanon before Israeli withdrawal. Another was that President Lahoud, more respected and more popular than his predecessor, enjoyed a greater freedom from Syria in regard to the camps and favored the takeover as a means to control Ain Helweh and play off Arafat against Damascus. This hypothesis is likely if the “Lebanon first” plan was already in the air, especially since the subsequent moves against Arafatists in the south (including an assassination) suggest that such a radical switch was not on Syria’s agenda.
While Lebanon’s official media joined the Syrians in attacking Arafat when it was believed that he would abandon the refugees in the final-status negotiations, in the balance between towteen and transfer, Lebanon stands to gain more from the PNA than from Syria. This is especially true if Arafat is ready with Israel’s blessing to take in refugees from Lebanon. But, though removing Palestinians from the south is an aim that Lebanon as well as Israel would favor, it is not necessarily shared by Lebanon’s dominant partner, Syria – at least not now.
Some observers here, particularly Palestinians, are cynical about Lebanon’s firm stand against towteen, attributing it to the aim of driving up the price of an eventual acceptance of at least some refugees. Yet other steps affirm a state policy to reduce Palestinian numbers before– or without – a settlement, for example, the siege on the camps of the South that prevents building or repair of homes. Begun in 1991 and originally confined to the three camps near Tyre, the army siege was extended to Ain Helweh in July 1999. Siege of the camps reduces habitat, living space and movement; even cemetery space is no longer adequate. Though the other camps are not similarly besieged, infrastructure and services are equally bad in all, and unemployment almost as high as in the south. It is only because the state does not want to attract condemnation from abroad that even more stringent measures are not adopted. Some were decreed in 1996, after Qaddhafi threatened to expel Palestinian workers, restricting Palestinian travel out of, and into, Lebanon. State oppression, social exclusion, unemployment, bad living conditions and lack of hope for the future all combine to produce Palestinian emigration.
Exacerbating Palestinian insecurity, a media campaign has been projecting an image of the camps as arsenals and hide-outs for criminals like Abu Mehjan, and as immune from Lebanese law. Launched by Jibran Tueni, editor of Al-Nahar and frequent television interviewer, the phrase “islands of security” passed into media language to mean camp extraterritoriality, hiding the fact that the authorities can and do enter them to make arrests. If a crime is committed by a Palestinian, it is inflated by some of the media and his Palestinian nationality emphasized in a way that is not done with other foreigners or Lebanon’s ethnic minorities.23 Such media campaigns support President Lahoud’s references to the camps as a “ticking time bomb,” a phrase that he has repeated in visits abroad and to diplomats at home.24 Yet, since the beginning of the “al-Aqsa intifada,” media animosity has almost ceased, demonstrating the media’s susceptibility to both official manipulation and the popular mood. Such abrupt swings are an integral part of Palestinian insecurity in Lebanon. “Today they (the Lebanese) are friends, tomorrow enemies,” one Shatila friend said; another, “They love us when we are far, hate us when we are close.” The knifing of two youths from the camp in the Bourj Barajneh suburb (a mainly Shiite area) in February 2000 caused a wave of anger tinged with panic throughout the community, especially because no passerby tried to intervene or even call an ambulance. Both boys died, but the incident went unreported in the Lebanese press. Abu Mujahed summed up Palestinian fears when he said, “We don’t know who is out to get our heads.”25 But all enemies are not from the outside; interfactional fire-fights have often caused casualties and damage to civilian residents. A Lebanese official, asked about crimes against camp Palestinians, observed, “They have more to fear from their own leaders than from us.”26
While stringent measures are supported by segments of the Lebanese population, it is important to discriminate between those for whom elimination of the refugees is a priority by whatever means possible and the rest of the population. Leaving politicians and officials aside, the Lebanese public can be divided into three main segments: 1) a determined anti-Palestinian minority, 2) a large component who are relatively indifferent to the Palestinian issue unless aroused by sectarian campaigning and 3) a minority that positively supports the refugees, both in their struggle to return to their homes and to gain civil rights in Lebanon. The susceptibility of public opinion to regional events is well illustrated by Lebanese participation in the first and largest demonstration to support the “al-Aqsa intifada” (October 3, 2000): Hizballah’s rally the following Friday numbered 500,000.
A survey of Lebanese attitudes to the refugees and toward towteen conducted by political scientist Simon Haddad December 1999-January 2000 shows divergence between the public and the state on the issue of civil rights, and a decline in militant anti-Palestinianism compared to a similar survey carried out in 1994 by Khalil Hashan. The new study is based on a sample of 1073 Lebanese from the six major sectarian groups.27 Among its findings: a majority (68 percent) of respondents support giving civil rights to the refugees, with most Christians agreeing. As to towteen, 62 percent believe it will be imposed on Lebanon, and 72 percent said they will not accept it. However, the threat of violent resistance to refugee settlement has declined since 1994, when 40 percent of all respondents said they would resist militarily. Today the highest figures of militancy are those of Catholic Christians (27 percent) and Shiites (16 percent). The author warns that Palestinian settlement in Lebanon would further alienate Christians and Shiites from the political system, but he also points out that improvement in refugee economic and social conditions would have positive effects on the Lebanese economy.
Among Lebanon’s political groupings, Hizballah’s attitude to the Palestinians is of greatest interest, because of its size and prestige as the only force in Lebanon and the Arab world that has succeeded in forcing the Israeli army to retreat. Though Arab nationalists support the Palestinian cause politically, Hizballah’s welfare arm also helps destitute refugees to survive. In the not-so-distant past, Hizballah condemned the Amal militia for attacking brother Muslims during the battle of the camps (1985-87). Hizballah is also the largest Lebanese party to support Palestinian armed struggle to liberate their homeland (though not from South Lebanon), and some resistance groups are closely associated with it. Yet sectarian and national boundaries divide Palestinians from Hizballahis. Hizballah has made clear its stake in the Lebanese polity. For all its support for liberating Palestine, it is not, and never could be, a pan-Arab party like the Baath. Further, continuing Shiite-Sunni tension forces Hizballah to put communitarian feeling and Shiite votes ahead of ideology. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has been guarded on the question of towteen, saying that ultimately the refugees must return to Palestine but that up to then they should enjoy civil rights.28 Most Palestinians respect Hizballah “because they have a clear program and they followed it. They sacrificed, all of them, leaders and followers alike” (the derogatory comparison with the Palestinian Resistance is clear). But Palestinians also realize that Hizballah can never be an ally. “It is too tied by its relationships with Syria, Iran and the Lebanese state,” said one. Unlike the Lebanese National movement in the 1970s, Hizballah does not need the Palestinians. But perhaps the strongest reason for an ambivalent relationship is Hizballah’s roots in the Lebanese Shiite community, which is deeply opposed to a return of armed Palestinians to the South.
If the Lebanese state is determined to remove the refugees, while Israel is equally (and more powerfully) determined to resist their return, how does Lebanon hope to achieve its goal? Refugee numbers have been considerably reduced through emigration, but an irreducible number is likely to remain, either because they lack the means to leave or because they refuse any substitute for return to their homes. For some Lebanese, even this small number constitutes a danger not to be ignored. The liberal proposal of Nawaf Salam to give the refugees permis du sejours that would enable them to work has aroused interest in the outside world but none in Lebanon.29 Hopes of a magic airlift to Iraq or of a giant refugee camp on the Jordanian-Iraqi border – rumors floated last year – have faded. For believers in total refugee transfer, the best hope lies in the establishment of a Palestinian state with real sovereignty and a solid economy, able to absorb most of Lebanon’s refugees.30 A state would also be empowered to issue passports to all diaspora Palestinians, transforming the refugees’ status to that of foreign residents and simultaneously absolving Lebanon from allowing them residence rights as refugees. One cannot leave the Lebanese scene without noting the paradox of the popularity of Palestinian cultural events in spite of exclusion of the refugees. Lebanese crowded to the symposium to honor Edward Said (1997), the Nakba commemoration events of 1998, the Jerusalem conference of October 1999, and the Ramallah Finoon al-Shabiyya folk-dance performance of March 2000. When Shatila marched on September 16 to commemorate the 1982 massacre, there were Lebanese speakers at the mass grave and Lebanese marchers in the candlelight procession. Anti-Palestinians dismiss this phenomenon by saying that there have always been Lebanese who were more Palestinian than the Palestinians, but such remarks only corroborate the fluidity of post-independence national identities. Certainly, the youthfulness of audiences for Palestinian events points to the continuing vitality of Palestine as an oppositional symbol. The camps, on the other hand, are a shadowy terrain of victimization, shorn of the revolutionary message that attracted so many Lebanese in the 1970s. Ultimately the cause and the refugees are identical, different facets of the same shattered history. This only becomes evident, however, in times of uprising.
1 See Jim Quilty, Middle East International, No. 602, June 18, 1999.
2 This term is used by Palestinians and Lebanese to denote final settlement of the refugees in the host countries: Magazine, October 8, 1999.
3 L’Orient/Le Jour, December 1, 1999.
4 Al-Hout has remained the unofficial PLO representative after the closing of the PLO office in 1982.
5 Shafiq al-Hout, interview, January 31, 2000.
6 Other Americans who have proposed refugee redistribution as a solution are Donna Arzt,”Refugees to Citizens: Palestinians and the End of the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” Council on Foreign Relations; and Frederick Hof, “Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians,” Middle East Insight, reported April 5, 2000, in FOFOGNET.
7 Graham Usher, Middle East International, No. 627, June 16, 2000, pp. 9-11. Haaretz, June 6, 2000, carried a report of a deal that would divide the refugees among Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and other Arab countries.
8 The LSC highlighted the problems posed for Lebanon by the Palestinians in an international conference in Oxford in March 1996; for the papers, see Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1997.
9 Report by Smdar Peri, Yediot Aharanot (from Excerpts from the Hebrew Press, September 21, 2000). Also Lamia Lahoud, “Arafat Anxious to Resettle Refugees from Lebanon,” Jerusalem Post, September 27, 2000.
10 See Raja Shehadeh, From Occupation to Interim Accords: Israel and the Palestinian Territories (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1997).
11 “Framework for the Conclusion of a Final Status Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization,” October 1995, text downloaded from Newsweek. MSNBC.com, p. 7.
12 Jeff Halper’s phrase during an AIC-organized tour around the edge of Jerusalem.
13 Al-Hayat, September 11, 2000.
14 The Jerusalem Post, November 9, 1999.
15 Rony Gabbay, A Political Study of the Arab-Jewish Conflict (Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1959); B.N. Schiff, Refugees Unto the Third Generation: U.N. Aid to Palestinians (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995).
16 The guarantee was contained in a letter from Ambassador Thomas Pickering, under secretary of state. Interview with Premier al-Hoss, February 13, 2000.
17 Farid el Khazen, interview, November 5, 2000.
18 Joseph Samaha, interview, al-Hayat, October 27, 2000.
19 See Ghassan Bishara, Middle East Report, PIN No. 14, February 1, 2000.
20 See Jaber Suleiman, “The Current Political, Organizational, and Security Situation in the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Lebanon,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXlX, No. 1, Autumn 1999.
21 Suheil Natour, interview, May 8, 2000.
22 Khalil el-Habre, head of the Palestinian bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, interview, December 8, 1999.
23 Saqr Abu Fakhr, interview, al-Safir, February 16, 2000. Abu Fakhr noted that not all Lebanese media are anti-Palestinian.
24 E.g. on his trip to Kuwait and the Gulf: Daily Star, April 17, 2000.
25 Mahmoud Abbas, May 29, 2000.
26 Khalil Shatawi, director of the Directorate of Palestinian Refugee Affairs, interview, February 2, 2000.
27 Survey by Simon Haddad, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. Groups covered by the sample were Maronites, Catholics, Orthodox, Shiites, Sunnis, Druze, in proportion to their ratio of the population, over age 18, 36-percent female. Reported May 14, 2000, by FOFOGNET. Full report on the PRRN website.
28 Nawaf Musawi, member of Hizballah’s central committee, interview, October 31, 2000.
29 Nawaf Salam, “Between Repatriation and Resettlement: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXlV, No. 1, Autumn 1994.
30 Farid el Khazen, interview, November 6, 2000.