Study was prepared by the Lebanese Information Centre
An Inevitable Path toward Stability in Lebanon:Establishing Law and Order in Palestinian Refugee Camps and the Relocation of Refugees to New Host Countries
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is deadlocked and a permanent resolution for it does not appear to be within reach. The same state of affairs exists regarding peace between Israel and the two bordering states it continues to be at odds with, namely Syria and Lebanon. Since 1948, Lebanon has been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, Lebanon is host to over 400,000 Palestinians living in impoverished refugee camps and in cities throughout the country. More importantly, Lebanon has suffered the consequences of the Palestine Liberation Organization's armed presence, inside and outside the camps, a presence which effectively amounts to a state within a state. They have trained fighters, intimidated Lebanese citizens, harbored known terrorists, interfered in Lebanon’s internal matters, and launched attacks on Israel from bases in southern Lebanon. These activities ultimately provoked the 1975 civil war and also led to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The ensuing expulsion of Palestinian fighters and their leaders from Lebanon and the eventual end of the civil war in 1990 brought relative calm and security to the refugee camps but this is changing again. Syrian intelligence, following the withdrawal of Syria's army from Lebanon in 2005, began to train and finance extremist groups operating within the Palestinian camps and is now sending more armed Palestinian militants from Syria into Lebanon. Syria, along with its ally Iran, aims to disrupt the Lebanese government’s efforts to re-establish its sovereignty and assert its independence after years of internal strife and Syrian occupation.
The influx of members of Fatah al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda-inspired and Syria-supported terrorist group, to the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, where they have set up base in support of their terror activities inside Lebanon, is a consequence of Syria’s exploitation and control of Palestinian groups in Lebanon. The presence of heavily armed members of the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) outside the Palestinian camps and in fortified underground tunnels south of Beirut is another ominous threat. Furthermore, a number of other Palestinian camps in South Lebanon, most notable among which is Ain el-Helweh, have become havens for notorious extremist groups including Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham, Osbat al-Ansar, Fatah al-Intifada, and other Palestinian factions with ties to Syria and Iran.
Both the Palestinian and Lebanese people have paid a heavy price for the on-going turmoil. After decades of instability and destruction in their country, the Lebanese deserve to live in peace and enjoy security and independence. After 60 years of a meager and marginalized existence in refugee camps, the Palestinians likewise deserve an end to their stateless condition and to be afforded the opportunity for a better life. Two recommendations are offered as fundamental preconditions that must be met for this change to occur:
· The establishment of law and order in the twelve different Palestinian camps by the Lebanese armed forces, and the removal of weapons from inside and outside the camps in cooperation with local Palestinian authorities, should proceed without delay. While this presents challenges for both sides, it is in the best interest of the Lebanese and Palestinians to reduce the simmering tensions and preempt any opportunity for the outbreak of further violence. This can be accomplished by eliminating the potential for such possibilities in and around the Palestinian refugee camps.
· The relocation of Palestinian refugees to other Arab nations, with consequent prospects for economic prosperity and mutual benefits to the Palestinians and their new host countries, is a regional imperative. Lebanon’s fragile religious and demographic balance precludes any possibility of naturalizing these refugees. The international and Arab communities should assist the Lebanese Government in realizing this solution by offering the Palestinians incentives for participating in the implementation of such a plan, independent of any timetable for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are obstacles with this issue as well but it is time to remedy a situation that is unjust to both the Lebanese and Palestinians and to eliminate the conditions and sentiments that have yielded resentment and despair.
The recommendations made in this document may be controversial, yet to this day, neither an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement nor the illusive right of return to Israel or to the Palestinian territories has proved viable. In order to justify these recommendations and explain how they can be realized, this paper provides a historical review of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, explains the adverse implications of this presence on the security and stability of the country, carefully examines the ramifications for the “now and again” suggested permanent settlement of Palestinians in their host countries, and highlights the devastating impact of this decision on Lebanon. The paper concludes with a discussion of how affluent Arab states, enjoying enormous economic prosperity and employing large numbers of foreigners in all sectors of their economies, can play a constructive and creative role in alleviating the plight of Palestinians by extending to them opportunities for advancement.
The peace process for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been stalled for a number of years. Violence in the West Bank and Gaza rages while efforts to re-engage the two main parties to this conflict in peace negotiations have yielded no measurable results. This stalemate persists despite the significant progress made in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Palestine Liberation Organization announced that it would accept a two-state solution to the conflict and despite the subsequent signing of the "Declaration of Principles On Interim Self-Government Arrangements," also known as the "Oslo Accords", between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Oslo Accords contain general principles regarding a five-year interim period of Palestinian self-rule. Along with the additional principles outlined in the "Roadmap for peace in the Middle East” initiative announced in 2002, the Oslo Accords were supposed to have laid the foundation for a permanent resolution to the conflict, resulting in the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and ensuring a cessation of hostilities against Israel. It is obvious that none of these goals has been attained and they do not even appear to be in sight, at least not in the near future. Regarding the wider conflict between Israel and its bordering states, the situation there has remained virtually unchanged for decades: Egypt and Israel signed their peace accords in 1979; Jordan and Israel followed suit in 1994; but peace between Syria and Israel, as well as between Lebanon and Israel, remains elusive. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians languish in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and a number of other countries, including Lebanon.
2.The Palestinians in Lebanon
There are 408,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon (approximately 10% of Lebanon’s total population), some of whom have been there since the initial influx from Palestine to Lebanon began in 1948. According to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), 225,000 refugees live in twelve different refugee camps spread throughout Lebanon (see map and profile below). Over the years, many refugees moved out of the camps into residences in the main coastal cities of Lebanon especially Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and Tyre, accounting for the difference between the total number of refugees in camps and those living outside.
The second major influx of Palestinian refugees arrived after the 1967
Arab-Israeli war. The Palestinians lived peacefully in Lebanon until 1967. After
the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and with support from many Arab countries,
especially Syria, the Palestinians began receiving arms shipments into their
camps in Lebanon and soon established training facilities inside the camps as
well as in eastern and southern parts of Lebanon.
In 1970, another influx of thousands of Palestinian refugees began to arrive in Lebanon from Jordan by way of Syria, this time heavily armed, after King Hussein crushed an attempt by Palestinian organizations to overthrow his monarchy. It did not take long before the Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon became a de facto state within a state and a safe haven for outlaws and international terrorist groups. This led to several violent clashes with the Lebanese army and ultimately ignited the Lebanese civil war in 1975, a bloody and destructive conflict that took on a life of its own and lasted until 1990 with its damaging ramifications continuing to reverberate to this day.
Presently, the military capabilities of the Palestinians have greatly diminished, particularly after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the Syrian offensive against the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tripoli in 1983 when the leadership and thousands of fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organization were banished to Tunisia. Following the end of the Lebanese war in 1990, the main Palestinian armed presence was limited to the refugee camps. However, some groups have maintained an armed presence outside the camps. Notably, in Naameh, south of Beirut, and in the Bekaa, on the Syrian-Lebanese borders, by the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmed Jibril. However, after the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, Syrian intelligence began to actively train and finance extremist groups operating both within and around the Palestinian camps, as well as sending hundreds of armed Palestinian militants into Lebanon from Syria.
2.1-Hardships and Violence
The Palestinian presence in Lebanon is indeed mired in hardship. Their living conditions are impoverished, overcrowded, and residents are afforded very limited civil infrastructure. Although, as in any sovereign state, the Lebanese Government is supposed to assert its sovereignty over the entire country, it does not extend its security oversight to the Palestinian camps. Municipal, educational, health, and social services to the residents in the said camps are the responsibility of UNRWA. In addition, the Palestinians’ right to work and to own property in Lebanon is severely constrained, in contrast with other countries in the Arab world where Palestinians are able to do so without restrictions. Jordan, which was in control of the West bank before the 1967 war, offers the most open policy toward the Palestinians, including the right to seek full citizenship. The absolute rejection of extending the aforementioned rights exists in order to discourage the permanent settling of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, a decision backed by a rare consensus among all the different Lebanese communities.
The presence of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has also caused the Lebanese
equal hardship and brought the country much violence. Seeking refuge in Lebanon,
after the first Israeli-Arab war in 1948, the Palestinians were placed in camps
in the main cities and also in locations scattered throughout Lebanon, the
majority of which lie alongside large urban centers. Lebanon received by far a
greater ratio of Palestinians per capita than any other neighboring country.
Beginning in 1965, the Palestinian camps in Lebanon became staging bases for
guerilla operations against Israel. In November 1969, this practice was
formalized in an ill-fated understanding, known as the Cairo Agreement, which
established ground rules under which the guerrilla activities would be permitted
by the Lebanese Government.
The text of the Cairo Agreement, signed in Egypt and reached during talks between the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yassir Arafat and the Lebanese Army Commander General Emile Bustani, was never officially published by either side. The Agreement, which has been divulged by the Lebanese press (Cobban, 1984), purported to regulate the Palestinian presence and their activities in Lebanon at the same time as it placed all Palestinian camps outside the jurisdiction of the Lebanese Government. In reality, the Cairo Agreement officially forced Lebanon to acknowledge the existence of a state within a state by empowering and enabling the Palestinian guerrilla war with Israel on Lebanese soil. This, in turn, effectively breached the armistice treaty signed between Lebanon and Israel in 1949 thus dragging Lebanon into a series of lopsided and devastating conflicts with Israel. Eventually, the behavior of the Palestinians in Lebanon led to a major conflict with the Lebanese Army in 1973 and then sparked a war with the Lebanese in 1975. Furthermore, their brazen attacks on Israel from bases in South Lebanon led to costly retaliations against the Lebanese and ultimately to the Israeli invasion in 1982. In May 1987, the Lebanese Government unilaterally nullified the Cairo Agreement but obviously not its destructive consequences, with the Palestinian camps remaining an attraction for outlaws and a fertile ground for violence outside the reach of Lebanese authorities.
Such behavior is not unique to Lebanon. The Palestinians have a history of meddling in the internal affairs of their host countries. For example, in Jordan, Palestinian guerrillas routinely clashed with the Jordanian army and were finally crushed in 1970 after an attempt to overthrow the monarchy (Jabber, 1973). In Kuwait, the Palestinians, who had been working in the country since the early days of the oil explorations, allied themselves with Saddam Hussein when he invaded the country in 1990. This has eroded support for their cause and contributed to diminishing their stature as well as their legal status in countries where they operated and resided (Shiblak, 1996). To date, the Palestinians continue to find or interject themselves, willingly and unwillingly, in the midst of violent conflicts in Lebanon and, thus, continue to suffer the dreadful consequences. Their actions have again brought Lebanon to the brink of a new era of violence. Most recently, the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp became host to the Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda and aided by Syrian intelligence which is working to destabilize the situation in Lebanon. In June of 2007, the Lebanese Government filed charged against members of Fatah al-Islam for carrying out the bombing of a bus in Ain Alaq that killed three people and wounded 20 others. The same group is also accused of the November 2006 assassination of Minister Pierre Gemayel, a cabinet minister and prominent leader of the pro-democracy Cedar Revolution, also known as the March 14 Alliance.
The Nahr el-Bared camp, located on the Mediterranean sea 16 Km north of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, and home to more than 30,000 Palestinian refugees, was the scene of a major conflict between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam from late May until early September 2007, a conflict which ended with the Lebanese Army victoriously taking control of an essentially destroyed and deserted camp. The overwhelming majority of those injured and killed in the fighting, as well as those arrested during and after the end of hostilities, was not even Palestinians but belonged to a wide range of nationalities, including non-Arab Muslims. Most of the camp’s Palestinian residents fled the fighting and took refuge in the nearby Beddawi camp as well as in other Palestinian camps in Beirut and Sidon, becoming “displaced refugees” once again living in schools, or with friends and family. Despite the Lebanese Government’s pledge to lead the reconstruction effort in the camp, the complete return of normalcy to the camp and the refugees to their homes will be mired with challenges.
2.2 The Danger Lurking Ahead
There is concern that the Nahr el-Bared experience could be repeated in other places. There is also strong evidence that the Syrian regime controls other such armed groups operating in some of the remaining Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. These groups would be ready to enter into a conflict with the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces whenever the Syrian regime asks them to do so. One such threat lurks in the coastal areas and mountains south of Beirut where stockpiles of weapons and a network of tunnels controlled by Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-GC, could wreak havoc on Lebanon’s stability and disrupt the operations at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.
Another likely hot spot is Ain el-Helweh, the largest Palestinian camp in
Lebanon and a magnet for extremist groups that qualify for a “who’s who” list of
terror organizations including Fatah al-Islam, Jund al-Sham, Osbat al-Ansar,
Fatah al-Intifada, and other Palestinian factions with ties to Syria and Iran.
The cessation of hostilities in Nahr el-Bared has revealed repercussions beyond death and destruction: the increased visibility and popularity of Hamas among the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as evident by more Hamas flags and banners displayed in the camps (Gopal, 2007). The Islamist militant group was already involved in political and charitable activities in all the Palestinian camps in Lebanon (Levitt, 2006), but their latest rise in influence will undoubtedly give Hamas the momentum it needs to strengthen its military presence as well. As a result, logistical support and training delivered to Hamas by Iran and facilitated by Syria will be even more convenient in Lebanon. No doubt, Hamas’ work in Lebanon will be complemented by the work of a like-mined group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose presence in the camps goes back to its early days of development in the 1980s when the Israeli authorities expelled its leaders to Lebanon, allowing them to solidify contacts with Syria and Iran and expand their networks in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (Mishal and Sela, 2000). Syria, Iran and their allies in Lebanon share a common objective and that is to prevent the rise of a strong Lebanese State and institutions that would spread its sovereignty over the entire country and impose the rule of law uniformly.
3.Recommendation - Maintaining Law and Order in Palestinian Camps and Relocation of Refugees to New Host Countries
The first wave of Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon nearly 60 years ago. The scale of this hardship continues to swell with time. As defined by the United Nations, “Palestine refugees are persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict…UNRWA's definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948. The number of registered Palestine refugees has subsequently grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.4 million in 2005, and continues to rise due to natural population growth.” (UNRWA)
By all accounts, the original flight of Palestinians from their homes and their current plight is poignant (Morris, 2003). To this day, neither a peace with Israel nor the right of return to their former place of residence is in sight. Yet, in Lebanon there is a consensus that the permanent settlement of the Palestinian refugees in the country is not acceptable. At the same time, the worsening security situation and the dismal living conditions in the camps can no longer be ignored. Continuing to do so will have serious implications for the Lebanese Government and its citizens as well as for the Palestinians themselves. Thus as a first step, the Lebanese security agencies, in coordination with the local Palestinian leadership, should have the right to police all Palestinian refugee camps on its territories and, more importantly, to deal with the potentially volatile situation of having weapons outside the camps. In addition to instituting new security measures for the twelve different camps that would be agreed upon by the Lebanese Government and the local Palestinian authority, immediate and serious discussions must commence to devise a viable plan for the relocation of refugees to other Arab nations based on economic development incentives and better living conditions for the Palestinian refugees.
3.1-Law and Order Inside and Outside the Palestinian Camps
The Palestinian camps’ security situation has significant effects not only on the living conditions of the refugees themselves but also on the life of Lebanese citizens residing both near and far from the camps. However, all twelve Palestinian camps in Lebanon are off limits to the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces. In fact, the mere presence of any of the legitimate Lebanese State security forces even in the proximity of the camps is usually controversial. In the past, dialogue has taken place with local Palestinian representatives and at times with representative from the upper hierarchy of the Palestine Liberation Organization over the issue of arms inside and outside Palestinian refugee camps, but no significant progress has ever been made. Generally, the talks regarding Palestinian weapons inside the camps have focused on the “organization” of these weapons whereas talks regarding the Palestinian armed presence outside the camps have focused on the “withdrawal” of such weapons to within the camps. There is a need to shift these discussions from organizing and withdrawing to the “confiscating” of such weapons. Clearly, this is a difficult subject to tackle particularly the issue of weapons outside the camps since it involves factions such as the PFLP-GC, a Syrian-sponsored terror organization.
The responsibility for the security of the Palestinians in Lebanon should
rest with the Lebanese security institutions. While this is not the current
practice, such a change, which is a fundamental prerequisite to curtailing
outside influence and the smuggling of weapons, is of a paramount importance to
Lebanon and its emerging democracy. The potential threats coming from extremist
elements in a number of Palestinian camps in many locations in the country, such
as those encountered recently in Nahr el-Bared could quickly spill over into
different parts of Lebanon, even the areas controlled by the UN forces in the
south, and conceivably into northern Israel. It is a matter of time before
violence erupts in and around some of the Palestinian camps should an agreement
on this sensitive issue not be reached.
3.2 Relocation of Palestinian Refugees to New Host Countries
After spending decades in refugee camps in a number of Arab countries, the Palestinian refugees deserve a solution to their stateless condition. It is a simple matter of quality of life and a basic human rights issue. The exploitation by the Arab leadership of the “Palestinian cause” has kept the Palestinians in limbo in their host countries, living with a lofty, illusive promise of “return.” The State of Israel, confronted with an increasing birthrate within its own Arab residents, remains adamantly opposed to the infusion of millions of Palestinians into its population. In this context, the inevitable alternative – as has been often proposed – seems to be resettling these refugees in the host states. This would be catastrophic for Lebanon.
Arab countries, particularly the affluent ones, should look pragmatically at the plight of Palestinian refugees and concede that the humane solution would be to relocate them to new host countries where they could be easily integrated, over time, into the fabric of their societies. Many Palestinians living in camps outside their country and in other western nations fully understand the dubious prospect of their ever returning to the Palestinian territories or to Israel and some have even themselves publically stated their objection to such a move (Lindholm-Schulz and Hammer, 2003; Abdul Raheem, 2007). This is not surprising given that recent agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have marginalized the Palestinians living elsewhere and signaled that their right of return is a remote possibility at best. Given the uncertainties of the peace prospects between Israelis and the Palestinians, many prefer to make better lives for themselves and their families elsewhere. Indeed, in most Arab countries, the Palestinians would be able to integrate easily with people who share their religion, culture, language and national identity. Furthermore, it is only fair that Arab nations, whose economies and demographics allow for it, should share the responsibility of improving the lives of the Palestinians and help create a better future for them. This would certainly require Arab and international support as well as economic incentives and employment opportunities that are abundant in some Arab nations.
Lebanon can only be expected to shoulder a responsibility proportional to its abilities and also consistent with the sacrifices it has already made. Any permanent resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon would create larger problems than the one it aims to resolve. In its preamble, the Lebanese constitution, post-Taëf Agreement, asserts Lebanese sovereignty over the entirety of the Lebanese territory and excludes "dismemberment, partition or resettlement" (article 1-i of the General Principles). The record on this subject is crystal clear: it is virtually impossible, and indeed considered political suicide, for any legislator to propose a constitutional amendment with the objective of permanent settlement (El-Khazen, 1997). Currently, this firm rejection of any definitive settling of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is unanimously supported by the different Lebanese communities. Furthermore, the categorical rejection of resettlement in Lebanon is based on two principal sets of factors: religious-national factors and socio-economic factors.
3.2.1 -The religious-national factors
The religious factor: today, in the Arab world in particular and the Middle East in general, religious ideology permeates all aspects of political and national sentiments. Sectarian affiliation prevails over any other national or secular ideology. Lebanon, whose political and civic system is based on a fragile sectarian balance, will be devastated by the infusion of an estimated 408,000 Palestinians, most of whom are Sunni Muslims. There exists an implicit relation between demographic equilibrium and political stability in Lebanon (Haddad, 2003). This linkage has characterized Lebanon since 1920s. In a small, pluralist society like Lebanon's, where the political regime is based on an equation of symbiosis between the various communities, any meddling with the demographic equilibrium such as naturalizing large numbers of people or by any other similar means will have a serious impact upon the internal structure of the country. For example, although the naturalization law in Lebanon places constraints on granting Lebanese citizenship to individuals, a 1994 governmental decree granted citizenship to 360,000 non-Lebanese including ineligible Palestinians and Syrian Muslims. The ramifications of this decision continue to be felt today, as we are reminded during local and national elections, and its damaging effects will continue to be felt for a long time in the future. Despite the fact that the law has been challenged in court and the government has acknowledged several major irregularities in its application, not even a single case has been reversed.
The national factor: the Palestinian presence, both civilian and military, has clearly served as one of the destabilizing effects in Lebanon, undermining its security and sovereignty. They have contributed directly and indirectly to conflicts and to security threats to the country and to its population. Their behavior played a major role in sparking the civil war that began in 1975. It is not surprising that many Lebanese continue to resent the bitter and antagonistic experience they have had with the Palestinians, not only during the years of the civil war but also before and after. Recent bombings and assassinations, attributed to terror groups based in some of the Palestinian camps, and the fighting in the Nahr el-Bared, even though prompted by external elements, have brought back memories of Palestinians taking up arms and using them against the Lebanese as well operating as a state within a state in Lebanon so openly and so defiantly for many years. True, a majority of Lebanese continue to support the Palestinian cause, which is a cause of an uprooted people seeking to return to its homeland; at the same time, they hold them and their leadership responsible for war and destruction in Lebanon. Much of their difficulties, as is often argued, are brought on to themselves by their violent and disruptive presence. Thus, in this context, the firm rejection by the Lebanese of any plan to integrate the Palestinians into the permanent fabric of their society is plainly understood.
3.2.2 -The socio-economic factors
The population factor: Lebanon is a small country of roughly 4 million people living in a small area of 10,452 km2, where the population density per square kilometer is one of the highest on the globe (394), whereas the population per square kilometer in other Arab countries with much larger areas is much smaller as is the case in Egypt with an area of 1,001,449 km2 and a population density of 74 people per square kilometer, or Saudi Arabia which has an area of 2,149,690 km2 and a population density of 13 people per square kilometer. Even smaller Arab countries are not as densely populated as is Lebanon. For example, Qatar, with an area of 11,000 km2 slightly larger than Lebanon, has a population density of 77 people per square kilometer; the United Arab Emirates has an area of 83,600 km2 and a population density of 53 people per square kilometer; and Jordan has an area of 89,342 km2 and a population density of 64 people per square kilometer. These figures alone dictate that the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would be overwhelming.
The financial factor: the economic situation in Lebanon is dire. The civil war that began in 1975 has gravely affected Lebanon's economic engine, severely curtailed its position as a banking hub, and brought the tourism industry to a halt. With the conclusion of the war in 1990, Lebanon began the rebuilding of its damaged infrastructure by borrowing heavily. The return on investment has been sorely disappointing which can be attributed to a host of reasons from Syria’s occupation and the corruption they and their protégés engaged in, to the on-going political tension between the different groups in the country, and the overall conflict in the region. Sadly, Lebanon's distressing national debt is estimated to be around $40 billion and rising for a number of reasons including the interest on the debt, the severe recession the country has been going through for many years, and also because of reckless actions imposed on the government such as the Israeli-Hizballah conflict in July and August of 2006 that has alone caused roughly $3.5 billion in infrastructure damage.
The unemployment factor: the inflow of capital from the Lebanese diaspora notwithstanding, the absence of the kinds of precious resources endowed to some of the neighboring countries in the region, and the lack of any sustained manufacturing activities, such as those that have propelled the economies of large and small countries in the far East, forces Lebanon to be content with its reliance on a service economy and tourism. However, the lack of stability in the country has been an absolute hindrance to these sectors’ ability to rebound. The lack of international funds, the limited domestic market, the effects of war and reconstruction on the gross domestic product, and the recent damage to the industrial, transportation and communications infrastructure brought on by last year’s destructive summer war have combined to create a severe unemployment problem with an estimated rate of 20%. Needless to say, this affects the most vulnerable section of the population, the poor. The Palestinians represent the poorest sector of Lebanese society and also the poorest segment of all Palestinian refugees in any other Arab country (Said, 1999). By law, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, like other foreigners, can only work when a permit, renewed annually, is obtained from the Ministry of Labor. Such permits are often very difficult to secure by Palestinians while workers from Syria have flowed freely across the border without the need for any such work permits. In any case, this work permit requirement and its restriction impose a real limitation on Palestinian refugees looking for work in Lebanon has thus relegated an overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to poverty.
4. -Concluding Remarks
There are additional factors that have further exaggerated the financial and unemployment difficulties for Palestinians throughout the region and consequently in Lebanon: the ending of aid distribution, after the signing of the Oslo Accords by the Palestinian Authority, to Palestinian refugees living outside the West Bank and Gaza in favor of Palestinian self-rule areas (Said, 2000), the recent overall reduction in UNRWA aid to refugees in Lebanon, and the severe decline in revenues from employment in the Gulf countries following the invasion of Kuwait because of the Palestinian support for Iraq. The decision of the Palestinian Authority to focus on financial development within its own territories and the UN being overwhelmed with refugee needs in many places may be understood. However, the restriction of employment opportunities for Palestinians in the affluent Gulf states can and should be addressed.
Unlike the severe economic downturn in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and some of the countries that currently host Palestinian refugees, many countries in the Middle East and specifically the Gulf states are experiencing unparalleled economic expansion. The increase in Arab oil revenues has accelerated the building of wealth in the region. But this is one reason for this economic boom. Many of the oil producing countries have made strategic choices to diversify their national economies and investments beyond oil. These decisions will certainly allow for a soft landing cushion when, or if, the price of oil declines, an unlikely scenario given the huge appetite for energy by rising economic power houses such as China and India as well many other countries climbing the economic ladder. Dubai is one local example of this success story. Other entities of the United Arab Emirates are riding the same wave. The economic diversification into permanent infrastructures such as real estate and service industries like tourism, banking, and insurance, to name a few, is expected to ensure lasting benefits from the current, massive economic gains. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman are other countries that have embraced the same diversification philosophy. Such a paradigm had worked for Beirut until the 1970s and was re-envisioned again after the civil war reconstruction. Regrettably, any benefit from this reconstruction has been frustrated by Lebanon’s on-going political impasse and will not be realized until the security situation in the country changes and faith in our economic health is restored. In general, over the last decade, economic expansion has been seen in many places of the world, from East to West, from North to South (Kirkland, R 2007).
The economic prosperity of the Gulf states has naturally created huge employment opportunities. With the population of these countries being very small, recruiting a large numbers of foreigners is obviously needed to fill vacancies in most sectors of the private economy and government. Thus, the stream of workers into the Gulf states occurs in large numbers from every corner of the world with the largest numbers coming from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia (Amjad, 1989; Eelens et al., 1992; Kapiszewski, 2006). Consequently, the percentage of foreigners in these countries is astounding. For example, in Kuwait, foreigners constitute a majority and in the United Arab Emirates they account for over 80 percent of population. Only 3 million of the more than 12 million foreign workers in the Gulf states are nationals of other Arab countries. In contrast, in the early days of oil production, the majority of the workforce migrating to the Gulf countries came from other Arab states. This made sense given the compatibility of their language, culture, and religion. However, the recent trend has seen a major shift toward a preference for Asian workers for a number of economic, political, and historical reasons (Kapiszewski, 2006).
It is time for the Arab countries to back up their continuous talk of support for the Palestinian cause with a practical economic solution that will provide them immediate job opportunities and reasonable prospects for long term relief from their current hardships. It is equally crucial for the Palestinians and the Arabs to seek realistic objectives in pursuing a solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict and for resolving the longest lasting refugee crisis in the world. The status of the Palestinian refugees, while it remains unresolved, will continue to jeopardize the stability of not only Lebanon but also the region and indeed places far beyond it. In many ways, it already has; but the closing of the despondent Palestinian refugee camps and exchanging their dubious promise of return with a worthy promise for their future can begin the end of this aberrant and unjust situation. Prosperous Arabs nations, particularly the Gulf states, have a humanitarian obligation as well as economic sense to endorse a plan for relocating Palestinians out of Lebanon’s refugee camps into their own societies. It is unambiguously apparent that there exists a momentous opportunity for transforming a need for workers into a good deed of historic proportions for the Arab people!
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