"These are humanitarian, social and ethical duties,
and the Lebanese
state must assume the responsibility of providing them to our
Palestinian brothers and sisters. Lebanon will not dodge these duties,
which must be crystal-clear, and not be subject to any misinterpretation.
The international community has to bear also the responsibility that
our Palestinian guests will have the right to go back to their homeland:
Palestine, with Jerusalem as their capital."
Prime Minister Saad Hariri duringthe Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee
(LPDC) meeting at the Grand Serail, June 29, 2010
Currently the vote to grant the right
to work for Palestinian refugees
in Lebanon is too close to call as the most serious debate ever in Lebanon on
this subject builds momentum. If last week's refugee camps hero was the
Druze MP Walid Jumblatt (please see Part V of this series) this week's much
admired za'im is the Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. The political
sands in Parliament and the Cabinet continue to shift as regional powers
weigh in and current vote pledges may not be reliable.
Handicapping the parliamentary vote to grant civil rights to Palestinian
refugees, the MP votes needed to pass is65out of 128. As ofJuly 2, 2010:
Firmly in favor:13
Leaning towardsvoting in favor:41
Leaning towards voting against:58
A main argument that continues to be made by Members of Parliament who
oppose granting civil rights to Lebanon's Palestinians is that allowing them
"privileges" (quotes mine) would lead to their naturalization and settlement
(Tawtin). By this is meant that the refugees might get too comfortable in
Lebanon and not want to return to Palestine.
It's a false but potent shibboleth as many academic and NGO studies and surveys have shown. Unfortunately it continues to resonate given Lebanon's current political atmosphere, particularly in the more right wing Christian villages allied with the Lebanese Forces of Samir Geaga, the Lebanese Social Democratic Party (the Kataeb or
Phalange movement) of the Gemayel family, the National Liberal Party of Dory Chamoun and their political allies including the Maronite Patriarchy and the American Embassy.
Discussing the claimed fear of naturalization and its connection with
employment of Palestinians, American University of Beirut Professor Sari
Hanafi, a key organizer of the June 27, 2010 historic civil rights march here in
Lebanon commented during an interview with Now Lebanon on 6/28/10:
"Poverty rates inside refugee camps (due to not being
allowed to work)
are estimated at about 40 percent of the population, in comparison
with the 7 percent or 8 percent observed in the poorest Lebanese areas
such as Akkar (North Lebanon near Tripoli). According to the
Palestinian Najdeh Foundation, unemployment rates are at about 60
percent of the total population and only 7 percent of working
Palestinians have fixed contracts, 90 percent of which are with UNRWA
(the UN Relief and Works Agency). The rest are essentially employed
on the black market. These figures account for the exploitation of
Palestinians across the board. I do not think that this has anything to do
with the fear of naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon. Palestinians
had originally two sources of employment: the PLO and UNRWA,
and today only the latter remains. Unfortunately, even UNRWA is
now increasingly using Palestinians on a temporary contract basis."
UNRWA recently announced that it has a 113 million dollar deficit. It is being
forced to further curtail the shrinking health and education services in the
Being allowed to work is a right not a privilege.
The granting of the right to work must be decoupled from permanent
settlement in Lebanon in the now active public debate. Unfortunately those
in Parliament opposed to granting civil rights to Palestinians have
increased the volume and shrillness of their claims that civil rights means
naturalization and citizenship and will affect the domestic sectarian
balance. Both claims are false, and Lebanon, as a signatory of all the major
human rights treaties, and bound to implement others based on principles
of customary international law, it has an obligation to respect the basic
rights of all persons legally residing on its territory.
This is purely a question of respect for human rights, ensuring that its refugees can live in dignity without discrimination. Granting Palestinian refugees these elementary rights is distinct from Lebanon's obligations vis-Ã-vis its own citizens. The granting of civil rights to Palestine refugees neither entitles them to citizenship, nor obliges the Lebanese state to grant citizenship and the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not and have never sought Lebanese citizenship.
Since mid-June 2010, another argument against granting the right to work
has been surfacing and Phalange Party leader, former President Amin
Gemayel and his allies and even some of his fellow Maronites who compete
with him for support in the dwindling Christian community, are issuing
warnings. They have been complaining as Gemayal told a Phalange Party
gathering last week:
"Lebanon's economy cannot sustain granting these privileges
Palestinians. It will damage Lebanon's economy. Lebanon does not have
enough money. Instead, the international community must take over
this file and find a solution. Anyhow the problem requires more study
before we act hastily." (Emphasis mine.)