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What's going on in Lebanon's Parliament this Summer?

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"Some members of Parliament prefer that the camps explode and then they will insist that "Palestinian security problems must be resolved before Parliament can consider giving them civil rights"--meaning several more years of delay. That would be a disaster for all concerned."

"Ahmad', Resident of Al-Buss refugee camp, Tyre, Lebanon

Following some initial optimism after MP Walid Jumblatt's June 15 introduction of draft legislation that would exempt Palestinians from the Kafkaesque work permit process, grant them the right to own a home outside their oxygen scarce "sardine can' camps, and allow them to receive some worker paid earned social security benefits, progress has dramatically slowed.

During last week's Parliamentary session Head of the Administration and Justice parliamentary committee, MP Robert Ghanem, reiterated his request to Berri and Parliament for a two-month "rest period". Premier Saad Hariri called for postponing the voting for "two months or two months and a half." Several other members asked the same. Parliament Speaker Berri quickly agreed and postponed voting on the subject until August 17, adding that ""the law will not pass unless it enjoys consensus among Lebanese parties."

Some supporters of Palestinian civil rights see problems with more delays and with Berri's "no passage of civil rights without consensus". What is meant by consensus? A simple majority plus one, two-thirds or..? " Does it mean taking no legislative action on Palestinian civil rights unless and until MP Jumblatt can agree with MP Sami Gemayel-normally polar opposites on important issues? Others argue that Berri has no authority to require "consensus' as it would likely mean any proposal will deteriorate into the lowest common denominator with virtually no rights being granted. Under the Lebanese Constitution, a law passes when it receives one more vote in favor than against and what is needed for passage is not determined by the Speaker. Some in Parliament are insisting on a straight up or down vote on bills presented on the subject of Palestinian civil rights. If Jumblatts or any other draft law garners 65 votes out of 128 it passes.

A review of Lebanon's Parliamentary history shows that virtually all of Parliament's important decisions have been made by a a straight up or down vote, not 'consensus'. Surely one very important vote was the one that took place on August 17, 1970. The Parliamentary vote margin that elected "consensus' candidate Suleiman Frangieh President of Lebanon over Elias Sarkis was one vote, a result of last minute vote switches engineered by Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt. Forty years later to the day, August 17, 2010, the "consensus' vote" on Kamel's son Walid's historic Palestinian Civil Rights bill is scheduled for a vote. A propitious sign? Enshallah!

Ambivalence has spread around Parliament despite two additional measures being offered. One was introduced in Parliament in early July by the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP). This draft law most closely reflects internationally mandated civil rights for refugees and of all the proposals to date the NSSP draft is what Parliament should enact to finally remedy six decades of civil wrongs. If enacted it would remedy the serial discriminations by successive Lebanese governments since the 1969-1982, "Ayyam al-Thawra" ("the Days of the Revolution") , when Palestinian refugees had many more employment prospects and benefited from improved camp living conditions. The SSNP proposal is a preferred "one package" solution that will avoid a protracted piece by piece process and would largely finish this urgent problem.

Faced with two substantive draft bills, the right wing Christian parties, often at odds, have joined ranks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri's ("If it were up to me I would grant Palestinians their rights tomorrow"-April, 2010) Future Movement ("Muqtaqbal) to slam on the Parliamentary brakes. All the March 14th coalition except the Phalange Party have accepted this draft bill which currently has the most support in Parliament probably because it offers the refugees the least civil rights. According to its sponsors, the draft must be studied more before formally considered. A draft being circulated reveals that those refugees with a Palestinian ID Card approved by the Lebanese General Security can receive a temporary residency permit including a 5 year "laissez passer' travel document but not the approximately 5000 non-ID's who came in the 1970's following Black September. Regrettably, this draft bill keeps the work permit and only amends Article 59 of the labor law in order to waive work permit fees for Palestinians. Nor does it allow participation in the 25 Syndicated Professions because it retains the impossible to meet Reciprocity requirements.

Some MPs are dexterous in their efforts to limit civil rights granted to Palestinians. MP Robert Ghanem, argued on 7/19/10 that work permits are good for Palestinians "because they will preserve the refugee status of Palestinians in Lebanon. We fear that if we exempted the Palestinians from a work permit, we will drop their refugee status and this does not come in line with their interests." MP Ghanem surely is aware that being allowed to work is very much in line with the refugees interests and has nothing at all to do with "dropping their refugee status." In fact, they do not have refugee status as provided by international law. That is one of the main problems. Lebanon considers Palestinians variously as "foreigners", "special category of foreigners" and other times a "Palestinian refugees" without allowing them the legal rights that their refugee status warrant.

With respect to Social Security benefits, the March 14 proposal requires that refugees pay into the Lebanese Social Security Fund but allows only for end of service and a family allowance payment. Its specifically forbids sickness, accident or maternity benefits to Palestinian refugees. Without health and accident coverage the incentive to even seek a work permit wanes. This "consensus' proposal is more of a gesture than a solution and unless redrafted remains a bare bones proposal that will do little to provide internationally mandated civil rights. Nor will it satisfy the pursuit of genuine rights among Lebanon's Palestinians, increasingly insisted on by the international community. Many Palestinians and their supporters are critical of this latest proposal and see it as offering "a little something' that will allow its supporters to say, as one MP boasted last week: "we will finally have achieved something for the refugees and anyhow, how much more can we be expected to squeeze from our flesh for these Palestinians?"

No Enshallah please! Just tell us Yes or No ok?

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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)
 

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