Andrew Lee Butters
Time (Blog)
April 3, 2008 - 5:24pm

In the past few weeks of writing about Palestinian refugees, I've painted a grim picture of their treatment by Lebanese society: how after nearly sixty years and four generations in exile here they still don't have citizenship, how they are barred from some seventy professions and face all sorts of other legal discrimination, and how during last summer's battle with foreign jihadis based in Nahr al Bared camp, the Lebanese army appears to have taken out its frustrations on Palestinian civilians.

But I should also give credit where it is due. The current Lebanese government is the first to begin to address the Palestinian issue with anything resembling a policy. When it was elected in 2005 after the end of the Syrian occupation, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government began setting up an initiative to address some of the key problems: the laws the restrict Palestinian civil rights, the terrible conditions in the camps, and the presence of armed Palestinian factions. Granting citizenship to such a large population of Muslim refugees (the 400,000 of them make up about 1/10th of Lebanon's population) is something that the Lebanese political system -- which is precariously balanced between Muslims and Christians -- is clearly unable to do.

But the Lebanese government's efforts to do what it can were quickly derailed by Lebanon's endemic instability: the 2006 war with Israel, the uprising in Nahr al Bared in 2007, the ongoing wave of political assignations, and a political crisis that has left the country without a president or a functioning parliament.
Lebanon is too weak to handle the Palestinian questions on its own, nor should it have to, according to Khalil Makkawi, the head of the Lebanese government’s Palestinian initiative. “The Palestinains are here because they were driven here,” he told me. “As long as Israel refsues to honor [the Right of Return], the Palestinians are an international responsibility.”


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