Simona Sikimic
The Daily Star
June 30, 2010 - 12:00am

“There are humanitarian, social and ethical duties, and the Lebanese state should assume the responsibility of providing them to the Palestinian brothers,” Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday. “Lebanon will not dodge these duties, which must be crystal-clear, and not be subject to any misinterpretation.”

Calling for national unity on the issue, the Prime Minister went on to express his commitment to obtaining a cross-party agreement in exchange for security cooperation from various Palestinian factions, responsible for upholding law and order in the country’s 12 refugee camps.

Hariri made the comments at a press conference held at Grand Serail to mark the publication of the latest Lebanese – Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) report, “Lebanon and Palestinian Refugees: Policy Foundations and Milestones 2005-2009.”

The LPDC initiative – started in 2005 by former Premier Fouad Siniora who was also present at the event – is tasked with assessing the living conditions of Palestinian refugees and influencing the government’s handling of the refugee crisis.

It is advocating an action plan to address security concerns and improve social and economic access for Palestinians.

“Symbols and slogans are not enough, we must turn them into reality,” said Maya Majzoub, the recently appointed LPDC president.

The comments come hot on the heels of big pro-human-rights demonstrations which took place in Beirut, Sunday. Thousands of people protested outside of the UN headquarters calling for the government to adopt legislation granting Palestinians the right to work and own property.

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, introduced a draft parliamentary bill on the issue earlier this month. The legal amendments were rejected by a coalition of Christian parties fearful that granting civil rights will be the first step to obtaining full political privileges. Parliament is set to discuss the issue again on July 5.

Hariri has openly rejected the granting of citizenship. “In Lebanon’s duties toward the Palestinians there is no window of naturalization,” he said.

Abdallah Abdallah, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, joined in denying any intent to obtain political rights or gaining access to state-funded social services. “What the Palestinians want is the right to work like any other foreign nationals,” he said. “There are 136,000 permits for non-Lebanese in Lebanon but there are only 261 work permits for Palestinians.

“The responsibility for the Palestinian refugees rests with the UN as it also has a political dimension.”

The UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA) is officially responsible for providing basic services, such as health and education, to Palestinian refugees. There are some 400,000 UN-registered refugees in Lebanon, although government sources have now put this figure closer to 250,000.

UNRWA is suffering from a major funding crisis and currently boats a $103 million deficit in its operating budget, putting the provision of vital services at risk.

The organization is also tasked with the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared camp, which was totally destroyed in 2007 when clashes broke out between extremist group Fatah al-Islam and Lebanese Armed Forces. Finding a solution which jointly addresses the humanitarian and security concerns of the population is seen as a top national priority.

“If we fail to find an answer to these fundamental issues the reconstruction will be in vain and we will have collectively failed to offer an alternative model of prosperity and legitimacy,” said Salvatore Lombardo, director for UNRWA’s Lebanon affairs.

Hariri, who won praise from Lombardo for his personal involvement with the LPDC, also stressed the need to rebuild the camp as a vital confidence-boosting measure.

The pair are collaborating to increase international support and funding for Palestinian refugees. “The international community has to bear also the responsibility that those Palestinians will have the right to go back to their homeland: Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital,” Hariri told the gathered ambassadors and international organization heads in English.”

“[If not] all of us in this region will pay the price and all of you around the world will pay the price.”

The international community, in principle, remains committed to the lasting resolution of the Palestinian question by March 2012. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, however on Tuesday publicly dismissed this deadline. “I do not see any chance of a Palestinian state arising by 2012,” he said.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017