The Daily Star (Editorial)
August 17, 2011 - 12:00am

The visit by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is easy enough to explain in “political” terms. Abbas will preside Wednesday over the official opening of a Palestinian embassy in Lebanon, while the visit is also dealing with next month’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, and how Beirut can provide support in the run-up to the declaration of a Palestinian state.

These topics are the “easy part” of the discussions between Abbas and officials in Lebanon. But there is another side to the Lebanese-Palestinian relationship. It is a good sign that relations between the Lebanese and the Palestinians – in the diplomatic, protocol sense – have risen to this formal level. But the relations between Lebanon and Palestine are not that of two other random countries that are establishing formal diplomatic relations, or talking about an upcoming meeting of the U.N.

Abbas’ visit is a perfect opportunity to discuss a few other matters, in a serious, well-prepared climate of give-and-take, not one of niceties and flowery rhetoric.

Everyone is aware of what these issues cover.

Abbas has said he and his government are ready to help remove the weapons from inside and outside Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, as soon as Beirut asks. This has yet to happen, even though it was agreed to in earlier sessions of National Dialogue. There are weapons, and the less-publicly discussed issue of Palestinian bases outside the camps – in the Western Bekaa, for example, or just south of Beirut, in Naameh.

These arms do not appear to form a credible deterrent to Israeli attacks, and they do not seem to have the capability of being used effectively against the Israeli army.

Unless Lebanese politicians are interested solely in securing support for what they do from foreign capitals, it is time to do something about these arms, and these bases, with the interest of Lebanon as the preeminent criterion for acting. These arms are often detrimental to the Palestinians themselves, and the public is probably unaware of just what exactly this arms inventory includes, and who exactly has them. It might be a cliche to say the camps are a powder keg waiting to explode – but they happen to be just that.

This isn’t to say that Lebanon has only its interests to consider. If the state decides to act on the issue of Palestinian arms and bases, it must also be able to provide protection for the Palestinians. Beirut is also obliged to bring the civil rights of Palestinians in line with those of other nationals residing in the country.

But in the end, Beirut and Ramallah are already in total agreement about keeping the right of return fully intact, and when two groups are this close on the fundamentals, it’s frustrating to see them fail to make progress on the other key issues they face.


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