Mona Alami
NOW Lebanon (Opinion)
August 19, 2011 - 12:00am

Mahmoud Abbas most likely left Lebanon Thursday a satisfied man. With high-level talks—most notably with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri—as well as the inauguration of the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon on his itinerary, the Palestinian president has laid some important diplomatic groundwork in preparation of an event next month that has the potential to define his career.

For on September 20, Palestine is expected to present its candidacy for membership to the United Nations, a bid that Lebanon, among others, has signaled it would back. This support is extremely important for the bid as Lebanon will hold the presidency of the Security Council in September, and, to quote Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, “This will help [the Palestinian bid] because the president of the council has special prerogatives, which is crucial."

The Palestinian leadership is looking for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be recognized as the Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The bid will need approval from the Security Council as well as two thirds—or 129 countries—in the General Assembly. So far 122 states are said to recognize the Palestinian State.

In Lebanon, at least among the Palestinian populations living in Sabra, Shatila and Ain al-Hilweh, the potentially historic moment does not appear to have caused much of a stir.

“We are hopeful,” said Nawad, a nurse at a clinic near the entrance to the Shatila camp on the outskirts of Beirut. “But I don’t hear the issue discussed around the camp.”

Indeed, around a quarter of respondents were unaware of the bid or knew only the scantest of details.

Among those familiar with the plan, their greatest concern was over the effect recognition of the State of Palestine would have on their status as refugees in Lebanon.

“I hope the law will give us the right to work and to buy property in Lebanon like other nationalities,” said Nawad.

“I have business in Syria but have to return to Lebanon every seven days with the pass I have. Will [UN membership] help with the bureaucratic hassle?” asked 34-year-old Sabra resident Saleh.

According to Khassem Hassan, secretary general of Fatah in Shatila, UN membership would solve a number of official problems. “For example,” he said, “I expect it will legalize verbal agreements, such as allowing Palestinians without ID cards to continue their education, thereby making them permanent.” It would also be a major psychological boost to Palestinians worldwide, he added. “Having the knowledge that among the international community we exist as a people, and can have a passport, many things will be solved.”

However, the bid faces strong opposition, mainly from Israel and the United States, and the latter has the capacity to block it with its veto power. In the event of this occurring, Palestinians could apply for non-member state-observer status, as opposed to the PLO’s present observer status as a non-state mission—something Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine argues could be extremely advantageous and a stepping stone to full UN membership.

Others feel the bid does not go far enough.

According to Mounir Maqdah, a Fatah official in Ain al-Hilweh, Abbas’ diplomatic course undermines the Palestinian cause. After criticizing the bid for failing to tackle the issue of Israeli settlements and for not accounting for the territory occupied by Israel, he told NOW Lebanon that Palestinians should remain united and “regain our power by choosing once again the path of resistance. Only a military solution will be considered as a credible one and put fear in the hearts of Israelis.”

Hajj Maher Oueid, head of Ansar Allah, an Islamic faction close to Hezbollah, is more measured in his criticism. He believes the bid lacks in ambition and will probably remain fruitless, as it only calls for the recognition of the Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. “The bid does not tackle the real underlying problem of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, amounting today to some six million around the world,” he told NOW Lebanon. “A fair solution is one that is comprehensive and benefits all Palestinian refugees. This one is not.”


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