Annie Slemrod
The Daily Star (Opinion)
September 8, 2011 - 12:00am

A successful statehood bid at the United Nations would not stand in the way of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees eventually exercising their right of return, Palestine’s Social Affairs Minister said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Daily Star, Majeda al-Masri discussed some of the stickier aspects of the potential Palestinian state, and how it might affect the future of Lebanon’s approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees.

“Palestinian refugees are only temporarily in Lebanon, and they will definitely return to their homeland,” said Masri. “Their return can never be an obstacle to Palestine’s right for permanent membership in the U.N.”

“There are several international resolutions that support the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their right to have a Palestine based on 1967 borders,” she said, specifically mentioning U.N. Security Council Resolution 194, passed in 1948.

Masri emphasized that statehood would not negate the status of Lebanon’s Palestinians as refugees, saying that if the state is accepted “refugees will still be here in Arab countries as guests until they come back. Their rights will be [protected] here … within [the framework] of what we are following up with the countries [where Palestinians live].”

“When the peace process occurs, the issues of refugees will be one of the main issues for Palestinians to be discussed,” said Masri.

“So [the issue of return] will be solved within the peace process. Now we are going for an independent state, but we know that if [the bid is accepted], it will not be a dead end.”

Masri said that “there is no contradiction between the Palestinian Authority’s decision to negotiate [with Israel] and Palestine’s bid for statehood at the U.N. … Palestinian Authority and the [Palestinian] government [would be] responsible for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Not for the refugees. The PLO is responsible for refugees,” and while it also works with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories it falls under the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

Masri is in Beirut to attend an ESCWA workshop on “Social Protection as Development,” with other regional leaders and experts such as Jordanian Labor Minister Mahmoud Kawafin, and Randa Bou Hamdan, a representative from Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry.

The workshop is being held at the request of the Palestinians, said Masri, in order to share experiences and practices to increase “social protection for the weak and marginalized.”

“In collaboration with governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations, we have put in place a strategy for social protection [in Palestine],” Masri said, adding that this work cannot be separated from efforts to develop the Palestinian state.

“The effort put in by Palestinian NGOs and the [Palestinian] government is part of the state building that will be completed through diplomatic, political, and military pressure.”

But despite these efforts, Masri said that “the [Israeli] occupation is the main reason for the persistence of poverty and marginalization, and is an obstacle against sustainable development within Palestinian society.”

An economic example of this obstacle, Masri said, is how “[the occupation] has adopted policies to make the Palestinian economy dependent on the Israeli economy … this has turned the Palestinian market into a market for Israeli products.”

U.N. recognition, Masri said, would not be merely symbolic. It “would help Palestinians fight poverty and marginalization … a stable Palestine would also help its economy grow.”

Addressing comments made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a recent visit to Lebanon about the need for Lebanon’s Palestinians to disarm, Masri said that the issue “will be discussed between the Palestinian leaders here in Lebanon and the [Lebanese] government. It has no relationship with the [recognition of] the state, or with the decision that will be taken [by the U.N.].

“The issue is very sensitive,” she said, noting that it will be dealt with by Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, among others.

The minister emphasized that the upcoming statehood bid is based on “the territories occupied [by Israel] in 1967,” during the 1967 war. “[These are] the territories that the Palestinian government is trying to take back.”

“We are going to the U.N. based on the will of the Palestinians, and this is their right,” said Masri. “It is time for the U.N. to recognize the Palestinian people’s right and accept their statehood.”


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