Journal of Refugee Studies Vol. 10, No. 3 1997

Permanent Settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon: A Recipe for Conflict


Political Studies and Public Administration, American University of Beirut

    This paper addresses the nature and scope of the Palestinian refugee problem in Lebanon before and after the civil war of 1975-76, and examines the official and non-official positions on permanent settlement since the launching of the peace process at the Madrid conference in 1991. Three possible scenarios for the future of the Palestinian refugee problem are envisaged: one in which refugees are given 'Palestinian citizenship', and right of residency in Lebanon pending their move to the Palestinian entity in whatever form it takes; imposed permanent settlement of the refugees in Lebanon; and a continuation of the present situation, with no settlement being reached.
In pre-war Lebanon, the Palestinian presence in Lebanon provoked deep communal divisions, intense political debate, and ideological controversy, From the late 1960s, no issue did more to militarize the country, mobilize communities, political parties and leaders, and split public opinion than the PLO military presence. And when the war broke out in the mid-1970s, what prolonged it and turned it into a full-fledged regional conflict was the direct involvement of the PLO.

Since the end of the military confrontations in 1990, however, an issue on which there has been unprecedented consensus shared by all Lebanese communities and by leaders in government and in the opposition, both in Lebanon and abroad, has been the rejection of permanent settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon (tawteen, in Lebanese political jargon). Indeed, one of the modifications in the amended Lebanese constitution of 21 September 1990 that provoked no opposition from any faction was the provision introduced in the preamble: 'there shall be ... no settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon' (Republic of Lebanon 1995: 12).

From the most divisive issue in post-independence Lebanese politics to one of the few issues to arouse national consensus in post-war Lebanon, the Palestinian presence has been a highly delicate and controversial matter at all political, social, and economic levels. This paper addresses the nature and scope of the Palestinian refugee problem in pre- and post-war Lebanon and the official and non-official positions on permanent settlement since the launching of the peace process at the Madrid conference in October 1991.

Lebanon in Regional Power Politics

The Palestinians are not voluntary refugees in Lebanon. Nor did the Lebanese actively seek to deal with them, either initially as refugees, a few years later as enemies (at the time of the PLO guerilla activities), or today as an unwanted burden. Historically, there is no legacy of enmity between the Lebanese and the Palestinians. Palestinian-Lebanese relations before 1948 were orderly, involving a significant movement of people and a flourishing trade. But in 1948, Lebanese and Palestinians had to deal with a situation not of their own making. They had to draw on scarce political and economic resources, and to operate under regional and international circumstances over which they had little control.

Only five years after independence in 1943, Lebanon became a participant in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lebanon took part in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and signed an Armistice agreement with Israel in 1949 (see Diab 1993: 175-262). That was the first and last regional war in which the Lebanese state was directly involved. The large-scale military confrontation that took place on Lebanese soil and had to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 (see for example Kimhe 1991: 125-185; Parker 1993:167-211; Yaniv 1987; Rashid Khalidi 1985; Rabinovich 1984). It was preceded by an earlier Israeli invasion in 1978, more limited in scope and objectives than that of 1982.

While officially not in a state of war with Israel since 1949 and not involved in Arab-Israeli wars, Lebanon was in fact the most involved of the Arab countries, but always through non-Lebanese parties. While Lebanon has not lost territory in war against Israel, it has had territory occupied by Israel.

Lebanon was a passive actor in regional power politics, in inter-Arab rivalries as well as in Arab-Israeli politics. Unlike other Arab states, particularly in the Arab East, the Lebanese state did not have political ambitions that went beyond its borders. Nor did it have an ideological agenda and a revolutionary model to export to neighbouring countries. Nor did the Lebanese state make calls to liberate Palestine as other Arab regimes did. After independence, Lebanon sought to maintain a relatively neutral posture. This was in line with the 1943 National Pact which constituted the communal platform for independence.

If Lebanon's middle ground approach was viable in the 1940s, when the Arab world was ruled by a largely homogeneous elite (Salibi 1961: 42) prior to the coming military regimes and prior to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, it became less viable in subsequent years. Lebanon's 'Arab face', as embodied in the National Pact, fell short of meeting the aspirations of a new generation of radical nationalist leaders, both Lebanese and Arab (see Owen 1992: 32-54). Similarly, Lebanon's moderate stand on regional issues and in Arab-Western relations was no longer tenable (El Khazen 1991: 38-51). The first event that altered the course of Arab politics and Arab-Western relations after the war of 1948 was the coming of Nasser to power in 1952. In the mid-1950s, Lebanon, like other Arab countries, had its own response to Nasserism-an internal crisis which lasted six months and was only brought to an end following the election of a new president (Qubain 1961; Gerges 1993; Salibi 1958). A destabilizing factor in the late 1950s, Nasserism in Lebanon was a stabilizing factor in the 1960s. Lebanon's pro-Nasser policy in Arab politics under President Chehab, and the cordial relations between the two men, helped prevent destabilizing Arab interventions in internal Lebanese politics, particularly by Syria (see Abu Jawdeh 1993: 13-141).

Post-1967 Regional Politics: Lebanon versus the PLO

The other event that radically transformed regional politics both in Israel and in the Arab world was the 1967 war and its military and political repercussions. Once again, regional development occurring outside Lebanon set the pace for change in regional politics and in the international politics of the Middle East. The post-1967 Arab political scene was radically different from that of the 1950s.

One immediate outcome of the 1967 war was the emergence of militant Palestinian nationalism (see Ajami 1981). In 1968, the PLO came under the control of new Palestinian leaders not tarnished by defeat. Their call for an armed struggle against Israel received wide popular support. While states had recourse to political and institutional mechanisms for adjustment after a military defeat, for non-state actors like the PLO adjustment was of a different nature (on Palestinian nationalist politics after 1967, see Quandt et al. 1973; Sharabi 1970. On the PLO, see Cobban 1984). The pressing problem facing the PLO after 1967 was the lack of geographic and political space in which to operate. That space had to be carved out by force and not by negotiation. This meant inevitable confrontation with existing Arab regimes.

From 1968-69, Lebanon gradually became a de facto confrontation state with Israel, though by default and not by a decision made by the Lebanese government. As a result, Lebanon was turned into a battleground for Palestinian-Israeli warfare, first along its southern borders, and subsequently in other parts of the country. What aggravated an already explosive situation was the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. It accelerated the disintegration process in Lebanon and deepened its marginalization (El Khazen 1994). The military disengagements between Israel, Egypt and Syria that followed the 1973 war, and later the divisions between Egypt and Syria, turned Lebanon into the last active battleground for the Arab-Israeli-Patestinian conflict. When war broke out in 1975, it became difficult, if not impossible, to disengage Lebanon from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

PLO militarism after 1967, like Nasserism in the 1950s, catalysed change in regional politics. The two Arab countries most affected by these developments were Jordan and Lebanon. Unlike Nasserism, which was largely manageable, PLO militarism in Lebanon damaged the country's stability and sectarian relations, as well as Lebanon's place in regional power politics. Where Lebanon differed from Jordan (and other Arab parties) was on the nature of the state. Lebanon had an open state which reflected the plural nature of its society. Jordan had an authoritarian state. In crisis situations, principally the PLO armed presence after 1967, the Lebanese state was at a chronic disadvantage, because it could not resort to those instruments of control that are at the disposal of the authoritarian state system.

After 1969, Lebanon and the PLO were locked in a zero-sum game. To prevail one had to neutralize the other. From 1969, when the Cairo Agreement between the Lebanese government and the PLO was signed, until the outbreak of war in 1975, Lebanon's major political crises-four severe cabinet crises, the longest in Lebanon's history-were linked to PLO militarism and to Palestinian-Israeli warfare. Coexistence between Lebanon's 'raison d'etat' and the PLO's 'raison de révolution' could, at best, be temporary. Nor was a negotiated settlement possible between a revolutionary movement seeking to expand and earn international recognition, and a state seeking to contain it. The inevitable outcome was military confrontation, which took place in 1975.

Starting in April 1975, initial military confrontations pitted one Lebanese Christian group against PLO guerillas. As the war continued, Lebanese warring factions were gradually marginalized. Indeed, the 1975-76 war was brought to an end in the autumn of 1976 only when one non-Lebanese party (Syria) achieved a military victory over another non-Lebanese party (the PLO). By then, Lebanese groups had only a marginal influence on the course of the war. By the time the PLO was forced out of Lebanon in 1982-83, the post-1967 PLO had already been engaged in four wars: the war with Israel; Jordan in 1970-71; Lebanon after 1975; and the Syrian regime in Lebanon, first in 1976 and then in 1983. (On the war years, see Hanf 1993; on the early phases of the war, see also Walid Khalidi 1979; Deeb 1980; Evron 1987).

Despite the ending of the war in Lebanon in 1990, and despite achievements made in the peace talks-the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO since 1993 and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in 1994-south Lebanon continues to be a war zone. Today, it is the only active Arab-Israeli war zone in the region. It is also the oldest, now in its 49th year. In south Lebanon, military confrontations have been going on for over 28 years and are not likely to end soon.

Positions on Palestinian Refugees

The positions of the parties concerned reflect their conflicting readings of the Palestinian problem at the present stage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One extreme position is that of Israel's Likud Party and other right-wing parties. For them the Palestinians, as a people having a national cause and rights to a national home in whatever is left of Palestine, do not exist. Palestinians are tolerated in the West Bank and Gaza only because they cannot be expelled. The current Likud-headed cabinet will abide by agreements signed with the PLO, but its interpretations of these agreements differ from those of the previous Labour cabinet. The government of Prime Minister Netanyahu seeks to renegotiate these agreements with the intention of nullifying them insofar as Palestinian national rights are concerned.

Another position is that of Israel's Labour Party, the US government, and countries involved in the peace process. For them, the Palestinians have a national identity and national rights, though on a selective basis. Palestinian refugees, who will theoretically be allowed to return to the territories of the National Authority, are those displaced by the 1967 war (see Tamari 1996: 21-26). For these parties, the history of the Palestinian dimension of the ArabIsraeli conflict begins in 1967. Palestinians made refugees in the 1948 war are not an issue. Consequently, pre-1967 Palestinian refugees are not part of the political problem discussed in the peace talks. For Shimon Peres, Arab countries are held responsible for not absorbing 'their Arab refugees in the same spirit of self-sacrifice and brotherhood that Israel displayed toward Jewish war refugees' (Peres and Naor 1993: 186).

The third position regarding Palestinian refugees is that of the Palestinians themselves and of the Arab countries, notably those most involved in the peace talks: Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (see Zureik 1996: 29-64 and 89-103). They call for the implementation of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, passed on December 11 1948, which calls for the right of return of refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours, and for compensation for those choosing not to return. While the return of the 1948 refugees to Israel is out of the question (Peres and Naor 1993: 189; Zureik 1996: 65-87), their return to the West Bank and Gaza is possible. Within this context, Peres suggests the possibility of absorbing refugees in 'the areas included in the Palestinian-Jordanian confederation' (Peres and Naor 1993: 192).

Another position is that of Yassir Arafat, who opted for a convenient de facto reading of history which, in a way, begins in 1967. Arafat's pragmatic approach in his dealings with Israel and Washington since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accord, shows clearly that his priority is to make whatever deals he can in whatever territory is available in post-1967 Palestine (see Said 1996; al-Hout 1994; Heikal 1994). Other issues, particularly the future of the refugee population in Lebanon and elsewhere, have thus far not figured on Arafat's agenda.

Lebanon's Position: Three Nos

In discussing the Lebanese position on the permanent settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon, it is necessary to distinguish between the position of the Lebanese government, and the views of the various communities and their respective political and religious leaderships, political parties and groupings, as well as mainstream public opinion.

For the Lebanese government, be it the present cabinet of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri or previous cabinets formed since the signing of the Taif Agreement in 1989, permanent settlement violates the Constitution. No Lebanese government official and no politician outside the government is in a position to propose a constitutional amendment with the objective of permanent settlement. Such action would be the most unpopular initiative in the career of any Lebanese politician, irrespective of sectarian affiliation or political orientation.

Discussion of, rather than opposition to, the permanent settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon has become a taboo in Lebanon's political discourse. That does not mean, however, that Lebanon can ignore the issue. The Lebanese government has opted for a policy of damage limitation. It is defensive both in form and substance. It derives strength from its negative posture. Unable to influence the course of events in the region, notably the peace process, and unable to distance itself from Syria, Lebanon has opted for a least costly policy that fits its political capabilities: that of being negative on all issues relevant to permanent settlement. Lebanon's 'rejectionist' stand-its 'three nos'-comprises refusal to participate in the Multilateral Negotiations, refusal to cooperate with or permit any measures that would result in further entrenchment of the Palestinians in Lebanon, and the rejection of permanent settlement.

Lebanon has refused to take part in the multilateral negotiations, a policy in line with that of Syria. But while Syria held bilateral talks with Israel under American sponsorship in 1996 and made significant progress, Lebanon did not engage in similar bilateral talks. For Lebanon, two questions are of primary concern-refugees and water. On both issues, Lebanese officials have repeatedly stated that Lebanon has nothing to offer as a compromise. On the water issue, Lebanon refuses to share or sell its water resources. The Litani River, Lebanese officials have said, is hardly sufficient for Lebanon's needs (al-Nahar 1996: 25 March).

Lebanon's rejection of permanent settlement is justified on demographic, political and socio-economic grounds. First, the settlement of about 350,000 Palestinians (Commissioner-General 1995: 62) in Lebanon will have serious demographic repercussions. It would alter the demographic structure of Lebanese society, for the vast majority of the Palestinians are Sunni Muslim amounting to roughly 10 per cent of the Lebanese population (ibid.: 73). It is one thing for sectarian groups to have uneven population growth, but it is quite another to create a demographic transformation overnight.

The Impact of Permanent Settlement on Lebanon

Any demographic change in Lebanon has political implications, let alone when it is imposed against the will of the Lebanese. Permanent settlement would destabilize Lebanon for the following reasons. First, no sectarian group currently has a clear-cut dominant majority (Figuié 1994: 27-38). The divide that has political significance in today's Lebanese politics is less the divide between Christians and Muslims than the sectarian divide within each of the two groups-between Maronites and non-Maronites in the Christian community and between Shia and Sunni in the Muslim community.

Change in the demographic structure would perhaps have limited political significance if there was one group in Lebanon that had an absolute numerical majority; if national reconciliation had really taken place following the ending of military confrontations; if Lebanon enjoyed sovereignty, which translated into the ability of the government to make final decisions on domestic and external matters; if Lebanese territories in the south and western Beqaa valley were not under Israeli occupation; and finally, if the rule of law and respect for human rights prevailed. Unfortunately, these conditions are lacking. Post-war Lebanon is highly factionalized. The government has adopted policies which have undermined national unity, while the Taif Agreement has been violated. Syrian control over the political process, both within the executive and legislative branches of government, has been institutionalized (see Mansour 1993: 143-181; Maila 1991). Parts of south Lebanon are not only under Israeli occupation but also are still the scene of warfare. The rule of law is in continuous retreat, as is government respect for human rights (Lebanese Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights 1995; US State Department 1996: 1213-1222). For these reasons, decisions imposed on Lebanon which will alter the demographic structure of the country will be greatly destabilizing.

Permanent settlement would also have negative socio-economic repercussions. The Lebanese economy has not yet fully recovered from the war. Postwar reconstruction has been very costly. In four years, Lebanon's debt, both domestic and external, grew from under US$ 2 billion to nearly US$ 14 billion. More alarming, a recent study has shown that 28 per cent of Lebanese families live below the absolute poverty line, while, of these, 7 per cent live below the extreme poverty line (Haddad 1996: 36). In numerical terms, around one million Lebanese live in poverty while 250,000 of them live in extreme poverty. In addition, Lebanese workers are losing jobs to thousands of illegal foreign workers, mostly from Syria (Lebanon Report 1995: 8-9). Given this state of affairs in the Lebanese economy, it is difficult to see how Lebanon can deal with the socio-economic burden of absorbing a large number of Palestinian refugees.

Opposition to tawteen by the Lebanese government enjoys wide popular support. There is no significant internal dissent on the issue of permanent settlement. The strong popular and political reaction in opposition to Walid Joumblatt's support for the Qurai'a project designed to house displaced Palestinian refugees in 1994 is a case in point (see Nasrallah, in this volume). Current Lebanese government policy toward the Palestinian refugees is aimed at maintaining the status quo. Government authorities have prevented the reconstruction and expansion of existing Palestinian camps. They have also imposed restrictions on certain types of employment and have made work permits hard to obtain (see al-Natour, in this volume). In addition, Lebanon has not been receptive to requests by foreign governments to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians and has viewed these attempts with great suspicion (al-Nahar 1996: 27 January; Hamadeh 1996). In short, the message is clear: Lebanon rejects permanent settlement, and is not willing to facilitate the task of international organizations and other parties concerned in making Palestinian settlement a fait accompli by whatever means, direct or indirect.

Needless to say, the Palestinians themselves do not want to stay in Lebanon as refugees or as a people with no national status. They would like to be citizens of the Palestinian state they have been struggling to achieve for over fifty years. And if some would like to stay in Lebanon, they would like to stay as citizens of that Palestinian state, enjoying rights as legal aliens and not as refugees.

Lebanese Government Proposals

There is increasingly a distinction made between the political dimension of the 1967 refugees and the humanitarian dimension of the 1948 refugees. The Lebanese government makes no such distinction and views the problem as being primarily political and to do with the national rights of a people in the age of the nation-state. For this reason, Lebanon insists that, irrespective of any kind of final settlement, Palestinians living in Lebanon ought to obtain the identity cards of the future Palestinian entity, whatever form it takes.

While the Lebanese government has not formally elaborated an official platform toward the solution of the Palestinian refugee problem, Foreign Minister Faris Buwayz has suggested a four-track approach (al-Safir 1996: 18 April). The first component is a call for the implementation of the right of return, as stated in the United Nations Resolution 194. This, according to Buwayz, will accommodate 20 per cent of Palestinians in Lebanon. They would not return to Israel, but to the regions that are under the control of the National Authority. Second, the plan calls for the return of Palestinians to countries where they have families and relatives in the Arab world as well as in other countries. Such family reunification will accommodate 25 per cent of Palestinians living in Lebanon. Third, emigration to countries such as Canada, Australia, and the United States should be facilitated, by giving Palestinians priority over other immigrant groups. Fourth, Middle Eastern countries, particularly those that are wealthy and have significant economic resources, should contribute to the settlement of the problem by giving the Palestinians employment opportunities and the possibility of settling in these countries.

How realistic are these proposed solutions and how plausible is their implementation? Palestinians in Lebanon who are officially registered by UNRWA are the refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants. Most of these people come from what is today northern Israel and not the West Bank or Gaza. But there are Palestinians who entered Lebanon after the 1967 war and again after the war in Jordan in 1970-71. While a significant number of these Palestinians left Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion, others have returned. These Palestinians are considered illegal immigrants by the Lebanese government, since they are not registered there. One source put the figure of illegal Palestinians in Lebanon at between 50,000 and 75,000 (personal interview with senior official in Lebanon's Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The number of UNRWA-registered Palestinians who hold other citizenships or who no longer reside in Lebanon is estimated at 50,000 (personal communication). Based on these numbers, between 300,000 and 350,000 Palestinian refugees are both registered in Lebanon and living in Lebanon.

The Position of Lebanese Groups

Given the protracted nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in view of the history of antagonism that has characterized Lebanese-Palestinian relations in the last two decades, it is difficult for the Lebanese to be neutral about issues pertaining to the Palestinian presence in Lebanon. It is also difficult to convince the average Lebanese in the 1990s, Christian and Muslim alike, that the PLO was only a 'catalyst' in the war (see for example Barakat 1979: 17-18) and that the PLO was forced to take part in the war in self-defence.

More than two decades of war in which the PLO was directly or indirectly involved generated a great deal of resentment. The war has ended only recently, but its wounds have not healed. It ended with another war which led to the removal of General Michel Aoun by Lebanese army units backed by the Syrian army (Gregory 1990; Naoum 1992). Unlike civil wars in Cambodia and Angola and, more recently, in the former Yugoslavia, which were ended with a negotiated settlement sponsored by the major powers and by the United Nations, the war in Lebanon did not end with a peace conference. All that the United States and other major powers did was to give verbal support to the Taif Agreement at the time of its signing. They then turned a blind eye to repeated violations afterwards. Washington has viewed Syria as playing a stabilizing, positive role in Lebanon. But it is the same Syria that Washington has placed on the State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Many Lebanese today feel that they have paid a heavy price for the ArabIsraeli conflict and the PLO presence in Lebanon. True, the Lebanese have their share of the blame but that does not mean resolving the problem at their expense. For most Lebanese, the PLO in Lebanon has a largely negative image (Hanf 1993: 361-433). This contrasts sharply with the portrayals by Western academics and journalists in their coverage of the war (Brynen 1990; Fisk 1990; Randal 1983: 61-108; Petran 1987: 142- 184).

Most of the literature on the war presents a largely similar apologetic account of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon. According to this literature, prior to 1967, Palestinian refugees were repressed by Lebanese security authorities (the Deuxieme Bureau). After the 1967 war, PLO guerillas were depicted either as defending themselves from the 'Maronite-controlled Lebanese army' or as helping Lebanese allies to after Lebanon's 'reactionary' political system. When the war broke out, the PLO, once again, was viewed as acting in self-defence. As a result, it was 'caught in the Lebanon net' (Cobban 1984: 58-107). Many observers claimed that Fateh-the largest organization at that time-intervened reluctantly in the war, although Fateh in 1976 had more than 20,000 armed men (the Lebanese army then was 19,000 strong), a huge military arsenal, and training bases throughout the country. Yet, the Lebanese response to PLO incursions on their sovereignty was portrayed as based on a longstanding hatred of Palestinians and plans for their destruction, just as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Beirut was attributed to Zionist expansionist designs dating back to Theodore Herzl and other early Zionists.

When the PLO clashed with the Christian militias in 1975-6, this was attributed to the fascist and isolationist tendencies of the Kataeb Party. Washington Post correspondent Jonathan Randal spoke of the 'murderous instincts' of Lebanon's Christians (Randal 1983: 286). When Palestinian forces clashed with their war-time allies after 1976, the militias of the Lebanese National Movement in Beirut and the south, Lebanon then was not in the spotlight and these confrontations received little Western press coverage. For. most observers, the great astonishment came when the Shi'ite Amal militia, which was initially trained and armed by Fateh in the mid-1970s, engaged in heavy fighting with Palestinian forces in the war of the camps in 1985. In this confrontation, the old cliches were little use to account for the bloody war between former war-time allies, supposedly united in the struggle against deprivation and injustice. Other explanations had to be found (Rosemary Sayigh 1994: 173-192; Abu Khalil 1985). The actions of the Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon were interpreted as a helpless PLO forced to take up arms to protect the civilian population while seeking to avoid conflict. In contrast, the assessment of PLO militarism in Lebanon by Palestinian writers close to the PLO and familiar with the Lebanese political scene was more balanced and critical than that of their Western counterparts (see for example Walid Khalidi 1979: 79-82 and 93-95, 1989; Rashid Khalidi 1988).

In contrast, when the PLO exercised full control over West Beirut and large parts of the country, little was said about its excesses. Were it not for the loss of its base in 1982, PLO control over large parts of Lebanese territory would have remained, in the eyes of many Western observers, business as usual. All this changed in 1982-83. Since then, the international community, which had failed to object to PLO behaviour in Lebanon and welcomed the creation of a de facto Palestinian state in Lebanon, reverted to its pre-1967 image of the Palestinians as helpless refugees (see for example Rubenberg 1994). After 1982, the agenda became the championing of Palestinians' rights in Lebanon once the PLO had lost political and military control.

This is not to say that Palestinians are not entitled to rights of any kind. However, from a Lebanese standpoint, the moral argument of the international community in support of the Palestinian humanitarian and political rights in post-war Lebanon would have been stronger had the international community objected to PLO violations of Lebanese sovereignty and excesses prior to 1982. The international community's insistence that the Lebanese government implement policies that will alleviate the plight of the Palestinians ignores the fact that the Lebanese themselves face a complex set of problems no less stark than those facing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

A major problem in post-war Lebanon is the full implementation of the 'right of return' of more than 450,000 displaced Lebanese (more than the total number of Palestinians in Lebanon) who were forced out of their homes during the war (Ministry of the Displaced 1992). In the last seven years, more than $300,000,000 has been spent on the return of the displaced, but only a third have returned to their homes and have fully recovered their properties (al-Nahar 1995: 10 October). The operation is administered by the Ministry of the Displaced. The Minister in charge, Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, has full control over the entire operation: its timetable, priorities and, more important, the funds and the distribution of payments to the displaced. With the total absence of government accountability, the operation has involved large-scale waste and mismanagement (al-Nahar 1994: 5 August; al-Anwar 1994: 14 August; al-Safir 1994: 24 August).

Second, just as the Palestinians seek self-rule in Palestine, the Lebanese seek self-rule in Lebanon. Measured by any standard, Lebanon is not a sovereign country. Part of Lebanon is under Israeli occupation in the south and western Beqaa, and the rest of the country is under Syrian control. For anyone living in Lebanon and dealing with the Lebanese government, it is common knowledge that final decisions on major (and in many instances minor) issues, domestic and external, are made 'in consultation' with Damascus. The only party not consulted on these matters is the Lebanese people. This practice has increased in recent years and has now become institutionalized in the political process (Malik 1992; L'orient-express 1996).

Third, if the average Palestinian does not feel properly represented and does not approve of Arafat's policies in his dealings with Israel as well as in the self-rule areas, the average Lebanese is not doing any better. Many Lebanese do not support government policies and oppose the repeated violations of the constitution. Nor do they feel that they are properly represented (El Khazen 1993). The 1992 elections, which recorded the lowest level of participation and were the least competitive in the history of parliamentary elections in Lebanon (El Khazen and Salem 1993), attest the lack of adequate representation as does the 1996 electoral law, declared unconstitutional by Lebanon's newly formed Constitutional Court (al-Nahar 1996: 9 July; Suleiman 1996).

These problems are the focus of Lebanese concern, but while the international community supports Palestinian national rights in the West Bank and Gaza, it ignores Lebanon's rights to regain control over the decisionmaking process and to exercise rule over its territory. Current Lebanese Views on Permanent Settlement

A survey conducted in 1992-3 showed a broad consensus shared by all Lebanese sectarian groups against the permanent settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon. The survey concludes that

opposition to [resettlement] from government officials, spiritual figures, confessional leaders, and mass-media commentators is shared by the public ... Most respondents do not accept the resettlement of Palestinians in Lebanon, and believe it will result in damage to the country. Many assume that resettlement will cause a resumption of the Lebanese civil war, and call for military resistance to prevent it (Khashan 1994: 14; the survey first appeared in al-Safir 1993: 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26 February).
Since the survey was conducted, the political and economic situation in Lebanon has continued to deteriorate. Israel's military operation in April 1996 was very costly for' Lebanon in human losses as well as politically and economically (Amnesty International 1996; Hollis and Shehadi 1996). Moreover, three other recent events linked to the Palestinians provoked significant political controversy: the Qurai'a affair in August 1994; the expulsion of 350 Palestinians from Libya in September 1995 and Lebanon's refusal to accept them (see Nasrallah in this volume); and the ease of Abu Mohijin, a Palestinian military commander from the 'Ayn al-Helweh camp accused of assassinating the leader of a Sunni Islamic movement in November 1995. Government authorities issued a warrant to arrest Abu Mohijin, who faces a death sentence (al-Nahar 1995: 19 and 26 December, 1996: 30 January and 14 February; al-Wasat 1996: 15 January). For many Lebanese, the Abu Mohijin affair revived the image of inaccessible Palestinian camps in war-time Lebanon. These events have further intensified public opposition to permanent settlement.

To make things worse, Arafat made a number of incendiary statements regarding the period of PLO presence in Lebanon in a press interview. Seeking to show his credentials and to prove his qualifications as a strong, dependable leader, Arafat boasted that he would be able to rule conflict-ridden Gaza as successfully as he had 'ruled Lebanon' (interview given to an Israeli weekly, reported in al-Nahar 1993: 9 September) And if there were still a possibility that anyone in Lebanon would be willing to defend Arafat and, by implication, the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, that was ended in the opening session of the Palestine National Council on April 1996. At that meeting, Arafat saluted Arab leaders and thanked 'Lebanon and its President Assad' (al-Hayat 1996: 23 April; al-Nahar 1996: 23 April). A joke or a blunder! Either way, the occasion of the meeting convened to amend the PLO charter in accordance with Israeli demands was hardly appropriate for jokes or blunders. Nor was the timing appropriate, for the meeting coincided with Israel's 'Grapes of Wrath' operation in Lebanon. Another blunder came when Arafat held a highly publicized meeting with Israeli Premier Shimon Peres only one day after the Israeli raid on the United Nations compound in the village of Qana in which 102 civilians were killed and several others were wounded. Such behaviour does not facilitate constructive dialogue between the Lebanese and Palestinians.

The most important change in Lebanese attitudes toward the Palestinian presence in the post-war period has to do with the place and role of the Palestinian factor in Lebanese politics. In the past, beginning in the 1975-76 war, PLO guerillas clashed with Christian Lebanese militias. From 1977 to 1982, they clashed with Muslim and Leftist militias. In the mid-1980s, they clashed with the Shi'ite Amal militia. On the political front, the 1969 Cairo Agreement signed between the PLO and the Lebanese government was opposed by Christian leaders and supported by Muslim leaders and tile Left led by Kamal Joumblatt. In 1987, when the Lebanese government abrogated the Cairo Agreement, it received support from all Lebanese leaders. Today, contrary to the war period, the Palestinian presence has ceased to be an issue of inter-sectarian polarization. I

While all Lebanese communities are opposed to permanent settlement, the two communities that are likely to be most vocal in their opposition are the Shi'ites and the Maronites. Shi'ite opposition is likely to be more militant than that of other groups, for the largest concentration of Palestinians is in South Lebanon, inhabited by a Shi'ite majority. In addition, the Shi'ites suffered the brunt of PLO militarism prior to 1982 (Ajami 1985). Today, with tile deepening Sunni-Shi'ite divide in regional politics, notably since the establishment of the Islamic regime in Iran, Palestinians' settlement in Lebanon acquired sectarian overtones.

As for the Maronites who, on the issue of permanent settlement, have the support of all Christian groups, they are likely to be vocal in their opposition. Apart from the demographic repercussions, permanent settlement has a magnified impact on the Christian communities. This is due to two reasons. One is the naturalization decree passed by the Lebanese government in 1994, which increased the Lebanese population by nearly 10 per cent. The confessional breakdown of the newly-naturalized is 80 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Christian. Groups that have been seeking to obtain Lebanese citizenship for a long time constitute about a third of the total number of the naturalized. The rest are citizens of other countries. Some have been living in Lebanon for some time while others live in other countries, mainly in Syria. In fact, about 40 per cent of the naturalized are Syrian nationals (El Khazen n.d.).

The problem with the naturalization decree is that the government did not follow the required legal procedure, which involves a thorough investigation of each individual case (al-Nahar 1995: 27 September). Instead, naturalization was done en masse. In addition, several thousand UNRWA- registered Palestinian refugees were naturalized.1 Government action also violates tile constitutional provision of religious coexistence (al-'Aysh al-Mushtarak). Tile demographic and political impact of tile naturalization decree was already felt in the registration of the naturalized in particular villages and regions. This served a dual purpose: to tip the demographic balance in a number of mixed villages (e.g. in the Beqaa), and to draw electoral support for government officials, as was the case in the 1996 parliamentary elections, particularly in the North Matn district and Beirut (Nassif 1996).

The other issue that concerns the Christians is political. Since the signing of the Taif Agreement, government policies have clearly targeted Christian communal and political interests. Christian grievances include the following: the naturalization decree; the majority of the displaced Christians have not yet returned to their homes; the electoral laws of 1992 and 1996 which have undermined Christian representation, particularly for non-Maronite Christian groups; and the weak Christian representation in government and Parliament. While Muslim communities are represented by established leaders who have a wide popular base in their respective communities, Christians are represented by politicians who have little credibility and limited popular support.

What is usually missing in the discussion about the demographic makeup of Lebanese society is the causal relationship between the diverse religious structure of society and political pluralism. While a discussion of the historical and social foundations of Lebanon's sectarian democracy falls beyond the scope of this paper, suffice it to say here that it differs from the historical evolution and socio- economic bases of the democratic political process in Western countries. In Lebanon, democracy is a function of communal diversity which, in turn, is a function of the demographic structure of Lebanese society. Notwithstanding its deficiencies when compared with Western majority-based democracies, Lebanon's sectarian democracy is better than no democracy, as is the case in other Arab countries. In a divided society, in Lebanon and elsewhere, what preserves stability is consensual government rather than majority-based rule (Lijphart 1984). A radical transformation in Lebanon's demographic structure, particularly when imposed against the will of many Lebanese, will have negative political and social repercussions affecting Lebanon's civil society, political openness, and democratic process.

Scenarios for Settlement

Because of the political nature of the problem, any proposed settlement will depend on the power equation that prevails when final decisions on the refugees are made in the final status negotiations. The latter officially began on 5 May 1996 but have been stalled. Although Lebanon's negotiating position in the peace talks is weak, on the issue of permanent settlement Lebanon derives strength from two sources: one domestic and one external. The internal consensus in Lebanon on the rejection of permanent settlement is difficult to break. The issue of permanent settlement can no longer be used for political consumption, as was the case during the pre-war period. The external source of support, albeit by default, for the Lebanese position comes from Syria. Damascus is in full agreement with Lebanon (or, more accurately, Lebanon is in full agreement with Damascus) in its opposition to permanent settlement. Syria has adopted a similar policy toward the 1948 Palestinian refugees in Syria and has called for the implementation of the right of return as stated in UN Resolution 194.

The problem that Lebanon faces today in relation to the Palestinian dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict stems from the selective reading of history and the selective interpretation of international law. The international community led by the United States had accepted the Israeli reading of the 1948 refugee problem. For several decades there have been attempts to facilitate de facto permanent settlement in the host countries (Rabinovich 1991: 65-167; Shlaim 1986; Bard 1990: 9). Prior to 1967, the problem was defined in humanitarian terms. After 1967, it became political and humanitarian. What the international community is asking Lebanon to do, overtly or otherwise, is to accept what no other country would accept: the settlement en masse of what amounts to 10 per cent of the Lebanese population, little assimilated in Lebanese society, radicalized, and prone to mobilization by extremist platforms, There is a marked difference between emigrant communities in far away Canada, for example, detached from the political turmoil in the countries of origin, and Palestinians in Lebanon a few miles away from Palestine.

Three possible scenarios for the solution of the Palestinian refugee problem can be envisaged. First, a negotiated settlement that will take into account Lebanon's national interests and communal particularities, particularly tile delicate equation between demographic balance and political stability. This means that settlement will eventually enable Palestinians living in Lebanon, the 1948 refugees and others, to return to their homeland. The problem here lies in the interpretation of the right of return and its applicability at the present phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict (Tamari 1996: 53-50; Mallison and Mallison 1986: 174-188; Radley 1978). While Israel will not accept the return of all tile Palestinians to Israel, the return of a small number born in pre-1948 Palestine may be allowed on a strictly humanitarian basis. The bulk of the Palestinians, however, will be able to return to the territories under Palestinian rule, whether within the framework of a state or confederation with Jordan, or under some other arrangement. Palestinians and Israelis have shown willingness to accept a flexible interpretation of UN Resolution 194 (Rashid Khalidi 1990; Peres and Naor 1993: 192). In this way, rather than returning to their original 'homes', Palestinians will return to their 'homeland' (Salam 1994).

Whatever Palestinian entity is formed, it cannot deny stateless refugees the right to citizenship and the right to return, notably the 1948 Palestinian refugees who are the most victimized group. They are certainly worse off than Palestinians holding citizenships and established in other countries. If a solution is found for the refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan, who constitute 80 per cent of the total (Commissioner-General 1995: 62), then tile settlement of Lebanon's refugees, who constitute around 10 per cent of tile total, should be comparatively manageable.

Until an acceptable formula is found, what can be done to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians? In 1991, a special committee was formed by the Lebanese government to discuss ways to improve Palestinian-Lebanese relations. The committee held two meetings with a Palestinian delegation but no agreement was reached (Anis Sayigh 1995; 'Ayash 1996). The Lebanese government opposes measures that are likely to facilitate de facto permanent settlement. Any serious handling of the matter will depend on progress made toward a final political settlement between Israel and the PLO and between Israel and Syria. The situation will be all the more difficult now that UNRWA activities are increasingly shrinking as part of a process aimed at phasing out UNRWA. This will certainly create grave problems in the future, both for the Palestinians and for the host countries.

Proposals for a solution based on the Palestinians remaining in Lebanon, ranging from naturalization to dual citizenship to giving Palestinians in Lebanon permanent residency, will not be accepted by the Lebanese government. These formulas amount to de facto permanent settlement, if not now but certainly in the future. In addition, proposed settlement outside Lebanon, in Iraq or Jordan, has also been suggested (al-Nahar 1995: 20 September). One proposal, however, is worth exploring, that of granting refugees residency in Lebanon after they have acquired Palestinian citizenship (Salam 1994). But even this formula needs qualification, for it leaves room open for permanent settlement.

The second scenario is imposed permanent settlement. In practice, this means that the Lebanese government will be forced to accept either de jure settlement, whereby the Palestinians will be naturalized, or de facto settlement whereby they will remain in Lebanon. Both will be opposed by most Lebanese. Should Lebanon be forced to accept tawteen, this will certainly undermine the fragile post-war internal consensus in the short run, and will be a recipe for conflict in the future. It will also prompt some Lebanese groups to call for the restructuring of the political system away from the centralized state to provide a political counterweight to the demographic and political imbalance created by permanent settlement.

This brings us to third scenario, that of no settlement of the conflict in its three dimensions: Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, and Israeli-Lebanese. Negotiations have not resumed since the formation of the Likud-led cabinet in Israel. The momentum that was created in the last two years was lost by Prime Minister Netanyahu's maximalist platform. Thus far, Netanyahu's 'negotiation' position has been based on bringing negotiations to a halt. The peace process that was initiated by effective American leadership during the BushBaker administration has reached a deadlock.

The question is, where do we go from here? Clearly, we are dealing with one of the most complex conflicts in the post-World War 11 period. Unlike other regional conflicts which were settled following the end of the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli conflict has not yet ended. We are also dealing with a dual problem: Palestinians are both refugees and stateless. In the highly volatile setting that the peace process has reached, we are dealing with too many unknowns.

By the time a new working arrangement is found, all kinds of developments are likely to occur in a region where questions of political and social order are as divisive today as they were a century ago. How long can Israel's maximalist policy be politically rewarding? How long can the United States retain effectiveness and credibility as a sponsor and mediator in the peace talks when the American and Israeli positions are becoming increasingly indistinguishable? And how long will American patience concur with American interests in bringing about a just and lasting settlement to the conflict? The sooner we know the answer the better.

1 Personal interview with an attorney who has been following closely the legal violations of the naturalization decree. The estimate of the number of naturalized Palestinians in 1994 is close to 20,000. Back

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