Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Washington and the Future of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

Gary C. Gambill

Ain al-Hilweh
While politicians in Beirut appear hopelessly divided over most major political issues of the day, they are nearly unanimous in publicly rejecting the permanent resettlement (tawtin) of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon - a position shared by a large majority of its population and even written into its constitution. Paradoxically, however, most Lebanese have long suspected that the West will attempt to force (or bribe) their leaders into absorbing the country's 300,000-400,000 refugees as part and parcel of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.[1] This fatalism is hardly unwarranted. The vast majority of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon hail (directly or by descent) from areas in Israel to which they will not return under any conceivable peace settlement. It does not appear that the international community intends to finance their mass repatriation into a future Palestinian state (or that the US-backed Palestinian leadership even desires this). Talk of offering the refugees passage to Western countries has diminished since 9/11, while the surrounding Sunni Arab world has shown little interest in extracting Sunni Arabs from Lebanon's fragile confessional melting pot. In short, there is an unspoken international consensus that most Palestinians in Lebanon should be resettled there indefinitely (if only for lack of more palatable alternatives).

American officials do not publicly acknowledge this expectation, as the mere suggestion that Palestinians be resettled anywhere outside of historic Palestine (Israel and the occupied territories) is diplomatically taboo (rioters in the West Bank once burned Canada's foreign minister in effigy for offering to welcome Palestinian immigrants after a peace settlement)[2] and the public backlash in Lebanon would be tumultuous. However, it has been central to Washington's conceptualization of a comprehensive peace settlement over the past 15 years and a focus of discrete diplomatic initiatives whenever progress toward Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations is anticipated.

The assumption that Lebanon's refugee problem can be solved "in-house" is a relic of American and French conventional wisdom during the Syrian occupation, when the country's fractious political elites could be reliably corralled into unpopular courses of action. In a democratic Lebanon, no government will consent to the large-scale resettlement of refugees, and even a more limited accommodation will be nearly impossible in the prevailing atmosphere of sectarian polarization and political paralysis.


Ain al-Hilweh
The Palestinian community in Lebanon is descended from the 100,000+ refugees who fled (or were expelled from) their homes during Israel's 1948 War of Independence. Today, there are 416,608 Palestinians registered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Lebanon, but only 220,809 actually live in the 12 camps it administers.[3] The remainder have either acquired the means to live outside the camps or have left Lebanon entirely (no one is certain of the exact breakdown). With anywhere from 13,000 to 40,000 Palestinians in the country not registered by UNRWA,[4] estimates of the overall resident Palestinian population range from 300,000 to 400,000, giving Lebanon a ratio of refugees to citizens (nearly 1:10) higher than that of all other Arab countries save Jordan. The vast majority were born in Lebanon.

Most Arab host countries withheld citizenship from resident Palestinians as a way of paying lip service to their "right of return" to Israel, while granting the refugees most socio-economic rights. In Lebanon, however, they have been far more isolated and marginalized - prohibited from working in most skilled professions, denied access to education and other public services, etc. These and other restrictions were designed to prevent their socio-economic integration and perpetuate a state of "structurally imposed poverty"[5] that encourages refugees to reject any prospective peace settlement that leaves them stranded in Lebanon.

This unique Lebanese obsession with preventing resettlement is not animated by bigotry or hatred of Palestinians (though obviously these sentiments can overlap). Rather, it is rooted in the country's sectarian diversity and unique consociational democratic system, which distributes fixed allotments of government power among its main sectarian groups. Because a large majority of the refugees are Sunnis, their naturalization would overturn the (now roughly tripartite) demographic balance among Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims. Not surprisingly, opposition to Palestinian resettlement among Maronites and Shiites is most widespread (87% and 78% according to a 1992 survey, compared to 63% of Sunnis and 71% of Druze)[6] and most intense (according to the same survey, 56% of Maronites and 51% of Shiites believe that resettlement should be resisted militarily, compared to 30% of Sunnis and 36% of Druze).[7]

The intensity of Christian and Shiite opposition to resettlement reflects each community's long historical memory of oppression by the surrounding Sunni world over the centuries and more recent experience of confrontation with Palestinians during the 1975-1990 civil war. In the late 1960s, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) established a strong presence in Lebanon, taking advantage of its comparatively weak army and forging alliances with Sunni elites eager to contest Christian political preeminence. Lebanon's civil war initially pitted Christian militias against the PLO. During the 1970s, Palestinian guerillas egregiously mistreated the largely Shiite inhabitants of south Lebanon and subjected them to devastating Israeli reprisals. After invading Israeli forces obliterated the PLO's paramilitary presence in 1982, the Shiite Amal militia helped finish the job in the 1985-86 "war of the camps."

Opposition to Palestinian resettlement among Lebanese Sunnis is weaker and more ambivalent. While most feel a substantial degree of religious, nationalist, or cultural affinity with the refugees (and thousands have ties to them through intermarriage),[8] the idea has long been taboo because it contravenes the Palestinian "right of return" sacred to most Arab nationalists. Druze opposition to resettlement is also comparatively weak, in part due to the Jumblatt family's wartime alliance with the PLO and postwar alliances with Sunni leaders.

Very few Lebanese public figures have been willing to openly call for resettlement, with one major exception - many Sunni religious leaders have called for resettlement and even naturalization on the grounds that the nation of Islamic believers (umma) supercedes artificial and transient national boundaries. "We are one umma (Islamic nation); we do not recognize the borders laid down by French imperialism," Sheikh Muhammad Ali al-Jouzou, the longtime mufti of Mount Lebanon, declared in a 2001 address.[9] Jouzou and other mainstream Sunni clerics have frequently voiced the secondary rationale that Lebanon has always granted non-Sunni refugees permanent sanctuary - most recently, Armenian Christian refugees who fled to Lebanon after the outbreak of World War I, became naturalized, and today constitute some 3-4% of the population.[10] This state of affairs is especially intolerable to Sunni fundamentalists - Salafis in particular (which is the main reason why alienated Palestinian militants have flocked to the movement).

After completing their conquest of the country in 1990, the Syrians cleverly exploited Lebanese sensitivities about resettlement. Lebanese officials were encouraged to vocally disavow resettlement, tighten restrictions on the camps (e.g. banning Palestinians from owning property), and foreswear jurisdiction over them. For Syria, this had the strategic benefits of making it more difficult for the PLO and Israel to reach a negotiated settlement at Syria's expense, while creating "islands of insecurity" in the camps that would be impossible for Lebanon to manage without Syrian help. Moreover, since resettlement rejectionism was one of the few Syrian-approved public policies that resonated with the public, politicians eagerly embraced it. At the same time, many Arab and Lebanese analysts were convinced that Syria was merely jacking up the price it could charge to impose resettlement after its own requirements for peace were met.[11]

The Refugees and the Peace Process

Of all issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fate of the 1948 refugees is the most difficult to resolve, as the traditional convictions of each side are both mutually exclusive and integral to their national identities. The common aspiration of refugees to return to their places of origin is central to Palestinian nationalism, while Israeli nationalism demands the preservation of a majority Jewish state. Because of this seemingly irreconcilable contradiction, the Oslo Accords postponed discussion of the refugees (and other so-called "final status" issues) until the last stages of the envisioned peace process.

However, it was understood from the start that any prospective settlement must entail the resolution of all refugee claims against Israel, an end to the extralegal status of all Palestinians, and the dismantling of UNRWA. For Israelis to feel secure that Palestinians and Arabs have put the conflict behind them, the refugees must cease to become refugees. This can happen in four ways: return to Israel, repatriation to a future Palestinian state, resettlement in their present host country, or emigration to a different host country.

A consensus emerged over the course of bilateral and multilateral negotiations, later codified in the so-called "Clinton Parameters" of December 2000,[12] that Palestinian refugees should not be forced into any one of these four choices and must be accorded the right to repatriate to a new Palestinian state if they wish. The viability of a final settlement therefore hinges on providing the refugees with "a menu of alternative options sufficiently attractive so as to avoid any need to restrict implementation."[13] However, in the case of refugees in Lebanon, all of the alternatives to local resettlement came to be regarded in Washington as unpalatable or unworkable.


Although the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat constantly reiterated support for the refugees' "right of return," he recognized that most would never be allowed back to their places of origin in Israel. Palestinian negotiators were primarily concerned that Israel recognize the right of refugees to return their homes and allow a limited annual quota of immigration by those who choose to exercise this right. This would not only give Palestinians a sense of collective vindication, but it would also "weed out" those refugees who would be most disgruntled by the other alternatives. While the Israelis were said to have verbally agreed to a figure of either 25,000 over three years or 40,000 over five years during the January 2001 Taba conference,[14] years of violence in the interim have rendered such propositions unthinkable to most Israelis.


While survey data suggests that the refugees in Lebanon overwhelmingly prefer repatriation to a new Palestinian state over local resettlement or emigration,[15] no party to the negotiations actually wanted to see them undertake such a mass migration. The Israelis were concerned about the security implications of moving disaffected refugees into closer proximity to their ancestral homes.

While Arafat repeatedly pledged to give refugees in Lebanon priority in returning to Israel, he and his loyalist Fatah movement were decidedly unenthusiastic about welcoming them into the Palestinian self-rule areas. Elementary political logic dictated that he prioritize the needs of Palestinians by virtue of their proximity to his seat of power (an anti-Arafat riot in a camp on the outskirts of Beirut or Sidon isn't nearly as much of a political threat as a mass demonstration in Nablus, or even across the river in Amman). Upon the conclusion of a final settlement, his top priority would be to settle refugees from camps in Gaza (492,000), the West Bank (191,000), and Jordan (335,000).[16]

Absorbing these one million high priority refugees would be a mammoth undertaking. Merely providing them housing will cost up to $13.5 billion.[17] Stimulating the Palestinian economy sufficiently to create jobs for them will require injections of foreign aid that exceed what has been under discussion thus far.[18] Moreover, experience has shown that external funding has seldom achieved as little "bang for the buck" as it has in the hands of the corruption-ridden Palestinian Authority (PA).[19] The most glaring weakness of the Oslo peace process was that it promoted a process of third-rate Palestinian state building that may never be up to the task of mass refugee repatriation.

Of all potential returnees, the refugees in Lebanon are the least desirable economically, as they "tend to be unskilled or semi-skilled workers, with lower levels of formal education, and little in the way of savings, legally held property, or other capital resources."[20] They are also the least desirable politically, having displayed little support for Arafat's Fatah movement over the past few decades, and are sure to be the most profoundly discontented with a future peace settlement. Since the early 1990s, the camps have become increasingly dominated by a brand of radical Salafi-jihadist ideology that is largely alien to Gaza and the West Bank.


The Clinton administration made some efforts to explore other possible host countries for the refugees (necessarily discrete for fear of sparking a backlash among Palestinians). The violent Palestinian reaction to Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley's pledge to receive refugees in January 2001[21] (and to a more hypothetical Australian offer the following month)[22] paled in comparison to the dangers facing Arab leaders who openly endorsed resettling refugees outside of Palestine.

Ironically, most refugees would readily emigrate to the West if given the opportunity[23] (indeed, many tens of thousands are believed to have done so since the start of the civil war, mostly illegally) In 2000-2001, a number of Western governments privately agreed to accept refugees, though the exact number of available immigration slots was never publicly stated (informal estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000, with Canada and Australia taking the lead).[24]

Reports of Arab countries being offered incentives to take in refugees from Lebanon began circulating shortly after the Oslo Accords,[25] reaching a peak during US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's September 1999 tour of the region.[26]

Jordan was said to be the most amenable. In exchange for a multi-billion dollar aid package, King Abdullah was reportedly willing to absorb all of the refugees in his kingdom who wanted to stay, though he balked at accepting new refugees (particularly if no other Arab leaders did so).[27] "The last thing we want is refugees from Syria and Lebanon to come to Jordan," he told a group of foreign journalists in October 1999.[28]

The idea of resettling the refugees in the underpopulated Arab Gulf states engendered a great deal of speculation in Lebanon[29] and the United States during the 1990s. The Clinton administration discretely broached the issue with Arab Gulf leaders (as did at least one congressional delegation in the mid-1990s), but the reaction was uniformly negative. In light of Kuwait's experience during the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis (when Palestinians inside the emirate and abroad cheered on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein), they were reluctant even to naturalize the estimated 400,000+ Palestinians already residing in the Gulf.[30]

Throughout the 1990s, the Arab world was frequently abuzz with reports of secret European talks with Baghdad over a deal to resettle Palestinian refugees in Iraq in exchange for the lifting of UN sanctions,[31] an idea promoted particularly by pro-Saudi media outlets.[32] However, while the Iraqi regime appeared amenable to the idea (at least initially),[33] the proposed resettlement was denounced by Kurdish and Shiite Iraqi opposition groups as a Saudi-Baathist plot to shore up Sunni Arab demographic weight[34] (which, to some extent, it probably was) and never appeared to gain much currency in Washington.

Resettlement in Lebanon

With return, repatriation, and emigration each running afoul of Israeli, PA, or Arab state interests (respectively, with some overlap), leaving the refugees in Lebanon became the path of least resistance. However, this would be viable only if the refugees were offered sufficiently attractive accommodations as to ensure that they choose to stay rather than repatriate. This would require the active cooperation of the Lebanese government and considerable international financing.

Lebanese cooperation would have been unimaginable had the Syrians not been controlling the country since 1990. Western governments (led by Washington and later Paris) tacitly supported the occupation in the belief that this would ensure political stability in Beirut and restrain (or at least regulate) militant groups seeking to violently disrupt the peace process. It was assumed that Damascus would deliver whatever was required of Lebanon under a future peace settlement once its own demands were met (e.g. Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights, continued US recognition of Syria's sphere of influence in Lebanon).

The Oslo Accords set off a wave of Lebanese paranoia about US-led conspiracies to impose resettlement. Lebanon "is not about to succumb to the will of the major powers and accept the principle of resettlement," one government minister proclaimed.[35] "Everyone knows that Palestinian resettlement will be imposed on Lebanon as part of an Israeli-Arab-American agreement," wrote prominent journalist Issa Goraieb.[36] Visits by Western diplomats invariably raised suspicions that a deal was in the offing.[37] While it was generally understood that the refugees would become citizens of the new Palestinian state with permanent residence rights in Lebanon (thus negating the direct political implications of naturalization), the distinction was largely immaterial in the long run - no one expects the denial of political rights to resettled refugees and their descendants to go unchallenged in perpetuity.[38]

US officials declined to comment publicly on the future of Lebanon's refugees, except to say that it would be decided in Israeli-Palestinian final status talks. While there were media reports of Washington discretely urging Lebanese officials to accept resettlement in the mid-1990s,[39] it was widely understood that Syria would be the ultimate arbiter of any official Lebanese government decision.

The US was primarily concerned with creating conditions on the ground that would facilitate refugee resettlement down the road, mostly under the auspices of the Refugee Working Group (RWG), a multilateral body chaired by Canada.[40] Although the official mandate of the RWG was to improve living conditions in the camps, it exhibited a clear preference for humanitarian initiatives that facilitate refugee absorption over those that don't. Thus, as the RWG pressed the Lebanese authorities to allow construction in the camps and lift employment restrictions, UNRWA skewed its resources toward the West Bank and Gaza[41] and cut its services in Lebanon.[42] After coming under frequent attack in the Arab media for allegedly harboring a secret resettlement agenda,[43] by the late 1990s the RWG was boycotted by Arab governments and largely defunct.

Walid Jumblatt
While humanitarian and political agendas intermingled at the international level, they became thoroughly cross-pollinated at the local level. This was illustrated in August 1994, when Druze leader Walid Jumblatt introduced a plan to establish a new Canadian-funded housing complex in Iqlim al-Kharroub for Palestinians who had been squatting in West Beirut since the war. The plan was publicly backed by the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a wealthy Sunni whose construction company dominated the reconstruction of Beirut.

The project quickly collapsed in a blaze of controversy, as it was widely construed as a step toward de facto resettlement of the refugees,[44] had an implied sectarian dimension (Sunnis and Druze being least averse to resettlement), and appeared to embody a host of other unseemly ulterior motives. Hariri had an obvious interest in evicting the refugees from neighborhoods his allies and associates were trying to develop. Jumblatt, whose refusal to consider alternative housing proposals raised suspicions,[45] was accused of trying to create a buffer zone of loyal Palestinians between the Druze heartland and the Shiite population of south Lebanon,[46] while diluting the area's Christian minority.[47] The collapse of the project underscored the futility of pressing Lebanese politicians to support "back door resettlement."

After the 1999 election of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak revived prospects for progress in the peace process, there were widespread local media reports of American and French offers of debt relief assistance in exchange for Lebanon's resettlement of the refugees.[48]

Washington and Paris focused their attention less on winning specific commitments from Lebanese officials than on persuading them to halt their constant denunciations of resettlement,[49] which put adverse pressure on Arafat and raised questions as to whether Damascus was really prepared to deliver Lebanese consent. Albright's September 1999 arrival in Beirut did little to quiet this chorus of rejectionism.[50] After her departure, the French summoned Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyid (Syria's local "enforcer") to Paris and reportedly told him that the Lebanese government must "ease its objections to the presence of the Palestinian refugees on its territory" and that it was "no longer acceptable" for Lebanon to cite its demographic frailty as an excuse.[51] Days later, Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss publicly alluded to French disapproval of his position on resettlement.[52]

While there is no reliable record of what (if any) understandings were reached as a result of this diplomatic activity, Arab press reports offer some plausible accounts. According to Jordanian sources cited by the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds al-Arabi in November 1999, Syria was inclined to naturalize its own refugees if and when it reached an acceptable peace deal with Israel, while Lebanon was willing to permanently settle its refugees in exchange for financial aid and freedom to "neutralize" those who opposed the project (i.e. the Christian opposition).[53]

Reports of resettlement initiatives proliferated following Hariri's return to office after a two-year hiatus in the fall of 2000. In December, Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that American-mediated Israeli-Palestinian talks had produced an understanding that 100,000-150,000 refugees would be resettled in Lebanon in exchange for debt relief.[54] While Hariri denied involvement in such discussions and continued to publicly reject resettlement,[55] he was widely suspected of supporting a relief-for-resettlement arrangement due to his close relationship with the Saudis (he spent most of his adult life in the kingdom and even assumed Saudi citizenship prior to his 1992 appointment as prime minister) and friendship with French President Jacques Chirac (not to mention his sectarian affiliation, Palestinian wife, etc.).[56] Given the go ahead from Syrian President Bashar Assad, a generous windfall of foreign aid, and Western tolerance of requisite human rights violations, Hariri could probably have delivered Palestinian resettlement in Lebanon - at least long enough for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian accord to get off the ground.

The Bush Administration and the Refugees in Lebanon

Although Western diplomatic initiatives concerning the refugees in Lebanon were dropped following the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in early 2001, the conventional wisdom on the necessity of resettlement in Lebanon remained firmly entrenched in Washington. The incoming Bush administration's only major departure from the Clinton Parameters was its support for the refusal of new Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow the return of any refugees,[57] a shift that implied even greater reliance on local resettlement to absorb refugees under a future peace settlement.[58]

With even a symbolic return of refugees off the table and Israeli-Palestinian violence at an all time high, the administration concluded early on that a resumption of final status talks was pointless. No Palestinian leader was willing to take the political risk of abandoning the right of return, and officials in Syrian-occupied Lebanon were less willing than ever to sign off on resettlement. The administration's "roadmap" deferred final status negotiations until after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and the "revival of multilateral engagement,"[59] both of which were expected to help facilitate the PA's disassociation from refugees in the diaspora.

In early 2002, the administration encouraged Saudi Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah to introduce a peace initiative offering Israel full normalization of relations with the Arab world in exchange for its complete withdrawal from all territories occupied in 1967 (including east Jerusalem) and a "just solution" to the refugee problem.[60] In conspicuously failing to mention the right of return or reject resettlement, the initial proposal carried an unmistakable message - Israeli concessions on Jerusalem (by far the most important issue for Saudi royals, who portray themselves as the guardians of Islamic holy places) would be met with Arab flexibility on the refugee problem, a tradeoff endorsed by some liberal Israeli leaders.[61]

Although Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud successfully lobbied for amendments that "fixed" both omissions before the resolution came to a vote at the March 2002 Arab League summit [62] (resulting in the re-christened "Arab Peace Initiative," which went nowhere), Abdullah's initiative nevertheless provided the basis for deeper Saudi engagement in the peace process, both public (e.g. attending the November 2007 Annapolis conference) and private (e.g. covert negotiations with Israel). By 2007, the Saudis had reportedly agreed to sanction a peace settlement allowing no return of refugees to Israel and spend billions of dollars subsidizing their resettlement (and discouraging their repatriation).[63]

The conventional wisdom in the American foreign policy establishment is that this kind of "buy-in from respected Arab leaders"[64] provides political cover for the PA to drop its demand for the return of refugees and claim to be "following the Arab world's lead."[65] Saudi engagement can also provide political cover to Israeli leaders. With the PA's inability to stop terrorism continually deflating Israeli public support for compromises, Abdullah put something else on the table that Israelis desperately crave - the kind of regional recognition and legitimacy that, in the words of Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn, "only Saudi Arabia can grant."[66] "The Saudis don't speak at all about Resolution 194," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boasted to reporters in March 2007.[67]

In light of Saudi Arabia's longstanding patronage of Hariri, Abdullah's interest in facilitating a diplomatic tradeoff leading to Palestinian resettlement raised suspicions among some in Lebanon. By this time, the prime minister's power in government had been curtailed by Assad, leaving him with no control over the security apparatus and only limited control of economic policy. Hariri resisted these constraints, skillfully leveraging Saudi and French support in his turf battle against President Lahoud (his political nemesis) and Hezbollah (his ideological nemesis).

While the 2004-2005 Franco-American campaign to subvert Syrian control over Lebanon may not have been the Palestinian resettlement conspiracy decried by Syria's state-run media[68] and some Arab commentators,[69] it was quite plainly intended to strengthen Hariri (by forcing Lahoud out of office). While the Bush administration initially signed off on it mainly in reaction to Syrian meddling in Iraq, there was a palpable expectation in Washington that drawing Lebanon into the American sphere of influence would (among other things) facilitate an advantageous resolution of the refugee problem. Indeed, outspoken proponents of forced Palestinian resettlement had played a key role in mounting congressional pressure on the administration to end the Syrian occupation.[70] In August 2004, as US and French diplomats lobbied the UN Security Council to demand a Syrian withdrawal, four co-sponsors of the Syria Accountability Act[71] arrived in Beirut and "bluntly" pressed bewildered Lebanese officials to accept resettlement.[72]

Notwithstanding such unsanctioned congressional indiscretions and unsubstantiated hearsay,[73] there's little indication that the administration tried to promote an explicit resettlement agenda in Lebanon after the withdrawal of Syrian forces and the narrow electoral victory of the US-backed March 14 coalition. The peace process was nowhere near a juncture at which Lebanese cooperation on the refugee issue was needed. Raising the issue in an official capacity before Israeli-Palestinian negotiations produced a final status agreement was not only pointless but also liable to generate a public backlash that would derail peace talks and doom the coalition politically.

The hope in Washington has been that Lebanon's rulers will reconcile themselves to resettlement once they are presented with a diplomatic fait accompli that provides for no alternative; financial assistance to pay off some of the country's staggering national debt (now over $44.5 billion);[74] and a unified chorus of Western, Arab, and Palestinian leaders demanding that the refugees - now bona fide citizens of a Palestinian state - be granted the same rights as other foreign nationals.

This expectation not only gives the United States an incentive to promote political leaders likely to accept this tradeoff, but also exerts enormous indirect influence over political alignments. Lebanese politicians who seek American backing know that flexibility on the refugee issue will be expected of them down the road, while those who privately favor resettlement know that alignment with Washington is the best way to realize this aim without having to openly sanction it.

Coincidentally or not, the March 14 coalition is dominated by the two sectarian communities least averse to resettlement (Sunnis and Druze) and the two political currents most frequently accused of secretly favoring it in the past (the Hariri family and Jumblatt). While the role of Samir Geagea's Christian nationalist Lebanese Forces (LF) party as a junior partner in the coalition may seem counterintuitive in light of its wartime past, its uphill struggle for Christian political hegemony against Michel Aoun's secular nationalist Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) virtually requires it to line up on the opposite side of any national political divide.[75] Moreover, secularists have long warned that Christian nationalists might secretly accept resettlement as a way to destroy Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system and revive Christian support for a "federal" system of sectarian cantons.[76]

Since there are other convergent interests that have drawn the various March 14 factions together with Washington (e.g. combating Syria), it cannot be said that the refugee issue has been the primary motivation underlying US support for the coalition's drive to monopolize executive power. The American resettlement agenda is less an explicit policy objective than a ubiquitous subtext influencing all policy considerations concerning Lebanon.

Strong Christian and Shiite aversion to resettlement (and, more broadly, fear of Sunni-Saudi domination) has been a major factor underlying the opposition alliance between the FPM and the Islamist Hezbollah movement (their February 2006 Memorandum of Joint Understanding stipulates that "settlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon . . . cannot be conceded under any circumstances"). Accusations that Washington and Sunni Arab regimes plan to resettle the refugees in Lebanon increasingly became a staple (though rarely the dominant theme) of opposition rhetoric,[77] especially after the onset of an eighteen-month political crisis in November 2006, when the Hezbollah-led Shiite bloc finally withdrew from the cabinet and joined the FPM in demanding a blocking minority of seats in a new national unity government. In opposition circles, American and Saudi encouragement of Israel's July-August 2006 war against Hezbollah was interpreted as a bid to eliminate the one military force that would stand in the way of resettlement.

Whether motivated by genuine concerns or rhetorical opportunism, resettlement rejectionism has resonated deeply in an atmosphere of growing sectarian and political polarization. The FPM's demand for "international guarantees" as to the "non-resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon"[78] is seen by most Christians as eminently reasonable (if futile), as is its call on Geagea to extract an official policy position from Washington (otherwise he has "no value," quipped one FPM official).[79] Indeed, some March 14 Christian politicians have tried to raise the mantle themselves, accusing Aoun of conspiring to naturalize the refugees (e.g. by way of shattering Christian unity or weakening Lebanese sovereignty).[80]

Direct American and European intervention on the issue of refugees has been largely confined to pressure on the government to alleviate their living conditions and exert more authority over the camps. The former was not a problem, as the opposition supported relaxing restrictions on Palestinian employment, allowing construction in the camps, and other humanitarian measures.[81]

However, the Siniora government was reluctant to exert its authority over the camps for fear that this would be seen as normalizing their extralegal status. It was also reluctant, in view of its strong Sunni orientation, to enter into conflict with predominantly Sunni combatants. The government's failure to halt the steady growth of the Salafi-jihadist group Fatah al-Islam resulted in a bloody confrontation during the summer of 2007 that left 168 soldiers dead and the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in ruins.

The takeover of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007 forced the Bush administration to adopt a new strategy for advancing the peace process. The administration now pressed Israeli and PA officials to conclude a "shelf agreement" that would broadly outline how final status issues will be resolved, while leaving details and implementation to be worked out (much) later. The resumption of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over final status issues was accompanied by high profile Arab multilateral engagement at the Annapolis conference in November. Amid rumors and unsubstantiated media reports of secret diplomatic initiatives to resettle the refugees,[82] anxiety over the issue was at its highest level since the Syrian withdrawal, particularly within the Christian community.

With Lahoud's departure from office in November, Lebanon's vacant presidency (constitutionally reserved for Maronites) made divisions within the Christian community the focal point of the ongoing political crisis. The Bush administration soon came to appreciate that paranoia about resettlement was working to the advantage of the FPM.[83] In January 2008, Aoun touched off a firestorm by unveiling a 2000-dated document from the files of the General Intelligence Directorate (apparently authentic, whatever its accuracy) stating that the late Hariri had secretly favored resettlement in exchange for debt relief.[84]

March and April of 2008 witnessed a coordinated effort by Washington and its allies to dampen public suspicions about resettlement. March 14 leaders issued a succession of collective and individual proclamations unequivocally rejecting resettlement,[85] as did the PA.[86] Aoun's Christian rivals began claiming that senior American officials had given them private assurances against resettlement.[87]

Breaking its longstanding official silence on the issue, Washington issued two high profile statements on the fate of refugees in Lebanon. "I think Palestinians and Lebanese alike see the future of those people inside a Palestinian state. I hope that can be realized,"[88] Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch told a congressional subcommittee shortly after meeting with Geagea in March. A month later, he told reporters in Beirut that Palestinians in Lebanon "should have the opportunity to live in their own state."[89] Although the veteran diplomat did not reject resettlement, he went slightly beyond reaffirming the right of refugees to repatriate - hinting that the actual repatriation of those who wished to move was both desirable and just.

Whether this public relations initiative signified a substantive shift in US thinking is a matter of debate, but it clearly came in anticipation of a bold power play launched by the coalition weeks later. In early May, at the instigation of Jumblatt and Geagea, the Siniora government issued decrees threatening to shut down Hezbollah's private communications infrastructure (which the July-August 2006 war with Israel revealed to be quite vital to its military readiness) and firing a senior security official sympathetic to the group. The intent was to force Hezbollah either into making political concessions in exchange for continued tolerance of its "state within a state" or into an escalating standoff that would strain its alliance with the FPM and provide a pretext for regional and international pressure for its disarmament.

However, the plan backfired when Shiite forces quickly routed Sunni and Druze militias and overran large swathes of the capital and surrounding areas (thus avoiding a prolonged standoff). Under pressure from Arab governments and local business interests, the March 14 coalition was forced to accept a trio of concessions under the Doha Accord: a compromise candidate for president,[90] a national unity government, and electoral reforms that will diminish the success of March 14 candidates in next year's parliamentary elections.[91]


The ignominious collapse of the ruling coalition's drive to monopolize executive power shattered any remaining illusions Washington about the possibility of securing official or de facto governmental acquiescence in the resettlement of refugees, as well as any illusions March 14 leaders still had of American patronage as a political game-changer. Returning in August as prime minister of the new national unity government, Siniora vowed to forge "a strategy that fortifies Lebanon's refusal of resettlement."[92] With public opinion overwhelmingly opposed to resettlement and parliamentary elections due next spring, no Lebanese politician can afford to take the risk of appearing any less defiant.

For a time, the Bush administration remained intent on brokering an Israeli-Palestinian shelf agreement that substantially negates the Palestinian right of return and at least tacitly provides for resettlement, an effort that peaked in the weeks leading up to Olmert's resignation in September. However, despite a reported offer by the embattled Israeli premier to accept the return of a few thousand refugees per year for "family reunification," Abbas remained unwilling to compromise on the right of return unless Israel made further concessions. Having lost control of Gaza to Hamas, being perceived to abandon the refugees abroad would have weakened Abbas' claim to leadership of the Palestinian people still further - and with his presidential term expiring in January.

While it's possible that Israel's next government will offer Abbas a more acceptable arrangement, a shelf agreement that negates the right of return without offering Palestinians in Lebanon a promising alternative will be inherently unstable.[93] The most obvious danger is that such an agreement will encourage the refugees to resume armed struggle against Israel (roughly half live in camps close to the border), which the Lebanese government is ill equipped to handle. However, an even greater long-term danger is that alienated refugees will embrace militants who have given up struggle against Israel altogether- the Salafi-jihadists - in favor of global jihad. The American expectation seems to be that Lebanon's refusal to resettle the refugees will become untenable after an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is reached. However, a threatening security situation in the camps and south Lebanon may cause most Lebanese not to accept resettlement, but to reject it more wholeheartedly.

This isn't to say that no accommodation of the refugees is possible. Many Lebanese would readily consent to resettling a modest, fixed number of refugees, provided that Western and Arab countries assume responsibility for the rest, help pay off the national debt, and promote durable compromises on other basic national issues.

However, the Bush administration never showed any signs that it was prepared to accept such a tradeoff. It does not appear to have pressed Arab governments to resettle refugees from Lebanon or taken any interest in repatriation, while the willingness of Western nations to take in Palestinian refugees hasn't been explicitly reaffirmed since 9/11 and may have weakened in the interim.[94] Even the pro-Fatah Palestinian daily Al-Quds recently acknowledged that "the illusion of tawtin is still attractive" to American officials[95] and that Washington remains enamored with finding a "mechanism to settle the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon."[96]

While there's little indication that American and European officials have begun to make any fundamental reassessments of how to resolve the refugee problem in Lebanon, they do seem to have increasingly recognized that their longstanding public silence on the issue only serves to enflame local paranoia. In July, British ambassador to Lebanon Frances Mary Guy caused a stir by publicly suggesting that the refugees "stay in Lebanon" and be granted "the same rights that any foreigner living on its soil enjoys, including the right to obtain work and other rights.[97] In early October, Swiss President Pascal Couchepin arrived in Beirut and made several public statements of unprecedented candor suggesting that the large-scale resettlement of refugees in Lebanon is unworkable. The refugee presence is "a complicated problem that can't be solved by this country alone," he told reporters, adding later that a country as small as Lebanon "cannot logically house 300,000 or 400,000 foreigners."[98]

Not surprisingly, reaction among Palestinian leaders in Lebanon was decidedly negative, as none of these statement affirmed the right of refugees even to repatriate (let alone return). "No Palestinian state can be established if the Palestinian refugees don't return to their homeland," said the commander of Fatah forces in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynayn.[99] The Lebanese opposition was also suspicious, apparently unsure as to whether Couchepin was acting as a test balloon for Washington or presenting an independent approach. Aoun warned that the Swiss president's visit meant that the threat of resettlement "has become reality."[100] Only time will tell whether he is right.


[1] See Simon Haddad, "The Palestinian Predicament in Lebanon," Middle East Quarterly, September 2000.
[2] "Canada's Secret Mideast Offer," The Toronto Star, 10 January 2001; "Angry at reported offer of a home, Palestinians burn Manley in effigy," The Ottawa Citizen, 19 January 2001. "If Canada is serious about resettlement, you could expect military attacks in Ottawa or Montreal," said Hussum Khader, head of Arafat's Fatah militia in the West Bank city of Nablus. "Why Palestinian fury is aimed at Canada," The Globe and Mail (Canada), 16 February 2001.
[3] Current UNRWA statistics, as of 30 June 2008, are available at:
[4] Amnesty International estimates that there are 10,000-35,000 "non-registered" refugees (Palestinians not registered with UNRWA, but registered with the Lebanese authorities) and 3,000-5,000 "non-ID" refugees (who aren't registered with either). Amnesty International, Exiled and Suffering: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, October 2007.
[5] Rosemary Sayigh, "Palestinians in Lebanon: Harsh Present, Uncertain Future," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, Autumn 1995.
[6] Hilal Khashan, Palestinian Resettlement in Lebanon: Behind the Debate, Montreal Studies on the Contemporary Arab World, April 1994.
[7] Hilal Khashan, Palestinian Resettlement in Lebanon: Behind the Debate, Montreal Studies on the Contemporary Arab World, April 1994.
[8] Estimates of the number of refugees with ties through marriage to Lebanese citizens run as high as 60,000. "Lebanon survey: A war with many losers," The Economist, 24 February 1996.
[9] Al-Nahar, 30 April 2001. Quoted in Bernard Rougier, Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam among Palestinians in Lebanon, translated by Pascale Ghazaleh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 197.
[10] "We won't tell the Armenians in Anjar, 'Go back to your country!'," said Jouzou in the same speech. Ibid.
[11] Indeed, some argued that the United States and Israel tacitly supported Syria's domination of Lebanon on the grounds that only Damascus could impose permanent settlement of the refugees over the objections of so many Lebanese. According to Marwan al-Khatib, Israel approved the Syrian military's initial entry into Lebanon in 1976 and its subsequent conquest of the country in the late 1980s to "contain the backlash that can be expected when the issue of resettling the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is raised." Al-Wasat, 26 September 1994; "In Washington's crystal ball: A Palestinian-Jordanian confederation Lebanon in a state of dependent dependence," Mideast Mirror, 23 September 1994.
[12] The Clinton parameters listed repatriation to the West Bank or Gaza and repatriation to areas of Israel transferred to a Palestinian state in land swaps as separate choices, for a total of five. The Clinton Parmeters, 23 December 2000.
[13] Jerome M. Segal, "Clearing up the right-of-return confusion," Middle East Policy, Vol. 8 No. 2, June 2001.
[14] Rex Brynen, Addressing the Palestinian Refugee Issue: A Brief Overview, background paper prepared for a meeting of the Refugee Coordination Forum, Berlin, April 2007.
[15] In a 2003 survey by the widely respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCSR), refugees in Lebanon were asked to choose from a list of options (analogous to those outlined in the Clinton Parameters). 23.2% of the refugees said they would apply for return to Israel; 39.1% would repatriate to the West Bank, Gaza or Israeli territory added to the Palestinian state in land swaps; 9.3% chose to emigrate elsewhere; 11.1% preferred to remain in Lebanon, and 17.4% refused all political solutions. Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Results of Surveys among Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, 18 July 2003.
[16] Current UNRWA statistics, as of 30 June 2008, are available at:
[17] The fixed cost of providing housing to refugees was estimated by the World Bank to range from $8,924 to $13,275 each; there are 1,018,000 registered refugees in camps. The World Bank, Absorption of New Residents in the West Bank and Gaza: Potential for Housing Accommodation on Public Land in Selected Areas in the West Bank and Gaza (Washington DC, 2002), cited by Rex Brynen, "Refugees, Repatriation, and Development: Some Lessons from Recent Work," in Brynen and Roula El-Rifai, eds, Palestinian Refugees: Challenges of Repatriation and Development (I.B. Tauris/IDRC, 2007).
[18] According to an American draft proposal leaked by Israeli media outlets in advance of the 2000 Camp David summit, the United States and other countries would provide $100 billion in aid over 20 years to solve the refugee problem, but this money would go to governments to distribute ($10 billion each for Lebanon and Syria, $40 billion for Jordan, $40 billion for the PA). Yediot Aharonot, 23 June 2000. Of the $35 billion that Clinton actually offered during the 2000 Camp David talks, only $10 billion was allocated to compensation and rehabilitation of refugees [$15 billion would have gone to Israel, the other $10 billion toward Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian water desalination projects. Bruce Riedel, "Camp David: The US-Israeli Bargain,", 15 July 2002.
[19] "Initially designed to fuel Palestinian economic growth . . . the aid program was quickly redesigned to provide life support for a Palestinian economy in decline." Scott Lasensky and Robert Grace, Dollars and Diplomacy: Foreign Aid and the Palestinian Question, USIPeace Briefing, August 2006.
[20] Brynen (2007).
[21] Palestinian militants in Nablus burned him in effigy and threatened violence on Canadian soil. "If Canada is serious about resettlement, you could expect military attacks in Ottawa or Montreal," said Hussum Khader, head of Arafat's Fatah militia in the West Bank city of Nablus. "Why Palestinian fury is aimed at Canada," The Globe and Mail (Canada), 16 February 2001.
[22] When Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said that Australia would be willing to accept Palestinian refugees if it helped bring peace, Palestinian protestors burned the Australian flag (despite Ruddock's later emphasis on the fact that Australia had not actually agreed to this). "Palestinian protestors misled over refugee plan: Australian govt," Agence France Presse, 27 January 2001.
[23] According to one survey, 98% of refugees in Ain al-Hilweh (the largest refugee camp) would emigrate to Western countries if given the opportunity. See Hilal Khashan, "The Despairing Palestinians," Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 1992, p. 16.
[24] Canada was reported to have been willing to resettle 23,000 refugees. See "Israel to offer money and limited right of return to Palestinian refugees," Agence France Presse, 14 July 2000.
[25] Al-Hayat (London), 4 October 1993.
[26] Al-Hayat (London), 1 September 1999.
[27] Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), 10 November 1999.
[28] "Jordan's King Abdallah to deliver Saddam message to Clinton," Mideast Mirror, 7 October 1999; "Jordan Rejects Plan for Refugees to Settle," The Scotsman (Edinburgh), 7 October 1999.
[29] In 1994, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fares Bouez said that the Gulf states have a "moral, political, and ethnic responsibility" to resettle the refugees in lieu of "importing Asian workers." Al-Safir (Beirut), 18 April 1994. Cited in "Is the Gulf the Arabs' America?" Mideast Mirror, 14 November 1994. His remarks were ill-received by journalists and analysts from the Gulf. "The Arab peninsula belongs to its people," read the title of one essay by a Saudi writer. Al-Safir (Beirut), 25 July 1994. Cited in "Is the Gulf the Arabs' America?" Mideast Mirror, 14 November 1994.
[30] According to a 1998 UNRWA estimate, there were 275,000 Palestinians in Saudi Arabia, 38,000 in Kuwait, and over 100,000 in other gulf countries. Ahmad Sidqi al Dajani, The Future of the Exiled Palestinians in the Settlements Agreement (London: Palestinian Return Center, 2000), cited by Fred M. Gottheil, "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931," Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Winter 2003); For slightly different estimates, see Refugees International, Lives on Hold: Global Review of Statelessness, 2005.
[31] The first such reports came within weeks of the Oslo Accords. Al-Hayat (London), 4 October 1993. News of secret Israeli-Iraqi negotiations the following year lent credence to the reports. "Israeli Mavericks Cut Contact with Iraq After US Outcry," Agence France Presse, 19 September 1994.
[32] Al-Hayat, which is generally reflective of views in the Saudi royal family, published a succession of articles on the prospective resettlement of refugees in Iraq which implicitly endorsing the idea. On article, by Sami Zebian, emphasizes that "the fate of the refugees . . . can only be solved within an Arab/Islamic framework encompassing the entire region." Al-Hayat (London), 5 September 1999.
[33] In January 2000, Iraq issued a decree allowing Palestinian refugees to purchase real estate. Al-Hayat (London), 29 June 2000.
[34] "The 'Plot' to Resettle Palestinian Refugees in Iraq," Mideast Mirror, 29 June 2000. Iraqi opposition groups were in turn accused of fear mongering and incitement to violence by the Arab media. See Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), 23 March 2000.
[35] Cited in "Lebanese Outcry against Resettlement of Palestinians," Mideast Mirror, 8 September 1993.
[36] L'Orient Le-Jour (Beirut), 30 August 1994.
[37] "[A]ny visit by a foreign diplomat associated with the peace process [was] taken to be a prelude to the nightmare scenario," observed Fida Nasrallah, "Lebanese Perceptions of the Palestinians in Lebanon: Case Studies," Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 10 No. 3, 1997.
[38] They could also be slowly naturalized over the years through the same kind of piecemeal deals that gave citizenship to thousands of Christian and wealthy Sunni Palestinians in the 1950s.
[39] Al-Hayat (London), 5 March 1998.
[40] See "Diplomatic trouble in Lebanon," Maclean's, 6 July 1998; "Lebanon to reject settlement accord," United Press International, 26 November 1999.
[41] In 1994-1995, per capita UNRWA expenditure was $405 in Gaza, but only $254 in Lebanon. See Rosemary Sayigh, "Palestinians in Lebanon: Harsh Present, Uncertain Future," Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. 25, No. 1, Autumn 1995.
[42] UNRWA's budget was slashed by 20% in 1998. See Ghada Hashem Talhami, Palestinian Refugees: Pawns to Political Actors (New York: Nova, 2003), p. 99.
[43] Rex Brynen, "Much Ado About Nothing? The Refugee Working Group and the Perils of Multilateral Quasi-negotiation," International Negotiations, Vol. 2, No. 2 (November 1997).
[44] The plot of land earmarked by Jumblatt was far larger than would be necessary to house 3,000 Palestinian families, leading many to suspect that more refugees would follow. See "Bid to Cool Tempers Precedes Cabinet Session on Controversial Palestinian Housing Plan," Mideast Mirror, 30 August 1994.
[45] Indeed, he threatened to shut down the Ministry of the Displaced if his plan wasn't approved. L'Orient Le-Jour (Beirut), 30 August 1994.
[46] Al-Safir (Beirut), 25 and 26 August 1994.
[47] Some even suggested that the housing initiative was intended by Jumblatt to retaliate against Christians for the refusal of Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir to visit the Shouf. Al-Nahar (Beirut), 26 August 1994.
[48] Al-Nahar (Beirut), 9 November 1999.
[49] Al-Hayat (London), 22 December 1999. French and US diplomats "advised Lebanese officials to cease their public statements on the resettlement of the refugees," according to Simon Haddad, "Sectarian Attitudes as a Function of the Palestinian Presence in Lebanon," Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 22 No. 3, Summer 2000.
[50] Peppered by journalists in Beirut about reports of Lebanon being offered debt relief to resettle refugees, she responded with the usual admonition that refugees are "a permanent status issue and one that will be discussed within that context." Standing next to Albright, Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss replied, "We cannot really accept saying that the matter will have to be relegated to the final status talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We think that Lebanon should be a party to any such talks." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's Joint Press Conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Hoss, U.S. Department of State, 4 September 1999.
[51] Al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), 22 September 1999; "France 'urges Lebanon to resettle Palestinian refugees'," Mideast Mirror, 22 September 1999.
[52] "Lebanon says France disagrees over fate of Palestinian refugees," Agence France Presse, 26 September 1999.
[53] Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), 10 November 1999.
[54] Al-Sharq al-Awsat (London), 31 December 2000.
[55] See "Hariri says no to Palestinian refugees settling in Lebanon," Agence France Presse, 28 January 2001.
[56] Unsubstantiated accusations that Hariri was conspiring to naturalize the Palestinians were frequently voiced in media outlets critical of the prime minister. For example, see Al-Diyar (Beirut), 28 October 1996.
[57] This understanding was largely tacit until Bush publicly affirmed it in April 2004. "It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel." Letter From President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, 14 April 2004.
[58] Taking the right of return completely off the table made repatriation even more problematic for the PA. A limited right of return naturally deselects those who really can't get over the loss of their land - the ones who would otherwise be most disgruntled and likely to cause trouble. Even those who choose compensation over applying for return would be less disgruntled because they had a choice. There has been some discussion of Israel allowing elderly refugees (who are too old to procreate and simply wish to die in their places of origin) to return, but this obviously wouldn't achieve the same effect.
[59] US Department of State, A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 30 April 2003.
[60] "Syria's Assad in Saudi to iron out differences over peace proposals," Agence France Presse, 5 March 2002.
[61] For example, Israeli Absorption Minister Yuli Tamir suggested in 200 that Israel would be willing to concede sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in exchange for "the renunciation by the Palestinians of the right of return of refugees to territory under Israeli sovereignty." See "Lebanon leaders look to resist settlement of Palestinians," Agence France Presse, 20 December 2000.
[62] The resolution was changed before the start of the summit to call for "a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194" (which stipulated in 1948 that the refugees be permitted to return). During the summit, an additional clause expressing "rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries." "Text of Arab peace initiative adopted at Beirut summit," Agence France Presse, 28 March 2002.
[63] Yediot Aharonot, 28 March 2007. "Proposal drawn up to solve Palestinian refugee problem: paper," Agence France Presse, 28 March 2007.
[64] "The challenge for the United States is to convince not only the Palestinian leadership but also the Arab world to accept the difficult fact that Palestinians will never return to Israel. The sooner an Arab leader says this publicly, the sooner there will be a peace deal . . . no Palestinian leader will make such a commitment unless there is buy-in from respected Arab leaders first." Glenn Kessler, " Fix This Middle Eastern Mess," The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2008. Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy for the Clinton administration, has argued that getting Arab states to publicly embrace compromise on the refugee issue would give Abbas "political cover" to make concessions.
[65] Dennis Ross, "A plan for calm, hope and reform in the Middle East," The Financial Times, 28 March 2007.
[66] Aluf Benn, "The Peace Process: Only Saudi Arabia can do it," Haaretz, 13 March 2007.
[67] "Olmert: 'Not one refugee can return'," The Jerusalem Post, 30 March 2007.
[68] Syria's state-run media even claimed that a "secret article" of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 called for naturalization of the refugees. Al-Thawra (Damascus), 7 March 2005; Reactions in Syria to Bashar Al-Assad's Announcement of Syria's Withdrawal from Lebanon, MEMRI, 15 March 2005.
[69] "The real objective of Resolution 1559 is to force Syria and Lebanon into taking part in the peace process (the so-called roadmap), renounce the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and resettle them elsewhere," wrote Saudi academic Yusif Makki in Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), cited in " Washington's pretence," Mideast Mirror, 17 September 2004.
[70] In October 2003, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the House International Relations Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee and lead sponsor of the Syria Accountability Act, introduced a bill calling on UNRWA to "establish a program for resettling Palestinian refugees." H.Con.Res. 311, 28 October 2003.
[71] Christopher Shays (R-CT), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Mark Kennedy (R-MN), Rush Holt (D-NJ) were co-sponsors of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, signed by President Bush in May 2004. Betty McCollum (D-MN) was the fifth member of the delegation.
[72] "US congressional delegation demands settling Palestinians in Lebanon, calls for Syrian withdrawal, accuses Hezbollah of terrorism," The Daily Star (Beirut), 14 August 2004; Al-Nahar (Beirut), 14 August 2004; Al-Safir (Beirut), 14 August 2004; Al-Mustaqbal (Beirut), 16 August 2004.
[73] There have been some reports of US initiatives in pro-Syrian media outlets. According to the daily Sada al-Balad, for example, US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman offered financial aid to Lebanon in return for resettling 100,000 refugees at a June 2005 luncheon attended by several prominent political figures. Sada al-Balad, 23 June 2005.
[74] "Lebanon's gross pubic debt rises 5.83 percent to $44.5 billion in first six months of 2008," The Daily Star (Beirut), 27 August 2008.
[75] Aoun's FPM has won a majority of the Christian vote in every national election it has ever contested, most recently an August 2007 parliamentary by-election in the conservative Christian district of Metn. However, because Syrian gerrymandering embedded most Christian voters in majority Muslim (particularly Sunni and Druze) districts, the FPM controls just under a third of Christian parliamentary seats.
[76] Naturalization "will prompt some Lebanese groups to call for the restructuring of the political system away from the centralized state to provide a counterweight to the demographic and political imbalance created by permanent settlement." See Farid El Khazen, "Permanent Settlement of Palestinians in Lebanon: A Recipe for Conflict," Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 10 No. 3, 1997; Journalist Issa Goraieb raised the prospect that some Christians would acquiesce in naturalization of the Palestinians "if it entailed autonomy for them." L'Orient Le-Jour (Beirut), 30 August 1994.
[77] Senior cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah warned of plans by the US to "impose Palestinian resettlement by promising economic prosperity for Lebanon" [Sada al-Balad (Beirut), 22 June 2006]. "The US Administration and its supporters are working on settling Palestinians in Lebanon," said Amal official Ghazi Zeaiter in April 2008 [Al-Manar TV (Beirut), 19 April 2008. Translation by BBC Monitoring].
[78] Al-Nahar (Beirut), 18 July 2006.
[79] Abou Jamra calls on Geagea to elicit official US statement on Palestinians,, 18 March 2008.
[80] In December 2007, when Aoun suggested that the next president be elected for a short interim term until new parliamentary elections are held, March 14 MP Boutros Harb warned that the proposal is "a mere phase in a scheme . . . to enforce the naturalization of Palestinians" (he did not explain how he came to this conclusion). "Harb Warns: Usurping Presidential Powers to Partition Lebanon and Naturalize Palestinians,", 17 December 2007.
[81] Aoun, for example, defends "their right to travel freely and earn a living." Al-Hayat (London), 13 September 2007.
[82] "Sfeir: President should come before 'other issues'," The Daily Star (Beirut), 17 December 2007.
[83] Lebanese perceptions that "these folks might be pushed upon them" were creating "insensitivities" in the country, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch noted in his congressional testimony. Hearing of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Commiittee, 12 March 2008.
[84] "Interior minister orders probe into Hariri leak," The Daily Star (Beirut), 23 January 2008.
[85] In March, the coalition issued a "political vision" statement that declared its "rejection of resettlement" and support for efforts to "secure a dignified life for the Palestinians residing in Lebanon, pending their return home." Lebanese National News Agency, 14 March 2008. Translation by BBC Monitoring. "No one in Lebanon wants resettlement. The issue of resettlement is expired," Hariri declared in an April press conference. Future Movement chief MP Saad Hariri in live press conference at Grand Serail,, 29 April 2008.
[86] "There will be no resettlement in Lebanon," Abbas declared flatly. Al-Arabiya TV (Dubai), 24 April 2008. In January 2008, PLO representative in Lebanon Abbas Zaki publicly apologized for the "burden" Palestinians have placed on Lebanon. "Thousands of non-ID Palestinians to receive legal status," The Daily Star (Beirut), 16 January 2008.
[87] After meeting with US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch in Washington in March 2008, Geagea told reporters that he had heard "clear and reassuring words" on the issue and proclaimed that "no party, especially the United States, has plans to resettle the Palestinians in Lebanon." National News Agency (Beirut), 12 March 2008. Translation by BBC Monitoring. During her visit to Washington in April 2008, Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed US rejection of Palestinian resettlement in Lebanon. "Mouawad refuses dialogue aimed at deactivation,", 1 May 2008.
[88] Hearing of the Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Commiittee, 12 March 2008.
[89] Welch was careful to state that his remarks applied to "Palestinians everywhere." "Welch: Palestinians in Lebanon, Everywhere Should Have Palestinian State," (Beirut), 18 April 2008.
[90] The coalition had already agreed to Gen. Michel Suleiman's candidacy in late 2007 (after opposing it for many months), but only as a means of avoiding the other two concessions.
[91] The electoral law breaks up large gerrymandered districts designed during the Syrian occupation to embed Christian voters in majority Muslim districts. Asked during a congressional hearing in July 2008 how the new electoral law would affect the coalition's electoral prospects next year, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (and former ambassador to Lebanon) Jeffrey Feltman replied optimistically, "My guess is that you're going to have a parliament that is roughly similar to what the parliament is today. You're going to have a deeply divided parliament." Hearing of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 29 July 2008.
[92] Excerpts from PM Fouad Siniora's speech in parliament,, 8 August 2008.
[93] "A solution that satisfied the political demands only of the nonrefugees in the West Bank and Gaza while appearing to ignore the moral, historical, and political demands of the refugees, would be inherently unstable. It would have questionable legitimacy, would undermine the new Palestinian state, and -- most alarming from an Israeli perspective -- would leave open the prospect that a sizeable number of Palestinians would decide to carry on the struggle." Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, "The Last Negotiation; How to End the Middle East Peace Process," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2002.
[94] In July 2008, liberal Israeli MK Yossi Beilin urged EU countries to publicly reveal how many refugees they were prepared to accept, but to no avail. "Beilin urges EU to commit to absorbing Palestinian refugees. EU spokesman calls idea 'premature'," The Jerusalem Post, 18 July 2008.
[95] "It is weird indeed that the illusion of tawtin is still attractive to a number of officials, whether in Israel or in countries that support Israel's position on the refugee issue." Al-Quds (Jerusalem), 29 August 2008. Translation by BBC Monitoring.
[96] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), 23 August 2008. Translation by BBC Monitoring.
[97] Orange Television (Beirut), 12 July 2008.
[98] "Swiss President Lauds Suleiman's Efforts to Build a Peaceful Lebanon," (Beirut), 4 October 2008; Al-Nahar, cited in "Swiss leader takes stock of Lebanon's dilemmas," The Daily Star (Beirut), 6 October 2008.
[99] "Abu al-Aynayan advises Couchepin to read history," The Daily Star (Beirut), 7 October 2008.
[100] Al-Manar TV (Beirut), 6 October 2008. Translation by BBC Monitoring.
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