Palestinian refugees Lebanon 311.
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
On the face of it, the Palestinian refugee problem is one of the most
intractable of the core issues that will have to be resolved if there is ever to
be a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
By the UN’s count, there
are no fewer than 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees” scattered throughout the
region. How does the UN reach that astronomical figure? Because it designates as
“refugees” not only those Palestinians who themselves fled or were driven from
their homes during the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six Day War, but
all their descendants too. In so doing, it fosters both the practical refugee
problem, and a psychological refugee culture, from generation to
The Palestinian leadership, though it has sometimes
informally intimated a willingness to compromise, has always formally
that all those millions of “refugees” should be granted a “right of
return” – to
Israel. Since Israel’s population is only seven and a half million
three-quarters of whom are Jewish, any such influx would represent
suicide for the Jewish state. A peace treaty that granted the “right of
would not only involve the establishment of the new state of Palestine,
would turn the Jewish state of Israel into Palestine as
Unsurprisingly, therefore, while some prime ministers have
contemplated a limited influx of Palestinians into sovereign Israel for
reunification” purposes, no Israel government, of any political hue, has
entertained the notion of accepting any such “right of return,” and nor
government do so in the future. Hence the apparent deadlock.
however, the refugee problem can be one of the most easily resolved of
final-status issues, provided, that is, that the Palestinian leadership,
states and the rest of the international community genuinely seek to
Ironically, the government of Lebanon, where “refugees” have suffered
some of the most appalling treatment, this week reluctantly demonstrated
The more than 400,000 Palestinian “refugees” of Lebanon are
forbidden from owning property. Their travel is drastically restricted.
professions are closed to them. Denied social welfare, they subsist in
overcrowded refugee camps in festering poverty. This situation has been
tolerated – in fact, encouraged – to deliberately foment their grievance
Israel, to ensure no let-up in the pressure for that unrealizable
what should be the enduring shame of the international community –
international human rights activists – the Lebanese and the rest of the
leadership have been allowed to maintain this cynical exploitation of
of thousands of people for decades.
Amid the internal tensions of
Lebanon, however, and given the proven capacity for despair within the
explode into widespread violence, Beirut decided this week that it would
ease, if only a little, the pressure-cooker discrimination.
And so it
voted on Tuesday to partially lift some of the most stringent
employment: From now on, the Palestinian “refugees” of Lebanon are
work in the same professions as “other foreigners.”
In practice, this
will likely mean merely that some of the work the “refugees” have been
illegally will now be legal, while opening up few new opportunities.
professions are off limits to all foreigners. And even some of those
– such as law, medicine and engineering – require the employees to be
a professional association, and those associations demand reciprocal
from the foreigners’ home country – which the Palestinian “refugees,” of
do not have.
AND YET, whatever the practical consequence, and whatever
the motivation, the Lebanese move still represents a step in the right
direction. The further steps that need to be taken, in Lebanon, Syria,
and elsewhere, are those that ultimately acknowledge in law the reality
long since concretized on the ground: Despite the best efforts of those
sought its destruction from birth, the state of Israel is not going
And precisely as it has fully integrated those hundreds of thousands of
refugees from the Middle East and North Africa who were no longer able
in their countries of birth after the revival of our sovereign state, so
must the neighboring Arab states fully integrate the genuine refugees
generations of descendants who were dislocated by that historic
By definition, the establishment of “Palestine” would provide a
sovereign identity for the “refugees” who live in Gaza and the West
the international community, with Israel’s support, has already made
willingness to provide financial assistance for all Palestinian
ease the transition from the disadvantaged circumstances to which their
leaderships have cynically reduced them.
Reluctantly, because of domestic
concerns, Lebanon this week made a tiny move toward integrating an
of its populace. However inadvertently, it highlighted a potential route
progress. The original misfortune of Palestinian refugees has been
by cynical Arab leaders, and a scandalously indifferent international
for far too long.