Palestinian refugees are scattered throughout many counties. Although their social, political and economic situations differ according to where they reside, a long history of oppression and injustice has always overshadowed the 50 years of expulsion and dispossession. While Lebanon is only one country of many where a large number of Palestinian refugees reside, the political environment, engulfed by a recent history of intolerance, has brought further hardships to their already difficult refugees status.
Lebanon is certainly a special case, where social dysfunction is endemic as a result of its history, posing a significant challenge to the half million Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps located predominantly in the south of the country. The Palestinian presence within Lebanon however, has increased the already existing animosity between various religious sects.
In recent months, the Lebanese government has come down with an iron fist on Palestinian refugee camps. Although the official Lebanese account explained the newly imposed measures as a necessary action to strengthen Lebanon's national interest, it can hardly be denied that the nature of the Lebanese conduct is inseparable from the foreseen outcome of the ongoing final status negotiations.
It is unquestionable that both Palestinians and Lebanese reject permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Yet it seems as if both have entirely different logic behind that refusal. Palestinian refugees see their return to Palestine in terms of a right of which they were stripped over five decades ago. The Lebanese government, and many Lebanese groups, see the Palestinian return to Palestine (or departure to anywhere else) as essential for the Lebanese social structure to maintain a fixed status.
Lebanese Christians fear that settling Palestinians (which means granted them Lebanese citizenship) will hurt their chances of maintaining political domination. Lebanese Shia are themselves worried that incorporating the Palestinian refugees (mostly Sunni) will harm them in similar ways, as it will increase the Sunni's political representation and influence.
Both the Lebanese government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have been engaged in a heated media battle. The Lebanese government, which accuses the PNA of abandoning the Palestinian refugees, has considered the possibility of prohibiting armed Palestinian resistance. Lebanese Prime Minister al-Hus vowed earlier this month to prevent the resumption of a Palestinian military struggle which, as he described, could be used as an Israeli excuse to continue its war of propaganda against Lebanon. Al-Hus' pledge followed a declaration made by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, stating that it had launched several military attacks against Israel from Lebanese territories. Even though news spoke of friendly talks between al-Jihad and the Lebanese government to find a way out of the quarrel, the dispute is not anticipated to end there.
The Lebanese government is striving to prove that its stand on the issue of Palestinian refugees is solid and indisputable. Yet the approach, which the Lebanese government is using to demonstrate that firmness, is in fact causing further hardships for the impoverished and ill-treated Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
A great sense of betrayal has struck the refugee camps these days. First the betrayal of the Palestinian leadership, manifested in Arafat and the PNA who are accused by many refugees of compromising on their right of return. Second, a greater sense of betrayal and abandonment by Arab governments, manifested in the Lebanese government, which has turned its back on the ceaseless suffering of the refugees caused by the harshness of their host, and of course, by Israel.
It is important therefore that the PNA not compromise refugee rights or trade them off with a cheap Israeli concession. The Lebanese government on the other hand, is morally obliged to support the cause of the refugees, who courageously fought in defense of Lebanon during repeated Israeli aggressions. While the Lebanese backing of Palestinian rights is vital, it is equally important for the Lebanese government to treat those misfortunate souls with a bit of dignity until their misery is resolved, or perhaps carried to another destination.