By Hiyam Noir and Fadwa Nassar
The acting PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas visit to Lebanon this week was arranged to discuss the Lebanese recognition of a Palestinian statehood, which was successfully completed by the transfer of status from the Representative office of the PA in Lebanon, to the Embassy of Palestine. Preparations were conducted to coordinate efforts of the diplomatic battle initiated by the Palestinian Authority, for the UN recognition of the State of Palestine, since Lebanon is currently a member of the Security Council.
The PA chairman and accompanying delegation, also met during this visit with several Lebanese figures, including the Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati with whom Mr. Mahmoud Abbas also inaugurated the official opening of the Embassy of Palestine.
This official Palestinian visit to Lebanon raised important questions about the status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Firstly, Palestinian refugees are not citizens of a Palestinian state which at the present only include the West Bank, the eastern part of Al-Quds and the Gaza Strip. While a greater part of Palestinian refugees are inhabitating the cities, the towns and villages of the occupied 48 – Palestine. Will these Palestinians keep their status of refugees, pending their return to Palestine - as required by law and human rights first, then the international Resolution 194, which calls for the return of refugees and the compensation for their confiscated property?
These issues are extremely important especially since several months ago a battle have raged around the role of UNRWA, which is the UN body, specially established to aid improvement to Palestinian refugees in the areas of housing, education and work, pending their return to their home. But without addressing the issue of UNRWA in this essay, thus it is necessary to not avoid what is coming into prominence in a time of confidence crisis between the parties involved.
We are troubled to the breaking point by the fact that the well-established framework of UNRWA will decrease its service to Gaza. UNRWA has for many years had one purpose in common: to provide education, food, housing and employment to Gaza. UNRWA to 90 % funded by contributions from UN member states are aiding some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. However, in Lebanese camps the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees are deplorable, often cited in reports as locations of grievous mistreatment The UN Agency have launched a new watchdog organization in Gaza, "UNRWA- Watch " to monitor the performance of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees
But Abbas, has never visited Palestinian refuge camps. While stating refusal to permanent settlement of refugees in host countries, including Lebanon, he restated his rejection of the right to the means of weaponry in Palestinian camps in Lebanon, ahead of his scheduled visit to seek support for the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition – Abbas said to the Lebanese authorities that –“we will hand over weapons anytime you wish ” – In short demilitarize Palestinian refugee camps, thus the Palestinians deny that most organizations, including Fatah does not have access to weaponry.
Mahmoud Abbas statements were granting concessions to his Lebanese interlocutors regarding the matter of permanent settlement of refugees; the Lebanese reject the greater number, not in a form of patriotism, but to preserve a confessional balance which remains the foundation of the Lebanese state.
Maintaining the status of refugees and the right of return
In the Palestinian camp, questions arise about the deeper meaning of the visit to Lebanon, and by extension, that of the proclamation of a Palestinian state in the United Nations Security Council next month.
For his part, the official representative of Islamic Jihad in Lebanon, Abu Hajj 'Imad Rifa'i, expressed the Palestinian refugees feeling of agitation and anxiety concerning the impending UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Beyond the important issue of the right to carry arms, while welcoming the change of status of representation to the PLO, as part of the diplomatic battle led by the Palestinian Authority - "we believe that any achievement is acquired by our people against the Zionist enemy, and furthermore we are facing the U.S. administrations warning against a final installation project Tawtîn, aimed at hindering and liquidating the cause of the Palestinian refugees.
We therefore call to distinguish between the issue of Palestinian refugees and the role of the Palestinian embassy in Lebanon. The connection to the Palestinian embassy in Lebanon and the Palestinian refugees seriously threatens our cause, which is the heart of the Palestinian question. A telling example: The proposals raised by some, of providing passports to refugees. These passports would be issued by the office of the Palestinian consul in Beirut, which in reality mean the liquidation of the refugee cause and a steep step towards the removal of the Palestinian right of return, and the deprivation of the right to claim it back.
Hajj Abu Imad stressed that the issue of passports has no serious consequences because it means changing the legal status of Palestinian refugees, they were expelled from their land occupied in 1948 and recognized worldwide as what they become, subjects resident of other countries. The cancellation of refugee status means the dismantling of UNRWA, with serious consequences involved.
The greatest and most significant problem is the discharged of the international community from its responsibility to the suffering, caused by the erection of the Zionist entity for more than sixty years ago, still depraving the Palestinian refugees' right to claim back their land and their homes, as they have become subjects of an entity which area is a limited part of the historic Palestine, recognized as a State of the Zionist enemy on Palestinian land. "
The representative of the Islamic Jihad, Hajj Abu Imad stated that:” One must distinguish between raising the level of diplomatic representation, and the issue of the Palestinian refugees. We emphasize that the responsibility for the cause of the Palestinian refugees, is entirely up to the international community, primarily responsible for the suffering of refugees, the international community is represented by UNRWA. Do not make any transformations in the direction by discharging the international community of its responsibility, or make changes in the legal status of refugees waiting to return to their land. "
Hajj Abu Imad added: "We in Islamic Jihad movement believe in the inclusion of a reference representing the unified Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, to put forth reasons against the “final installation project” which is instigated to liquidate the right of return. And we are assuming that the resolutions of all problems is, to protect the cause of Palestinian refugees, to work out a correct solution of our daily life suffering caused by our economic problems .
This statement by Abu Hajj 'Imad Rifa'I, the representative of Islamic Jihad in Lebanon, on the occasion of the visit to Lebanon by Mahmoud Abbas and his delegation, was indeed welcomed by all Palestinian organizations which continue to demand the right of refugees to return to their home.
Rallies for the return of Palestine refugees were held the 15th of May and 6th of June, in Maroun el-Ras, located at the border with occupied Palestine, and the Golan, vis a vis’ the area occupied by the Zionists, also displaying courage in the determination of refugees to fight and sacrifice themselves for the return. It is through their mobilization and structure of their motion, the Palestinian refugees will prevent the execution of such conspiracies being hatched, between the Arab capitalist and its Palestinian associates.
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