A street celebration in Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, July 2015. (Image source: Geneva Call/Flickr)
The Lebanese are worried that a new law for the management of Palestinian refugee camps will pave the way for the "resettlement" of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon. The prospect of "resettling" Palestinians is a nightmare that has been haunting the Lebanese for decades.
Like most Arab countries, Lebanon has long treated Palestinians as second-class citizens. It has been depriving them of basic rights, including citizenship, employment, heath care, education, social services and property ownership. The vast majority of the 450,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon do not have Lebanese citizenship.
In 2001, the Lebanese Parliament passed a law prohibiting Palestinians from owning property, and Lebanese law also restricts their ability to work in as many as 20 professions. Lebanon continues to ignore calls by various human rights groups to the Lebanese authorities to end discrimination against Palestinians.
A 2007 report by Amnesty International noted:
"We urge the Lebanese to take immediate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against Palestinian refugees in order to enable them to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights on the same basis as the rest of the population of Lebanon. Continuing restrictions which deny Palestinian refugees access to their rights to work, education and adequate housing and health are wholly unjustified and should be lifted without further procrastination or delay."
Instead of improving the living conditions of the Palestinians, the Lebanese seem to be brainstorming on how to rid themselves of their unwelcome Arab brothers.
Some Lebanese are even concerned about a new law which, they believe, could pave the way for the "resettlement" of Palestinians in Lebanon. The reason for their concern: a report in a Lebanese newspaper about a new law to "administer" Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
The proposed law, drafted by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, aims to ease tensions between the two sides and improve the living conditions of Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon.
Article One of the law states that its goal is to "regulate the management of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon while preserving their Palestinian national identity and affirming the sovereignty of the Lebanese state as a host country in these camps."
The law will allow a Lebanese "national commission" to determine the geographic scope of each camp, conduct a comprehensive population survey of its residents and manage public services, including water, electricity, sanitation and infrastructure.
The law comes amid continued tensions between the Lebanese authorities and Palestinians, particularly in the aftermath of armed clashes between rival Palestinian factions in Lebanon's 12 refugee camps. The Lebanese security forces do not operate inside the camps, which have long been the scene of armed clashes between Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Fatah and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists.
Last month, the Palestinians reached an agreement with the Lebanese authorities to "demilitarize" the Mieh Mieh refugee camp in southern Lebanon, which was the scene of armed clashes between rival Palestinian groups in the past two years. The agreement allows the Lebanese army to operate inside the camp, home to some 5,000 Palestinians.
Yet not all Lebanese seem to be satisfied with the way their government is handling the issue of the Palestinians in Lebanon. The Lebanese fear that the new law to manage the Palestinian refugee camp is nothing but a disguise to "resettle" the Palestinians in Lebanon, thus tampering with the country's demographics.
Lebanon's Maronite League, a private and apolitical organization of Lebanese Christian notables dedicated mainly to defending the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon, expressed concern that the Lebanese authorities were about to replace the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in managing the affairs of the Palestinians.
Evidently concerned that the proposed law would result in the "resettlement" of Palestinians in Lebanon, the Maronite League said that it "coincides with the talk about [US President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-announced] Deal of the Century, which seeks to deprive the Palestinians of their right to return" to their former homes inside Israel.
In an attempt to refute the charges of "resettlement," the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, which initiated the controversial law, denied any connection to Trump's peace plan.
"The Lebanese and Palestinians are unanimous in rejecting the resettlement [of Palestinians] and confronting the Deal of the Century," the committee said in a statement. "Any discussion that is based on facts rather than assumptions and fragile scenarios, is a sound and welcome debate."
The new law may be a sincere attempt to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon. However, each time a plan is presented to improve the living conditions of Palestinians, whether in any Arab country or the West Bank and Gaza Strip, conspiracy theorists immediately do their best to derail these efforts.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has called on Palestinians and Arabs to boycott the US-led economic conference scheduled to take place in Bahrain later this month. The planned conference, as part of the Deal of the Century, is aimed at achieving economic prosperity for the Palestinians.
Palestinian leaders, however, claim that the Bahrain economic workshop is part of an American-Israeli conspiracy to bribe the Palestinians into surrendering their "national rights".
The Arab states, for their part, hardly seem to care about the Palestinians. Otherwise, they would not have kept them in squalor in refugee camps, decade after decade. Lebanon says it fully supports the Palestinians in their fight against Israel -- but would like to see them leave the country as soon as possible. Here is the message Lebanon and other Arab countries are sending to the Palestinians: "We love you and we support you -- and stay far, far away from us."
This is the modern-day version of Arab "solidarity" with their Palestinian brothers: discrimination and apartheid -- no jobs, no citizenship, no health care and no social services.
Nor do Palestinian leaders give a damn about the welfare of their people. If they did, it would be hard to justify their impressive efforts to foil an economic conference whose main goal is to lift their people out of the economic hell these very leaders created and vigorously maintain.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.