The Syrian authorities seem to be convinced that Palestinians played an active role in instigating anti-government demonstrations in a number of cities in the past few weeks.
Buthaina Shaaban, an advisor to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, surprised many reporters last week when she announced that Palestinian refugees living in her country took part in attacks on government installations in the cities of Deraa and Latakia.
In Syria there are approximately 700,000 Palestinians, most of whom live in a number of refugee camps near the capital Damascus and other cities. But Syria also plays host to several radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.
Palestinians fear that the latest charges against them are aimed at paving the way for their deportation from Syria, the same way many Gulf countries expelled tens of thousands of Palestinian families after the liberation of Kuwait by US-led coalition forces in the early 1990s.
Some Palestinians said that the Syrian government has already asked the radical Palestinian groups to leave the country. If these groups are thrown out of Syria, they will most probably move to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
And what about the rest of the Palestinians living in Syria? Where are they supposed to go?
It would take a miracle to find one Arab country that would agree to host them. Most of the Palestinians could end up stranded in makeshift refugee camps along the borders of a number of Arab countries. This is what happened to Palestinians living in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.
It is no secret that most of the Arab regimes hold the Palestinians in contempt and accuse them of being ungrateful, especially after the PLO and many Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait – one of many Arab countries that used to give the PLO millions of dollars every year.
But the Syrian regime has always been the most hostile toward the Palestinians. During the Lebanon Civil War in the 1970s and '80s, Syrian troops based in Lebanon massacred thousands of Palestinians, at times shelling refugee camps with heavy artillery.
The Syrians then also played a major role in instigating a mutiny against PLO leader Yasser Arafat and assassinating top Palestinian officials. In the mid-'80s, Syria was the first country in the world to declare Arafat persona non grata, ordering him to leave the country within 48 hours. Many Palestinians back then saw Arafat's expulsion as a humiliation to all Palestinians.
Bashar's father, Hafez Assad, invited all radical Palestinian groups to set up their headquarters in Damascus with the declared goal of undermining moderate Arabs who support peace with Israel. The Syrian authorities have sometimes used these Palestinian groups to launch terror attacks that serve Damascus's interests.
The Syrians are believed to be holding hundreds of Palestinians in various prisons. Many Palestinians who entered Syria over the past three decades have gone missing and are believed to have been executed or tortured to death. Earlier this year, a Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip who traveled to Syria joined the list of those who have gone missing in the country.
In 2005, the Syrian authorities tried to blame Palestinians for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in an unsuccessful attempt to divert attention from their involvement in the murder.
The Palestinians know that they can rely on the French and Swedish governments more than any Arab regime. The Palestinians need to understand that their dependence on, or affiliation with, Arab tyrants would only cause them more damage. It is time the Palestinians know how to choose their friends.