Lebanese Christian leader rejects decision on jobs for Palestinians

Aya Iskandarani

The National  /  December 9, 2021

Gebran Bassil calls for opposition to decree opening high-paying professions to Palestinians and other non-citizens.

The leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian party is urging Lebanese to disregard a government decision on Thursday to allow Palestinians to take jobs previously reserved for citizens.

Gebran Bassil also called on unions to take the decision to court, accusing Palestinians of stealing Lebanese jobs.

The labour ministry on Wednesday published a decree that allows Palestinians born in Lebanon to work in professions such as engineering, medicine and law, formerly reserved for Lebanese.

Palestinians and Syrians living in Lebanon have long been relegated by law to low-paying blue-collar jobs. The legal minimum wage applies only to citizens.

“This is a disguised attempt to naturalize Palestinians. We reject it,” Mr Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, said in a tweet.

“This will not pass! And we will not allow the Lebanese people to be stripped of their jobs in such circumstances!” he said, referring to the country’s economic crisis.

His comments highlight the opposition to Palestinian refugees’ rights and naturalization among Lebanon’s sectarian parties despite apparent support for their cause.

Mr Bassil is the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and is allied to the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which says it strives for the liberation of Palestine.

Mr Bassil, a politician sanctioned by the US for corruption, has gained support in his community, in part for promoting what he calls “Christian rights”.

Lebanon has a sizeable Christian minority and a Muslim majority, with sect-based political parties sharing power according to quotas.

In 2017, the country was home to 174,000 Palestinians, according to a census by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, an inter-ministerial body headed by the prime minister’s office. Their families fled there in waves after the creation of Israel in 1948 and have been unable to return.

Lebanese professional associations and orders can choose whether or not to amend their rules to allow Palestinians to work, although parliament could pass a law to enforce the decree.

Aya Iskandarani – correspondent in Beirut