‘How can Palestinians live?’: Lebanon’s refugees reject US peace plan

Palestinians in Lebanon (AP)

Lizzie Porter

The National  /  January 29, 2020

US President Donald Trump’s plan offers hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees repatriation, rehoming or assimilation, yet many are unhappy with the options.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have rejected US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plans outlining their repatriation, rehoming or assimilation, saying that they do not accept any of the options.

There has been widespread rejection among Palestinians for US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which was announced on Tuesday and seeks to end the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

The deal offers Palestinians a sovereign state with a capital in parts of occupied East Jerusalem if they meet a range of conditions. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, who fled when Israel was created in 1948 and during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, were offered three options: “absorption” into the new Palestine, integration into the countries they fled to, such as Lebanon or Syria, or resettlement in consenting countries from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which could be as far away as Morocco and Indonesia. The feasibility of all three options remains unclear.

It also makes it clear that there will be no right of return to Israel, parts of which many Palestinians still consider their own.

Lebanon is home to 180,000 Palestinians, who are barred from most white-collar jobs and from owning property. Around half of them live in shanty-town-like refugee camps, where armed Palestinian factions are responsible for security, and gunfights often break out over disputes.

Poverty, unemployment and overcrowding are rife, and the refugees don’t want to give up their right of return to Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The deal places the blame for the poor living conditions on Lebanon, encouraging the country and other host states to do more to assimilate Palestinian refugees. “In Lebanon, Palestinians have been discriminated against and prevented from entering the labour market for decades, even those born in Lebanon,” it says.

Ahmad Achkar, resident of the Ein El Hilweh Palestinian camp near Sidon, in the south of Lebanon, one of the most overcrowded and impoverished, said that is was not possible for his fellow refugees to give up their right of return.

“Maybe Palestinians would accept going to live in another Arab country, and marrying there,” Mr Achkar, 30, a mobile phone shop manager, said. “But we wouldn’t give up our right of return to Palestine – it’s our right.”

Mr Achkar believes the Lebanese authorities would never agree to full integration, either.

Some Lebanese people see Palestinians as having a role in the sparking of a civil war between 1975 and 1990, and the almost-exclusively Sunni community as a threat to the country’s delicate sectarian balance.

The US said it hopes to work with countries hosting Palestinians to fine-tune the integration, but Palestinians said they aren’t convinced that the plans would work.

Ali Baraka, a Beirut-based member of Hamas’ Arab and Islamic relations committee, said that with Lebanon currently experiencing economic and political difficulties, including over three months of anti-government protests, he does not believe the country can accommodate offering more rights to Palestinians.

“The Lebanese don’t want us to naturalise here, and neither do we,” he said. “The Lebanese state can’t provide for its own people and it won’t accept Palestinians.”

He vowed that Hamas was ready to carry out marches to the border between Israel and Lebanon to reject the peace plan’s position on the right of return.

“We will do this even if it causes martyrs and bloodshed; we will fight for our land and won’t give in,” he said.

Anis Mohsen, a Palestinian journalist living in Beirut, also rejected the idea of absorption into a Palestinian state. He compared its skeleton-like outline proposed in Mr Trump’s plan to the mesh of a sieve used to separate wheat from chaff.

“It’s in pieces,” he said. “What Palestinians have now is only urban places, not fertile land and water resources — that’s all with the Israelis. How can Palestinians live?”

Lizzie Porter regularly contributes to the National