The Palestinian question has weighed heavily in Lebanon, before, during and after the war. Sari Hanafi explores the contemporary status of Palestinians in Lebanon – legally and socio-economically. He focuses on governance within Palestinian camps and relations with broader Lebanese politics, arguing that a more constructive approach to governance and rights for Palestinians would in fact reinforce Lebanese sovereignty and security.
Recent uprisings in Syria have resulted in new flows of Syrian refugees across the Lebanese-Syrian border, and these new regional developments have threatened the uneasy truce between PLO and pro-Syrian factions.
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Status, governance and security
Palestinians in Lebanon have been ‘protracted’ refugees for over 60 years. They are often deprived of their socio-economic and civil rights, such as the right to work or practice professions, run businesses and own property. The majority are confined to camps or segregated settlements where they are partially dependent on humanitarian assistance and often live in poverty.
Legal and institutional discrimination
Palestinians have been discriminated against by the Lebanese state for decades, and there are few signs that this will improve. To take one example, a new law approved by the Lebanese parliament in 2010 to facilitate the employment of Palestinian refugees, in fact further institutionalised discrimination by prohibiting Palestinians from more than 30 ‘liberal’ professions – including medicine, law and engineering.
Governance in camps
Governance of the camps has also provided sources of tension – between Lebanese and Palestinians, but also among Palestinians themselves. The 1969 Cairo Agreement between Lebanon and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) facilitated the PLO presence in Lebanon. This provided the framework for the establishment of Palestinian popular committees to promote governance within the Palestinian camps. This was to take place under the umbrella of the PLO, which was at that time the federative structure of all Palestinian political parties, armed groups and social institutions in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Before this, camps in Lebanon had been managed according to the state of emergency policy.
Post-2005, what impact might the divergent attitudes of the 8 and 14 March coalitions have on the future of the Palestinians, such as their right to work or own property? While 14 March parties from all denominations oppose granting Palestinians the right to work and own property, resentment against Palestinians is also felt among Christian and Shia constituencies of 8 March parties who are likely to keep using the Palestinian issue for populist ends.