Hamas and Islamic Jihad are trying hard to recruit young Lebanese Palestinians. But militant Islamist youth are not a major force in Palestinian camps. Rather, there are small groups in specific camps. Those who are involved are motivated by repeated broken promises to uphold their human rights. Palestinian refugees are not inherently anti-establishment. Palestinian communities in Lebanon and Syria do not want to be political pawns, used by either the regime or the opposition. They have learned from the heavy price they paid when Yasser Arafat supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were ejected from Kuwait and other Gulf states.
Lebanese Islamist groups do not recruit Palestinians: they persuade Palestinian Islamists to join Hamas or Islamic Jihad. They do not want to be seen to be exploiting Palestinians for their own battles. And Palestinians have had minimal assistance from these groups. Common interests such as resistance to Israel and Palestinian prisoners are more Palestinian than Lebanese concerns.
There are some elements among the refugees who have joined Islamist groups and share their political ambitions. But they are comparatively rare and have little influence to create a broader climate of extremism. In fact, at least until now, Palestinians in Lebanon in general neither advocated religious extremism nor overtly took sides in Lebanese internal affairs. Most adopt a neutral stance, concentrating on efforts to reconcile all Palestinian factions in order to adopt a common strategy of struggle.
Interview by Alexander Ramsbotham