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Friday, September 09, 2011

Would statehood help Lebanese Palestinians? Nah.

An interesting article in Now Lebanon:
On September 20, representatives from across the world will decide in the UN General Assembly whether or not to upgrade the legal status of Palestine from “nonvoting observer entity” to “nonvoting observer state.”

While the difference between “entity” and “state” may seem superfluous, such a change, if it happens, could not only have important implications for Israel and the Palestinians, but also for Lebanon.

By some estimates, nearly one in 10 people living in Lebanon can be classified as a Palestinian refugee. But unfortunately for Palestinians here, there is no legal definition accorded to them under Lebanese law. Rather, the 300,000 or so people of Palestinian decent in Lebanon live in legal limbo.

Palestinians living in Lebanon have been accorded a status equivalent to “foreigner.” The country’s so-called “reciprocity law” means that any rights enjoyed by a foreign claimant in Lebanon are conditional on a Lebanese person enjoying the same rights in that person’s home country. Since the Palestinians do not have a country, this leaves them at a severe disadvantage in Lebanon.
So if Palestine is recognized as even a non-voting UN state by the General Assembly, then Lebanon would be powerless to discriminate against Palestinian Arabs based on their not having a country, right?

Of course not! The discrimination will keep on happening, and no one - not the PLO, not Mahmoud Abbas, not the Paleestinian Arab "leaders" in Lebanon, not the Arab Springers, no one - will do anything to stop it. Even this writer says so:
Although Lebanon recognizes Palestine as a state, the reciprocity law has historically been used to discriminate against Palestinians here. They are limited in their ability to obtain employment and to own property, and the vast majority is consigned to life in one of the 12 refugee camps in the country.

The greatest factor leading to the continued discrimination of Palestinians is the fear held by many Lebanese that with greater rights, Palestinians’ incentive to return home will be diminished and that they may eventually be naturalized, something that would shake up the sectarian balance of the country, as most Palestinians here are Sunni Muslim. This is coupled with the fear that if they were allowed to work in Lebanon, Palestinians could take jobs away from Lebanese.

It is unclear exactly how [UDI] will impact this country. With respect to employment, the number of professions barred to Palestinians in Lebanon has already shrunk from 70 before 2005 to around 20 today. These remain in “professional” domains, such as medicine and engineering. While competition from educated Palestinians could potentially cause tensions within a market already low on employment opportunities, for this to have a significant effect on the Lebanese labor force there would have to be high numbers of educated and qualified Palestinians in a position to compete with Lebanese applicants – and although there are no reliable statistics in this domain, reports by the Committee for Employment of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon suggest this to be an unlikely scenario.

The issue of property laws is similar. It is unclear what the position of the Lebanese government will be should the Palestinians be granted nonvoting observer state status, but in order for the implications to be felt by ordinary Lebanese, Palestinians would need enough money to move out of the camps and begin buying up Lebanese property, something most would not be able to do.
As this article makes clear, the reciprocity law is not the reason Palestinians are discriminated against in Lebanon - it is the excuse to justify legal discrimination against them. And Lebanon already recognizes "Palestine" today, so the law should already be irrelevant - and yet it is still used for the express purpose of keeping Palestinian Arabs as second-class citizens.

 So on this count, a UN-sanctioned Palestinian Arab state will change nothing for the Lebanese Palestinians who are already suffering from 63 years of crushing apartheid by their Lebanese hosts.