Refugees in Lebanon: Between the Plotting of UNRWA and the Neglect of the PLO

By Ahmed Al-Hilah

In my last article, titled “The expulsion of Palestinians from Lebanon: A systematic policy”, published on 13 January, I noted that the reduction in UNRWA’s educational and health services in Lebanon is an implementation of an unannounced systematic policy in the UN. This policy is encouraged by the friends of Israel, starting with the US, and it aims to push Palestinians to emigrate far away from Palestine. This would serve the Israeli occupation’s cause and eliminate the right of return stipulated by UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948.

On the other hand, we must also ponder the role of the PLO, given the fact that it is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Where are its leaders and central institutions with regards to what is happening to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon (I hope the Palestinians in Syria forgive us, as the disastrous conditions they are suffering are a source of shame for all international organisations and the PLO)?

We notice that the PLO, in its capacity as a higher authority, is absent in the case of the refugees in Lebanon. Wasn’t the Executive Committee formed for this purpose? However, we have not heard about it making any political movements or any contact between President Mahmoud Abbas and the UN, donor countries, or the Arab League in order to overcome the alleged financial crisis and protect the refugees from the threat of the eradication of their rights.

If Abbas, in his capacity as PLO chairman and one of the Oslo Accords’ engineers, does not believe the refugees’ return is a possible and feasible option based on his known convictions and political positions on this topic, based on the Oslo Accords and the Arab Peace Initiative (Beirut 2002) which made the right of return a hostage to negotiations and the Israeli occupation’s approval, then he – along with the PLO leadership – should assume their national and moral responsibilities towards the Palestinian people who gave him legitimacy and made them “leaders”.

It is no longer acceptable for these individuals to claim leadership and legitimacy while they neglect the suffering of their people and do not take responsibility for managing the affairs of the Palestinian people, especially the refugees. The PLO, as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, has become reduced under the PA, which is only able to exercise its “administrative” authority over limited parts of the West Bank.

It was a bad decision on the PLO’s part when it decided to interfere in the crisis of UNRWA reducing its services; the Secretary-General of the Popular Palestinian Committees Abu Iyad Al-Shalan stopped all the popular protests objecting to the UNRWA’s policies. It is as if the PLO, under Abbas’s leadership, has accepted and wants these unfair measures to be passed which would damage the future of Palestinians in Lebanon.

What is ironic about the Palestinian actions is that at a time when the PLO leadership is trying to reign in the popular movement in Lebanon, Palestinian factions and forces expressed their objection to UNRWA’s measures and participated in continuous protests in Lebanon, after sensing the sensitivity and danger of the situation.

It has become clear today that the PLO’s main concern is to protect itself and those close to it who doubt the practicality of the right of return. This is in order to ensure that the aid from donor countries continues to flow into the hands of the Palestinian Authority’s institutions in occupied Ramallah. This is at the expense of the majority of Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, as the PLO neglects the political and humanitarian rights and demands of the Palestinian people out of fear of the Western donors’ anger, as they have always threatened to stop aid if Abbas does not adhere to their political demands. Today, we see that eliminating the right of return is one of their integral demands.

It is no longer enough to criminalise the resistance, recognise the Israeli occupation and remain silent in the face of the Israeli violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Now, the elimination of the right of return is a serious political demand in light of the decline and weakened role of the PLO. The reduction of UNRWA’s services is only the beginning that may potentially lead to UNRWA stopping all of the work it supervises in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. I also do not rule out the idea of the Arab countries being involved in managing the affairs of Palestinian refugees rather than the UN in exchange for financial aid and to cross off some of the debts they owe.

What is even more dangerous is the attempt to circumvent UN General Assembly resolution 194 and nullify it by shutting down UNRWA and handing over the reins of the Palestinian refugees to the UNHCR. At that point, the Palestinian refugees would lose the “privilege” of returning to their land in accordance with resolution 194. In this case, the refugees’ legal situation would later become the same as any refugee in the world, whose problem ends once they are nationalised by any country granting them stability.

The continued decline of the PLO politically by its willingness to concede the right of return and practically by neglecting the management of the affairs of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as well as other countries, all confirm the illegitimacy and lack of qualification of these authorities and leaderships to lead the Palestinian people.

If this is the state of the PLO, then where is Hamas in all of this, and what is its role in what is occurring to the Palestinians in Lebanon? (I will address this in my next article).

(Translated from Al-Khaleej Online by MEMO on January 17, 2016.)

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