Palestinian Forces in Lebanon
“Residents of eastern Lebanon encouraged by the recent Syrian troop pullout from the country are calling for an end to the presence of Damascus-backed Palestinian military positions in the area… [R]esidents have been criticizing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) of Ahmad Jibril.
“Residents of eastern Lebanon encouraged by the recent Syrian troop pullout from the country are calling for an end to the presence of Damascus-backed Palestinian military positions in the area… [R]esidents have been criticizing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) of Ahmad Jibril. The Damascus-based radical group has maintained military positions in the eastern Bekaa Valley for the last 23 years.” [Agence France Presse, 2 May 2005]
Noting that Palestinians have armies inside the camps in southern Lebanon, the article went on to say that PFLP-GC also has “important military positions” outside the camps. The local residents want them disarmed under the terms of UN Resolution 1559 which calls for the withdrawal of all “foreign forces” and the disarming of all militias.
This raises a question. Are the Palestinians “foreign forces”? If so, to where should they withdraw? If not, what are they? They surely are not a Lebanese “militia” to be disarmed. Just asking the question, never mind answering it, reveals that this is not just a story about the future of Lebanon, but about of the future of Israel.
UNRWA holding pens have operated on Lebanese soil since 1949, and the inmates, many of them “lifers,” have not been permitted to settle – or even to work – on the outside. Successive Lebanese governments have refused clemency and insist that all 450,000+ Palestinians will physically leave Lebanese soil under any Israeli-Arab deal. But the Israeli and the U.S. governments reject any so-called “right of return” that would send these people to places in Israel from which they or their ancestors claim to originate. And the PA and other Palestinians reject the idea that they should relocate inside the presumptive State of Palestine. So, for the time being, Lebanon “permits” UNRWA to guard their prison and the UN (chiefly the U.S.) to pay the bill.
Admit it – you haven’t thought about a Palestinian army in Lebanon since the Israel expelled Arafat in 1982. And you haven’t considered life for Palestinians in the camps there since Sabra and Chatilla. (Those words still make Jews cringe, although it was a battle between armed Palestinian men and armed Lebanese men that killed civilians because neither side cared to protect them then and still don’t.) Now you have to.
Lebanon is a small country, and the presence of so many armed, angry, poor and unassimilated people, detested by the citizenry and detesting them in return, bodes ill for any advancement toward consensual government. On the one hand, Lebanon is a full partner in the political and human tragedy of the Palestinians, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for them. On the other hand, we admire the Lebanese for finally standing up to the Syrians and want them to succeed for their future benefit and for ours.
It is time for the Arab world to confront the mess they made by their refusal to accept the legitimacy of Israel in 1948 or any time thereafter, and the UN’s complicity. The continued imprisonment of Palestinians in Lebanon and elsewhere and the nurturing of the fantasy that they will go to Israel must be ended. The future of Lebanon and the future of the Palestinians as well as the future of Israel depend on it.