The Elephant

Lebanon is not known for elephants, but there is a large one sitting in the corner largely unremarked upon.

Lebanon is not known for elephants, but there is a large one sitting in the corner largely unremarked upon.

Four hundred thousand (yes, 400,000) impoverished Palestinian refugees live in squalid refugee camps – supported by UNRWA with all that implies – prohibited by law from working outside the camps or educating their children in local schools. They are justifiably angry, heavily armed, and do not stand to benefit from Lebanese movement toward democracy because Lebanon rejects their very presence. Various Lebanese governments have, in fact, said the Palestinians can remain behind bars inside Lebanon for the time being, but that no Israeli-Palestinian agreement will be tolerated that does not remove them posthaste.

Some have been there from the beginning – 1948 – but tens of thousands of others were ejected from Jordan in 1970 after Black September, the Palestinian attempt to overthrow King Hussein. They were a major factor in the Lebanese Civil War of 1976 that brought the Syrian troops into Lebanon. Yasser Arafat ran a Palestinian “state within a state” there until Israel removed it in 1982. Under Arafat’s control, terrorists of all stripes used Lebanon as a training ground and refuge, and Arafat’s minions rained death and destruction on Israel from Lebanese soil.

They were unassimilated and are, by now, probably unassimilable. These are the people for whom the chimera of a “right of return” to lands they or their fathers or their grandfathers might have passed through in what is now Israel is a vital mantra. If they can’t believe they can go elsewhere for a more fulfilling future, what hope have they?

This is not a plea for understanding on their behalf.

UNRWA, in cooperation with Arab governments, set out the conditions for Palestinian imprisonment more than half a century ago and now perhaps Lebanon will suffer the whirlwind. Syria holds another 250,000 or more and they will not contribute to the stability of Syria either if Junior Assad loses his grip. It would serve them both right for the humanitarian and political disaster they engendered. We do hope it will on Amb. John Bolton’s agenda when he arrives at the UN – UNRWA needs to have its mandate changed, the phony “right of return” needs to be dealt with and neither can happen soon enough to suit us. But it is probably too late for Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that should be allowed no more legitimacy in Lebanese politics than we were prepared to allow Ba’athists in Iraq. However, at a minimum, Hezbollah is a problem of Lebanese people for Lebanese people.

What to do with 400,000 non-Lebanese who are in a position to wreck any fragile new system that doesn’t provide for them and whose history in Lebanon is only one of wreckage? Frankly, we don’t know, but an elephant on a rampage will make it entirely impossible to bring Lebanon into the family of consensual governments.