Under the Hammer of the Syrian-Lebanese Preparations for the Negotiations with Israel
The deplorable living conditions, the lack of legal protection, and the strong sense of uncertainty about the future among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, especially since the 1993 Oslo Accords, have been documented and analyzed by several researchers and journalists. The problematic situation of Palestinians in Lebanon is the combined result of the forced withdrawal of the PLO and the collapse of its institutions in Lebanon after 1982, the international reluctance to solve UNRWA's budget crisis, and the international pressure for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict based on refugee resettlement in the Arab host countries - and consequent Lebanese government efforts to avoid refugee integration into its sensitive ethno-religiously based political system. (See also: Profile-Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon, in: ARTICLE 74/26, December 1998; al-Majdal/1, March 1999.)

Since the 1982 evacuation of the PLO, Palestinians in Lebanon have remained without a body mandated to represent their concerns and interests versus the Lebanese government. As a result of the controversial Oslo process, all major Palestinian actors in the camps (Fatah and the contingents of the PLO; Islamist forces; Palestinian National Allience, PFLP, DFLP) intensified their efforts to establish themselves as the sole referential authority ("marja'iyya") for Palestinians in Lebanon, with the Lebanese political and security forces trying to benefit from the contradictions between the Palestinian players.

The new Lebanese government, elected in 1998 and headed by Emile Lahhoud (president) and Salim al-Hoss (prime minister), was in favor of the consolidation of Fatah, especially in 'Ain al-Hilwa, the largest refugee in Lebanon, where a strong Fatah was considered a means to weaken the Islamist forces. Along this line, the new Lebanese government cancelled the heavy restrictions on re-entry of Palestinians to Lebanon in early 1999, several meetings between PLO/PA officials and representatives of the Lebanese government took place, and Fatah activity in the Palestinian refugee camps of southern Lebanon went unhindered, including an initiative to organize and control camp affairs by means of an upgraded armed Fatah militia.

This period of apparent normalization of PLO/PA-Lebanese relations, in which Fatah gained considerable influence among Palestinians in Lebanon, was suddenly interrupted in October 1999. By then, the prospects of the re-opening of direct Israeli-Syrian negotiations had led to a re-shuffling of Syrian and Lebanese political forces in an effort to consolidate their position, both in regards to the upcoming political negotiations, and a potential unilateral Israeli withdrawal from occupied South-Lebanon. The death verdict issued by a Lebanese court against Fatah head Sultan Abu Al-Aynayn in October, the consequent arrests of additional Fatah leaders, and the Lebanese army seige around the Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon can thus be understood as a result of a renewed effort by the Syrian government to strengthen the influence of its allies in Lebanon. Palestinian refugees, without an authentic body of representation able protect their rights and express their concerns, are thus living through yet another period of crisis, while the Syrian and Lebanese governments are preparing a unified Syrian-Lebanese track for the negotiations with Israel.

Palestinians in the West Bank/Gaza on the Situation of Refugees in Lebanon

One quarter of those surveyed were unaware of the situation of Palestinian refugees in camps in Lebanon while 70% are concerned about the way refugees are being treated by the Lebanese government and 3% are not concerned.

Source: Center for Palestine Research and Study (www.cprs-palestine.org) Poll #45 2-4 December 1999. The total sample size of the poll is 1299 from Palestinians 18 years and older, of which 807 in the West Bank and 492 in the Gaza Strip. The margin of error is +3% and the non-response rate is +3%.