Disemboweling the Right of Return

By Franklin Lamb – Beirut

For months, as Lebanon’s historic debate over basic civil rights for Palestinian refugees has unfolded, the Obama administration has watched idly along the sidelines. As hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees cough and slow-bake while inhaling rancid camp air in Lebanon’s sweltering breezeless heat, the White House has now sent Lebanon’s Parliament a message. The United States will not support meaningful civil, social or economic rights for the world’s largest and oldest refugee population and it wants them naturalized anywhere except anyplace in Palestine.

Many had been hoping that President Obama would honor in Lebanon his calls for “American style civil rights” for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where daily US military actions betray American founding principles. Or that his administration would act to give some credence to Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech or at least the pledges of Presidential envoy George Mitchell to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah that “the United States will work without rest until the inhuman conditions of Palestinians in all the refugee camps are ended.”

The US Embassy media office in Lebanon advised Palestine Civil Rights Campaign volunteers last month, referring to the Parliamentary debate, that “The United States does not have a dog in the fight.” An odd choice of words, one might think, given still fresh Lebanese memories of dogs in the fight from 18 years of Israeli troops brutally occupying 151 South Lebanon villages and using US funded attack dogs to terrorize the population and employing dogs to desecrate dozens of South Lebanon’s mosques.

In point of fact the Obama administration does have a dog in this historic civil rights struggle in Lebanon. Figuratively speaking, the cur is a cross between a Pit-bull-Doberman and rabid Rottweiler and is known locally as “NABI” (Naturalization Anywhere But Israel). The White House, and the Congressional Israeli lobby, intends that “NABI” shepherds and corrals Lebanon’s Palestinians and resettles them permanently and painlessly (at least for their well paid host countries) around the world. The further from Palestine the refugees end up the better with perhaps as many as 100,000 Palestinians slated to be kept in Lebanon, even though they will be arrested if they travel south anywhere along the ‘blue line’ and happen to rest at villages like Maron al Ras and wistfully gaze towards their former homes and villages near Akka or Safad, for example.

The US also expects NABI to disembowel the Right of Return and has begun arranging for Arab oil cash to foot the bill for this US-Israel plan. The Obama administration, colluding with Israel, is backing the gradual naturalization of the Palestinians wherever they are or can be embedded. In this context, and according to the information acquired by the Kuwait Daily, Al-Anbaa, “the State Department has formed a team of Arabs and Europeans, in order to pressure the Gulf States into financing a fund to support any country that will accept and nationalize Palestinians.”

During her Congressional confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Maura Connelly, slated to replace Michele Sisson as US Ambassador in Lebanon, was asked by a Congressional AIPAC agent where the State Department stood on the issue of shipping Palestinians in Lebanon around the world. She replied, “ Senator, the United States is opposed to forced naturalization”, implying that using cash inducements and other incentives to settle Palestinians, rather than a spring 1948 Nakba ethnic cleansing operation would be ok.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman had assured Lebanon that the US was absolutely against naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon, but that was during the run up to last spring’s Lebanese municipal elections when many US political promises were being made in the hope of buttressing the poll prospects of the anti-Hezbollah and anti-Palestinian voters, who today are, by and large, the same politicians opposing Palestinian civil rights.

MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah ally, (except on the issue of granting Palestinians even elementary civil rights), has been barnstorming this week warning of the US-Israeli plan. On 7/26/10 Aoun declared: "This (project to settle Palestinian refugees) is an issue that we reject, and we will not be subject to any foreign policy planning to execute certain plans. The US is not interested in assuring the security, stability and sovereignty of Lebanon, but only in solving Israel’s Palestinian problem at the expense of we Lebanese.”

Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel quickly added his voice to that of his rival Aoun and expressed his fears of the Israeli-US plan to naturalize Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. He revealed in an interview with Al-Jazeera that he has information “of an Israeli plan, backed by the American side, to naturalize Palestinians through the efforts of international institutions”. Amin has no problem with scuttling the Right of Return and is in favor of naturalization as long as it does not happen In Lebanon. This is 50 per cent of the Israeli and American position — the only point of contention expressed by the Lebanese right wing elements is that the US and Israel have no problem with Palestinians being naturalized in Lebanon— the NABI concept. The Obama administration reckons that the Lebanese government can be “induced” to cooperate and social services for the remaining Palestinian refugees can be paid for by allies including some OPEC members even as UNRWA is to be phased out which, Israel and the US favor in the intermediate period.

Why UNRWA Must Be Dismantled

For Israel and its American proxies in Washington, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), by the simple fact of its existence, is metaphorically Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell Tale Heart that won’t stop beating and with each ever louder beat reminds the world of Israel’s serial international crimes. The reason UNRWA must be mauled by NABI is that Israel has long believed that by its very name, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA haunts people to inquire into its work and what happened in Palestine during the Nakba. Israel cannot abide the current maturing generation, especially in the West, but also in Israel, studying UNRWA’s history of achievements for the Palestinians in the context of six decades of massacres, land grabs and ethnic cleansing. The Tell Tale Heart of UNRWA must be silenced and its services assumed, at least for a few years, by Europe and the US using Arab money.

The US-Israeli plan is that the naturalized refugees will be on their own wherever they end up and UNRWA can be permanently dismantled. US Congressional sources close to Israel expect UNRWA to be abolished outright or at least financially gutted following Congressional hearings and an Israeli-lobby-organized vilification campaign resurrecting the ‘terrorists in their ranks’ and the false ‘anti-Semitic UNRWA textbooks’ paradigms of the recent past. A campaign similar to the never proven charges made by presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and others at AIPAC events that leveled charges such as raising terrorists in UNRWA schools, is what is under consideration. In Lebanon, the fact of the matter is that UNRWA hermetically seals its 78 schools from Palestinian politics and history. Youngsters in the camps report to the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon (PCRC) that UNRWA is so afraid of criticism by Israel or the US Congress that it does not even allow them to wear the traditional keffiyeh or tee shirts, bracelets, necklaces or flag pins which might suggest (heaven forbid!) political support for their own country, Palestine.

The American Brand

The US government strongly favors the draft law proposal of Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces- March 14th “coalition”. This lowest common denominator, watered down approach, currently scheduled for an August 17th Parliamentary vote, offers the Palestinians refugees some crumbs including adjusting Article 9 of the Labor code to make it easier to secure a work permit but does not allow home ownership, meaningful social security benefits or access to the more than 20 syndicated professions. As currently drafted, the March 14 “consensus proposal” will achieve essentially nothing towards granting internationally mandated civil, social and economic rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees.

The US government is backing the March 14th coalition proposal and will apply pressure to see it passed, at least, if it looks like the drafts of the Jumblatt-Progressive Socialist Party or the Syrian Socialist National Party may have a chance of being adopted. Either of these two bills would be a huge improvement over the ‘scattered chicken feed’ Lebanese Forces bill or March 14 “consensus bill”. If the American-brand bill is enacted, the US administration will pressure its friends in the region to accept it and no doubt will announce ‘Palestinians civil rights mission accomplished.’

It will be a lie and pressure from the youth generation in the camps who are being denied dignity and any real opportunity in life will continue to build toward anexplosion. The US-Israel worry about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon securing the basic right to work and to own a home has nothing to do with fears of al tawtin, (naturalization) or the loss of the refugees Right of Return, which is a huge concern of the Lebanese. Indeed, US-Israeli concerns are precisely the opposite. Both want Palestinians to become citizens in dozens of countries if necessary and to fade into the woodwork, and to forget about UN General Assembly. Resolution 194 which mandated their unalienable Right of Return.

The only political force in Parliament that can defeat this latest US-Israel strategy, which also indirectly targets Hezbollah and Iran, is the National Lebanese Resistance with its broad based public support and legislative allies. The Hezbollah-led resistance can marshal the 65 votes to enact an internationally mandated civil rights law instead of the current feel-good feeble gesture the US-Israel and their proxies are currently planning for August 17. It is better for all concerned that this vote be postponed for 60 days rather than facilitate the US-Israel supported plan. If passed in its current form, it will guarantee bleak prospects for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, and quite likely for Lebanon and the region for years to come.

– Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: fplamb@gmail.com.

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