A group representing the major Lebanese political parties and Palestinian factions in Lebanon rejected on Wednesday US President Donald Trump’s plan to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, known as the so-called “Deal of the Century.”
While the US plan was immediately embraced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his election rival Benny Gantz, it has been rejected by much of the international community, including Palestinian and Arab leaders. The Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), a body set up by the Lebanese government to oversee issues related to Palestinian refugees, is the latest organization to reject the deal with a joint statement issued by its Palestinian and Lebanese working groups after a meeting in Beirut’s Grand Serail.
The US plan “poses risks not only to the refugees and the Palestinian cause, but also to all countries and entities of the Arab region, specifically Lebanon,” said LPDC Chairman Hassan Mneymneh.
“This ‘deal’ aims specifically to abolish the identity and existence of the Palestinian people and their national rights … and to settle them in the host countries, including Lebanon,” he added.
No right of return, no UNRWA
The LPDC groups criticized the plan’s provisions that would curtail the right of return for Palestinian refugees and abolish the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees.
Under the proposed deal, there would be no right for Palestinian refugees to return to areas in what is now Israel, and applications to return to the Palestinian territory could also be rejected for security or other reasons. The deal envisions those unable to return to Palestine being absorbed into their host countries.
More than 470,000 Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, although due to immigration, the actual number living in the country is believed to be much lower. A census conducted in all of Lebanon’s Palestinian camps and gatherings in 2017 counted only 174,000 Palestinian refugees.
Mneymneh told Al Arabiya English after the meeting, “The Arab community, the Arab countries, must meet and work seriously to provide the possibility to cancel this deal, through strong and effective diplomatic maneuvers, through increasing support for the Palestinian people, increasing support for UNRWA.”
The end of UNRWA in Lebanon, he said, “would be a complete disaster, because Lebanon is not able to take on the cost” of providing the needed services to the refugees.
Plans to take action
The working group statement also outlined plans to lobby to advocate for the Palestinians and counter the proposed plan.
On the international level, it pledged to lobby for a “two-state solution and the right of return of refugees based on relevant international resolutions” and for ongoing support for UNRWA.
Regionally, the group confirmed its “commitment to the Arab peace initiative in dealing with the continued Israeli aggression and [that of] its American ally against the Palestinian people and their rights.”
Within Palestine and Lebanon, it pledged to resolve conflicts between factions and “expand the scope of civil resistance in occupied Palestine; and at the Lebanese level to coordinate steps to confront the deal with the Arab League, the Palestinians, and the international community.”
Fathi Abu al-Ardat, secretary of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon, told Al Arabiya English, “The most important thing is that there should be a unified stance from all groups: Palestinians and Lebanese and Arabs, that there is a refusal of the Deal of the Century … Today there is a shared stance by Lebanese, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims. We are all speaking in one language.”
Renewed focus on Palestinians in Lebanon
The group statement also committed to working to “improve the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, thereby strengthening their resilience until their return to their homeland.”
Palestinians have had a contentious status in Lebanon, where they have limited rights with regards to work and property ownership in the country. Last year, mass protests erupted in the country’s Palestinian camps after the Ministry of Labor began cracking down on businesses employing non-Lebanese workers – including Palestinian refugees – without work permits.
Abu al-Ardat said he is hoping that now, with the newly formed government in place, Lebanese officials will return to the question of Palestinians’ rights and living conditions.
“In the past period there has been October 17 and the popular movements, but we need to find space to open the Palestinian case,” he said.
“Today the Palestinian is living in difficult circumstances in the camps. There is unemployment, there are no work opportunities – it’s a miserable situation …We need solutions, and this is the responsibility of UNRWA and the Lebanese state and the international community and the PLO factions,” he added.