The Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee may be an official entity of the Lebanese Council of Ministers, but its President Abdul-Majid Kassir minces few words in condemning Lebanon’s current prohibition of property ownership by Palestinian refugees in a recent interview with the Daily Star:
Abdul-Majid Kassir, president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, has called Lebanon’s law that bars Palestinians from owning property “unjust” and a “violation of human rights.”
The former diplomat took the helm of the body tasked with improving relations between the two communities last summer, and spoke with The Daily Star Thursday about a wide range of issues that affect an often strained relationship.
In 2001, Parliament passed a law that bars Palestinians from owning or inheriting property. Kassir called this law “unjustified and unjust, and a violation of human rights,” and said that “there is no benefit to it, for Lebanese or Palestinians. It also harms the image of Lebanon.”
Kassir added that the issue of land ownership is political, and that the law was prompted by “talk about the possibility of the presence of an international conspiracy to nationalize Palestinians in Lebanon.” But he does not consider “that there is a relationship between rights of Palestinians to land ownership and nationalization.”
Palestinians themselves are not interested in becoming Lebanese nationals, he said, referring to a topic that has been a flashpoint for the debate about Palestinians in Lebanon. “They do not want a replacement to their nation, and they cling to the right of return,” he said.
He also addresses the issue of employment opportunities for refugees, both with regard to slow implementation of limited labour reforms introduced in 2010 as well as the continuing barriers facing Palestinian professionals:
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, of which there are between 260,000 and 450,000, have often found obtaining legal work difficult. A law signed early last year was intended to ameliorate this situation. It removed a $300 work permit fee, as well as the requirement for a pre-existing contract. But the law is yet to be fully implemented, Kassir said, because “the implementation decree is late, but inevitably will be issued soon. The political situation today in Lebanon is somewhat obstructive, and the minister [of labor] has been busy with the issue of wages, and before that with other issues.”
“The work of Palestinians in general is something that I believe will add value to national economic activity,” Kassir stressed, adding that he does not foresee Palestinians competing with Lebanese for jobs. Of the some thirty professions from which Palestinians are still barred, including medicine, engineering and law, Kassir said they should be dealt with by the syndicates that govern these vocations: “If [the syndicates] allow [Palestinian] engineers and lawyers to work, then nothing will prevent the syndicates from this.”
Read the rest of the interview for Kassir’s comments on weapons in the refugee camps, Lebanese public attitudes to the refugees, and other issues. In addition, the LPDC website has information on other initiatives, including regarding the computerization of refugee records.
It is an excellent interview, and one hopes that it is indicative of a revitalized LPDC under Kassir’s leadership. Recent years have been characterized by a mismatch between the genuinely good intentions of LPDC staff and a glacial pace of change (especially since the end of Fouad Siniora’s term as prime minister). There are, of course, a number of contextual reasons for this, notably the extreme political sensitivity of the refugee issue in Lebanon, the limited capacity of the notoriously weak Lebanese state, and the frequency with which local and regional politics and crises overwhelm other areas of Lebanese policy.
Unfortunately, the resulting gap between rhetoric and reform can be corrosive. As I warned in a paper on the topic back in 2009:
Unless the Lebanese government is able to facilitate more positive and concrete changes in the daily lives of Palestinian refugees, the policy is likely to be viewed in an increasingly cynical light by the refugees. Already, many see it as little more than a rhetorical posture intended to improve Lebanon’s international image, rather than a real change.
Unfortunately, the last few years saw little productive change, with the LPDC playing only a minor (and indeed diminishing) role. Hopefully under Kassir’s leadership the LPDC will—however modestly given Lebanese political realities—work to reverse that previous pattern.