Refugees in Lebanon to be offered PA passport, report predicts 28Nov09 November 29, 2009

Ma’an News Agency -  28 November 2009

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Palestinian refugees in Lebanon may be issued passports from the Palestinian Authority, the Beirut-based Elaph reported.

Lebanese officials expect President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the country in the coming days where he will address the issue with top-level officials. The campaign to find a solution for the 250,000-350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is part of the program of the recently formed Lebanese government.

Palestinians in Lebanon face incredible difficulties, confined for the most part to refugee camps from which they must pass checkpoints to exit. Unlike Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Egypt, those who fled to camps in Lebanon were never granted resident or citizenship papers. The only papers refugees in Lebanon have are from the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has provided services for Palestinian refugees around the Middle East for 60 years.

The move was seen as an additional step in the planned declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011 according to the Program of the Thirteenth Government (August 2009). Although the document officially defers decision-making on the issue of refugees to the authority of the PLO Department of Refugees Affairs, it commits to realizing their “fundamental rights, foremost of which is to live on their homeland.”

While a passport would not give refugees the right of residence in the West Bank – Palestinians need a residency permit okayed by Israel in order to reside in the West Bank, Jerusalem or Gaza – it would make international travel somewhat easier for the refugees who lack travel documents.

Concerns

According to the report, many Palestinian refugees may refuse to accept a passport issued by the PA.

Since the PA is committed to a two-state solution and coexistence with Israel, refugees with homes in areas taken over by the state of Israel in 1948 see the move as renouncing their right of return to those homes, the report said.

The Elaph report also cited concerns over the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon, which could undermine the power of the already fragile government.

Christians in the country, the report added, are urging the passport plan to move forward out of concern that the majority Muslim population of Palestinians in Lebanon – if granted Lebanese papers under a final status agreement – would upset the religious balance.


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