America’s “Dog in the Fight”

Part IX of a Series on
Securing Palestinian Civil Rights
in Lebanon

Franklin Lamb
Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp
August 2, 2010

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 project. 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
Conelly, 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 project. 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% of the
Israeli and American position—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, 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, and 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 stongly 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 Palesitnian 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 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. 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
‘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 explosion.

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.
Israel’s problem is that the Palestinian Right of Return is gaining
international momentum partly because of continuing Israeli crimes.

Despite sometimes mouthing support for the Right of Return, in a clumsy
and transparent effort to avoid granting Palestinians civil rights in the
interim, some US protégés in Lebanon could care less about the refugees
reclaiming their stolen homes and lands in Palestine. But, like the Palestinian
refugees themselves, they are dead set against the refugees staying any
longer than absolutely necessary in Lebanon. Consequently, the right-wing
Christian insistence on “No Naturalization” (emphatically shared by the
Palestinian refugees) is at odds with the American-Israeli project and this
issue is making for some interesting bedfellows.

The only political force in Parliament that can defeat this latest US-Israel
project 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 photo-op
feel-good feeble gesture the US-Israel and their proxies are 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 project. If adopted, this
current, regressive “consensus” and fake “Palestinian refugee civil rights law”
will fail to meet Lebanon’s internationally mandated duty to her refugees
and it will not even minimally comply with the requirements of the 1948
Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the 1966 International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the 1966 International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights; and the Casablanca Protocol on the Treatment
of Palestinians in Arab Countries of 11 September 1965. 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 Director, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace,
Beirut-Washington DC, Board Member of The Sabra Shatila Foundation,
and a volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Lebanon. He is
the author of The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American
Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon
and is doing research in Lebanon for
his next book. He can be reached at [email protected]

For information and updates on the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign in
Lebanon, and to sign the petition, go to: