Thursday, October 14, 2004

Refugee's in Lebanon

Refugee's in Lebanon
Living conditions for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon 'worse than Occupied Territories'
By Nayla Assaf Daily Star staff
October 14,2004

Intervtew BEIRUT: Living conditions in Palestinian refugee camps here are even worse than that of camps inside the Occupied Territories, said Palestinian Authority Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib, upon a visit to Beirut on Wednesday.
In an interview with The Daily Star on the sidelines of the three-day Arab International Forum on Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Khatib said that the situation for Palestinians in Lebanon is, in many ways, the worst he's ever seen. "I was stunned by the refugee camps in Lebanon," he said. "Even in camps in Gaza and Nablus in the Occupied Territories, the situation is better than that of the camps in Lebanon." During his visit to Beirut this week, Khatib, with a delegation of Palestinian officials, visited President Emile Lahoud to plead for "easing the living and working conditions for Palestinians here." Most of the estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon are scattered in refugee camps throughout the country. In order to preserve the delicate religious balance of Lebanese society and to assert the right of return, Palestinians are not allowed basic civic rights; they are barred from erecting permanent constructions and from performing several professions. Khatib, a journalist, university lecturer and long-time advocate of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, was among the fresh faces to be introduced to the current reformative Palestinian Cabinet formed in June 2002. He spoke of the Palestinian refugees here, of his distrust of the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud party and allegations of corruption within the Palestinian Authority (PA). "Upon visiting the camps, I was also struck by the high morale of the Palestinians here. Despite their irregular and harsh situation, they still identify to the same goals and same political agenda as we do," he said. "The PA did not give up on the Palestinian refugees" in Lebanon as some imply. "It is an issue of utmost importance to us, and the PA's insistence on finding a solution to the refugee problem was the main reason behind the failure of the Camp David peace talks," he said. "We are 100 percent sure that their right to return will be met. There is no doubt about that, regardless of how much time it might take," he said. Khatib described Tuesday's symbolic vote in the Knesset against Sharon's disengagement plan, as an indication that "the government, in its current makeup, does not intend to perform any withdrawals or provide any concessions." A further indication of that, according to the labor minister, are recent comments by Sharon's aid, Dov Weisglass "that the real purpose of the disengagement plan is to divert the attention of the international community while they are burying the 'road map.'" "The Israeli government should be judged upon its actions and not upon its pledges," Khatib added. As long as the current government is in place, he said, there is no room for dialogue or for reaching an understanding. "But I believe that the Israeli society is bound to realize that this government will not bring about a solution; that violence is not the answer and that dialogue is needed." In matters of reform - another issue often criticized by the media - Khatib said the reform program which started two years ago is alive and doing well. "I entered this government in June 2002 on the basis that it would hold a reformative program, and a huge amount of reforms have been completed since then, especially in the financial sector," which saw the centralization of all public funds under the wing of the Finance Ministry, he said. According to Khatib, the World Bank, in its most recent report, has announced that the level of transparency in the PA's administration of public funds is among the best in the region. "We have achieved a great, great deal in financial reforms and in other areas as well," he said, acknowledging, however, that "manyh more reforms remain to be made," especially regarding the judiciary and security services. However, he added that the PA's reformative measures, and measures to combat corruption, are not being judged fairly in Arab media. "I have never seen any Arab journalist criticize corruption and the lack of reform in any other Arab country - with the exception of Lebanon. This gives the impression that the PA is the worst in matters of corruption - which is absolutely wrong," he said. "I would frankly like to see journalists become more objective in the matter." Khatib believes that Arab states can do more to further the Palestinian cause. "On the political level, we hope to see more support. Following the last Israeli onslaught, we did not see any official Arab mobilization," he said. "We call on Arab states to do more; to take advantage of their strategic weight, in order to give Israel the impression that it cannot continue taking advantage of the Palestinian people's isolation," he said. Khatib, who is also the acting planning minister, says that in many cases, planning in the Palestinian territories consists of taking emergency measures because of the incessant Israeli assaults on the Occupied Territories. "We have acquired experience in dealing with emergencies," he said. He explained that in the face of Israel's recent onslaught of Gaza - now in its 14th day - the PA, for example, was able to take matters in hand by forming an emergency committee and giving it full support. "But for any long-term or large-scale projects, we rely very heavily on outside aid," he added.

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