The 'Deal of the Century' and the existential conflict: Where is Lebanese diplomacy?

We are accustomed to banging the drum of battle against a conspiracy that has been lingering on since 1948, but to no avail.
by Ziad El Sayegh

27 May 2019 | 13:54

Source: by Annahar

  • by Ziad El Sayegh
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 27 May 2019 | 13:54

Children play at a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon on 1 September 2018. (AFP Photo)

What would make the international community understand that justice is the one and only foundation of a sustainable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, ergo the Arab-Israeli conflict? The so-called “Deal of the Century” peace plan - over which a big question mark hangs - is neither new nor emerging, it just sounds like a broken record.

From a funding perspective, the economic-investment and incentivizing-compensatory facets of this deal are the products of the other tracks pursued since the early 1950s. The same attempts have piled up. The same failure will be repeated. Peace is a choice, not a deal. Israel does not want peace. We are accustomed to banging the drum of battle against a conspiracy that has been lingering on since 1948, but to no avail.

It is so naive to resort to intimidation and treason to concoct fictitious victories. There is a need to achieve effective Lebanese diplomacy - a concept and a practice that have been delayed, and might never happen, unfortunately.

At the heart of crafting effective Lebanese diplomacy are the historic "Settlement" and "Colonization" projects, the negotiation tracks regarding the Palestinian Refugees, and the priority of dismantling fragile dogmas with a view to establishing a cohesive diplomatic engagement with those who are seeking to impose settlement and abort the Right of Return.

The Palestinian Refugees and the “Settlement” and “Colonization” Projects

Since the Zionist gangs began the racist cleansing of the Palestinians, their leaders and theoreticians have created two complementary concepts: the "Prevention of Return" and the marketing of the "Right of Return." In other words, Zionists have been dissidents of a Palestinian return and proponents of a Jewish return. This resulted in the "a Land without a People for a People without a Land" equation, which was followed by successive projects that stimulated ideological investment in a colonization fund.

The establishment of a "Compensatory Fund" financed by international funds was also proposed for those who will be forced to immigrate. Recently, the idea of offering compensation for Jews who arrived in Israel from Arab countries was launched. Then projects went on: the “Gordon Clapp Commission,” “Blandford”, “Mr. Keen,” “Relief Agency for the transfer of Refugees to Libya, “the Friends of the Middle East for the Settlement of Refugees Association,” “Eric Johnson,” "Baruch," “Hammarskjold," “Joseph Johnson” etc...

These projects did not lead to settlement in the sense of naturalization of the Palestinians in the neighboring countries of occupied Palestine where they sought refuge - except for the case of Jordan, the only country that put in place integrated strategies to face the so-called "Alternative Homeland" - they have rather overburdened these countries, and negatively impacted the social, economic and psychological conditions of refugees, especially in Lebanon, where the relationship with the Palestinian Refugees over the past 15 years has been marked by structural distortions.

Lebanon suffered before the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue process was launched in 2005.

The Palestinian Refugees – Negotiation Tracks

Between the years 1991 and 1997, the “Lebanese Working Group on Palestinian Refugees” was launched to hold eight brainstorming meetings and led - following the Oslo Accord (1993) - to the establishment of a permanent negotiating body that tackled documents, such as the “Beilin-Abu Mazen” agreement and the “Ottawa Process,” which clearly suggested the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the "State of Palestine" (the West Bank - Gaza Strip), while pushing towards the recognition by Israel of the principle of families reunification within the occupied territories, and towards tackling the possibility of establishing an "International Body for Palestinian Refugees.”

Then came the “Stockholm Channel (2000),” with a Swedish facilitation and an American commitment to create scenarios, accompanied ever since by studies conducted by experts and sponsored by the U.S. administration, with a view to assessing the compensations of a final solution. The compensation logic did not completely annul the right of return.

In fact, U.S. President Bill Clinton, as part of his marathonic efforts, proposed four scenarios: the return to Israel (family reunification scheme), the return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the optional transition to a third country and the optional stay in the host country.

These scenarios were tackled at Camp David where President Clinton proposed that “the State of Palestine is the land of the Palestinian people, and Israel is the land of the Jewish people,” an equation that was overlooked diplomatically and by the media. During these negotiations, the right of compensation for Jews was proposed to be later withdrawn at Taba Talks (2001).

The Taba round discussed Lebanon's case and suggested the return of 25,000 refugees every three years over a 15-year span, splitting, therefore, the right of return. This is a crime against justice, but it is worthy of pressing towards the completion of the number along with pressing toward the establishment of the state of Palestine, confirmed by Clinton, and joining efforts to complete the number between both Lebanese and Palestinian legitimacies.

Back then, Lebanon occupied by the Syrian Regime was not allowed to negotiate nor to move diplomatically. The Taba Summit was followed by the Arab Peace Initiative (2002), then the "Quartet Roadmap" (2003), which came out with the equation of "finding an appropriate, sound, just, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee cause," against the backdrop of the launching of non-official peace negotiations.

These negotiations produced the "Voice of the People" (2002), the "Geneva Initiative" (2003), and "AIX Group" which resulted in the theory of the economic solution for refugees. In Annapolis, the issue was neglected, the voice of Lebanon was as high as the Vatican’s, as the discussions centered around borders, settlement and security, according to a Lebanese official authority.

The foregoing is not so much a political history as it is a reading of scenarios to gain insight into elements that might support the forthcoming Lebanese diplomatic portfolio when the time of a solution comes, if at all possible, without compromising the constant support for the Palestinian right of return, a principle loudly spoken by Lebanon's constitutional and popular voices, in support for Palestine and as a confirmation of Lebanon’s support for the Right of Return.

In this context, a question is raised as to whether Lebanon will reject any form of direct or camouflaged settlement, out of a fear on its demographics and sectarian balances, or out of its conviction that any suggestion to retain the Palestinian diaspora and integrate it into the communities to which it was forced to emigrate is firstly an assassination of its identity and secondly a sabotage of international justice in such a way as to eliminate any possibility of sparing similar massacres.

A national consolidation of the term “Right of Return” and the term “Rejection of Settlement” that preceded it in the preamble of the constitution, would take this fair humanitarian issue out of the internal menacing exploitation bazars that have become sectarian, and save them from the racist slander that Israel interprets by relying on the fact that it hosted Jewish Arabs who left their homelands to settle on its territories. There is a big difference between voluntary and organized emigration and bloody forced emigration.

Dismantling of Fragile Dogmas

Offensive diplomacy guarantees the “Right of Return”. I do not know what is the relation between weapons – any weapons, other than those held by the Lebanese legitimacy - and the “right of return” or perhaps “other rights.”

Legitimatizing weapons and backing the system that has them in its hands based on the principle of "Rejection of Settlement" is questionable as to how it will contribute to supporting the right of return. The dogmas that closely link the two weapons and their functions, must be dismantled.

Is politics meant to be divided? Is not the unity of vision, decision and movement that falls under the umbrella of the Lebanese state capable of supporting the right of return?

In the coming days and weeks, we might probably see some ardent, tactical, or hiring impulses. However, supporting the Right of Return should be done through quiet, serious, and visionary actions, in liaison with decision makers to persuade them, rather than to weep over conspiracies that they are plotting.

How are they plotting them? With the backing of those who - since more than 71 years - have decided to arrest the brains and then to resort to weapons.

The Offensive Diplomacy

The Lebanese Government is urged to shape a vision that supports the Right of Return with offensive diplomacy that is inevitably linked to the defense strategy. This vision must primarily aim to awaken our slumbering foreign policy in decision-making capitals, through the formation of specialized teams that liaise with research centers, the media, Economic Community from among millions Lebanese emigrants or descendants.

This offensive diplomacy must coordinate with the Palestinian State, the League of Arab States and the United Nations, and make them listen to Lebanon’s demands, views and aspirations, not just focus on what they want. Indeed, the Lebanese initiative has become urgent, in actions not in words.

This requires the preparation of an integrated negotiation file that encompasses the data, the legal arguments for the return of refugees to their homelands, and the estimates of the compensation accrued to Lebanon from the Israeli invasions, as well as the hostilities and problems that resulted from its forced presence on its land. All this should fall under the resolutions of the international legitimacy and the Arab peace initiative.

The mere repetition of principles, or their fortification only internally, without foreign policy initiatives, is likely to bring compassion rather than to bring a justice long-awaited by the Lebanese, the Palestinians, and the Arabs and by the international community. Lebanon has always been a spearhead in supporting the Palestinian cause diplomatically. Isn’t it time for the country to regain its role after years of expropriation, confiscation, negotiation on its behalf and bartering it for something else?

The "Deal of the Century" is a new slap in the face of the international and Arab intelligentsia, the United Nations, the League of Arab States, and the wise Christian, Islamic and Jewish religion references. Every slap is a wake-up call to move from talk to action. Where does Lebanese diplomacy stand on all this?  

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Ziad El Sayegh is an expert in Public Policies and Refugee crises. 

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