Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Israel's Peace Overture To Lebanon Could Open A Can Of Worms

Eric Trager suggests that in offering to sit down with Lebanon and talk peace, dealing with Hizbollah may not be the biggest problem. Instead,
the biggest stumbling block of all has gone entirely unmentioned: the fate of the approximately 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, approximately half of whom live in refugee camps scattered throughout the country. This population is of great concern to the Lebanese for two reasons.

First, Palestinians–who are not citizens of Lebanon and are barred from practicing over 70 vocations–threaten Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance. Since 90% of Lebanon’s Palestinians are Sunni, the Maronite Christians fear that granting Palestinians citizenship would dilute their dwindling numbers further. Shiites–who are believed to comprise a plurality within Lebanon–also typically resent the Palestinians, as refugee camps are often concentrated within Shiites strongholds.

Second, in recent years, the Palestinian refugee camps have become a serious security threat. Last May, the Lebanese army engaged in a standoff with the al-Qaeda affiliated Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared camp-a deadly battle in which at least sixty people were killed. Although the Lebanese Army ultimately prevailed by shelling the camp, the confrontation revealed frightening discrepancies between its capabilities and those of domestic Palestinian terrorist organizations. In this vein, the NY Times reported that Fatah al-Islam had used antiaircraft guns, mortars, night-vision goggles, and other “relatively sophisticated equipment” that the Lebanese army lacked entirely.

In short, Lebanon’s domestic Palestinian population will be a major issue if Jerusalem seriously pursues contacts with Beirut. This means that Israeli-Palestinian peace-which creates a Palestinian state in which Lebanon’s Palestinians can settle-is likely a prerequisite for Israeli-Lebanese peace.[emphasis added]
Of course, since Olmert is in a hurry to 'make peace' with Abbas and friends at any cost, this may not bother him--but the linkage that will be created will only cause more complications and possibly give Hizbollah a new excuse to keep it's weapons trained on Israel, or perhaps even team up formally with Hamas.

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