Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mideast Peace Requires an All-Encompassing Solution

In a connected world, and the various social groups in the Mideast are getting very tightly connected, the concept of a marginalized group that everyone else can afford to ignore really doesn't apply. Ignoring a social group is like ignoring an infection: you will end up hurting yourself. It is very difficult to think of a government anywhere in the world that understands this. All decision-makers seem to spend their time either getting so involved with the trees that they can't see the forest or falling in love with their own little plans; either way, they are failing to do their jobs. They are failing to set in place a vision that speaks to the needs of everyone - including all the despised and forgotten little groups that, when thus mistreated, become the fuel for the next fire.

The world pays attention to Israel, to Iran, to Afghanistan (this decade), and now even to Pakistan. Here's one forgotten place that needs to be part of whatever solution our brilliant leaders are dreaming up for the Mideast, brought to us...we might have International Crisis Group:

Nurturing Instability: Lebanon's

Palestinian Refugee Camps

Middle East Report N°84
19 February 2009

The vast Palestinian refugee population is routinely forgotten and ignored in much of the Middle East. Not so in Lebanon. Unlike in other host countries, the refugee question remains at the heart of politics, a recurrent source of passionate debate and occasional trigger of violence. The Palestinian presence was a catalyst of the 1975-1990 civil war, Israel’s 1982 invasion and Syrian efforts to bring the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to heel. Virtually nothing has been done since to genuinely address the problem. Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines – inter-Lebanese, inter-Palestinian and inter-Arab – the refugee population constitutes a time bomb. Until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, a comprehensive approach is required that clarifies the Palestinians’ status, formally excludes their permanent settlement in Lebanon, significantly improves their living conditions and, through better Lebanese-Palestinian and inter-Palestinian coordination, enhances camp management....

Such short-sightedness makes sense neither for Lebanon nor for broader pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace. As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators know well, the refugee population in Lebanon constitutes one of the more vexing problems: Lebanese do not want them to be assimilated in their country; Israel will not allow them to return; they are well-armed, socially marginalised and economically disenfranchised; and they could well be mobilised by opponents of an eventual peace deal to undermine it.

For those (and there are many such in Washington) who wring their hands in mock despair at the supposed impossibility of resolving complex social issues (i.e., can't be done, so fagetaboutit!), ICG has virtually provided us here with a formula for catastrophe:

Catastrophe <-- marginalized social group that is A) well-armed, B) socially marginalized, and C) economically disenfranchised.

If you want instability, insurgency, terrorism, here is the recipe for producing it. (Note: I am not revealing anything dangerous by publishing this recipe on the Internet. Folks like bin Laden already know this. It is only in Western decision-making circles where this will come as a shock.)

What does ICG recommend? Well, lots of things, of course, but the first is a real shocker: grant these refugees the right to work! They exist, they eat, and they have AK-47s. Think about it: would you, in your comfortable houses, prefer to have them working or standing around on street corners feeling insulted, seeing no future, and listening to jihadi preachers?

The truly educated among us may vaguely recall that the Lebanese army recently attacked and destroyed one of the Palestinian camps, making the situation infinitely worse. Without knowing anything about the precise current situation on the ground as far as the thousands of ex-residents are concerned, as a political scientist I can predict that we will hear from these folks again, and when we do, remember these words: it will be our fault for pretending they do not exist.

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