How the PLO and Lebanese authorities became unlikely friends
Last week Mahmoud Abbas gave the director general of the Lebanese General Security - Abbas Kadhim Mohammed Ibrahim - the Order of Merit star for the State of Palestine in recognition of his "continuous efforts in supporting the Palestinian people and their just cause". The General Security is Lebanon's equivalent of the National Security Agency and border police combined.
The ceremony was held in Jordan in the presence of prominent Fatah figures including Azzam al-Ahmed and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki according to local reports.
It is the latest in a series of events that seems to signal the unlikely increasing closeness between the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, and Lebanese authorities.
Lebanese authorities and Fatah have an extremely checkered history in the country leading up to the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon in 1982. Palestinians in the country have experienced discrimination and even massacres, and both peoples have accused each other of committing atrocities in the country.
The recent bonding between Fatah and Lebanon is thus somewhat unexpected.
A likely catalyst for their closeness appears be the problems in Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp, after Islamists clashed with PLO forces last year, displacing thousands of people.
|A likely catalyst for their closeness appears be the problems in Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp, after Islamists clashed with PLO forces last year, displacing thousands of people
The Fatah-affiliated Palestinians were not effective at tackling Islamist groups, although some groups sponsored by controversial Palestinian security figure Mohammed Dahlan were more active, leading to some support of the Dahlan-Fatah faction.
Subsequently, The New Arab has learnt from credible sources in Lebanon, the Lebanese army coordinated with Fatah and Hizballah to provide training for hundreds of Palestinians from refugee camps across the country in an apparent attempt to strengthen the movement against the threat of Islamist groups.
The most recent of four training camps run by professional trainers from the Palestinian territories was recently held with a graduation ceremony for around 150 Palestinian security personnel being held in Rashadiya, South Lebanon in July.
The training is being carried out with apparently full coordination with and knowledge of the Lebanese army, whereas previously Fatah training was heavily regulated, with participants even prevented from using live ammunition.
|The Lebanese army coordinated with Fatah and Hizballah to provide training for hundreds of Palestinians from refugee camps across the country
Lebanese authorities in the country have traditionally prevented Palestinians from improving their military power, and Palestinians in Beirut are not permitted to carry weapons.
Many suspect that Abbas Ibrahim is the key Lebanese security figure coordinating the efforts. He was also reportedly behind a recent agreement that lead to Islamists from Ain al-Hilweh handing themselves in to Lebanese authorities.
Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior leader of Fatah and a Central Committee member who attended the graduation, confirmed in July that there was ongoing cooperation between Palestinian and Lebanese authorities.
"When it comes to the Palestinian situation in Lebanon, we are coordinating to block the way of any attempt to detonate the internal Lebanese situation and prevent exploitation of the Palestinian situation," Ahmad said as reported by The Daily Star, Lebanon, after a meeting with Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, sister of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Ahmad’s meeting with Hariri was attended by a Palestinian delegation including Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabbour.
|Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior leader of Fatah and a Central Committee member who attended the graduation, confirmed in July that there was ongoing cooperation between Palestinian and Lebanese authorities
"In my estimation, there are more fears in Lebanon than other countries. Let’s not forget that there’s an overlap between it and Syria, and it’s known how the situation in Syria is and what is going on on the Lebanese-Syrian border," he said.
"There were many previous attempts to exploit camps. And there are some internal political disputes in Lebanon and one of them is the vacuum due to the absence of a president."
Watching Lebanon's back?
|Palestinians take part in training in South Lebanon in July [facebook]
As Lebanese forces have been deployed against the Islamic State in the border town of Arsal, their forces have been stretched, therefore have been unable to control the situation in the camps.
Many Palestinians are content however that relations between their representatives and Lebanon have improved, and approve of Ibrahim’s efforts to ensure that Palestinians become part of the security considerations in Lebanon.
"The situation feels more comfortable in the camps...I think Abbas Ibrahim considers us as humans who have needs," said a prominent activist in Burj el-Boujani camp, citing a $200,000 drugs bust last week in the area carried out by Fatah and Lebanese authorities.
Others feel that the presence of Syrians in the country have replaced Palestinians as the traditional existential crisis from within.
"When Syrians are questioned by Lebanese authorities, they say they, don’t worry we are Palestinian!" joked the activist, who has also said anecdotally Palestinians face less discrimination and ill treatment within Lebanese institutions such as General Security.
|Additionally the Syrian refugee crisis has put UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine, under increasing pressure, with many Palestinians feeling that the agency has completely abandoned their responsibilities in the camps
Additionally the Syrian refugee crisis has put UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine, under increasing pressure, with many Palestinians feeling that the agency has completely abandoned their responsibilities in the camps.
This has lead to some on-going speculation that there will at some point be a deal between Fatah, UNRWA and the Lebanese government for the latter to take more responsibility for refugees in Lebanon.
After the near-destruction of al-Yarmouk camp in Syria, and the emigration of many of its residents to the Arab world and in Europe, the largest Palestinian refugee population outside the territories is now in Lebanon.
The question of right of return for Palestinian refugees has always been a major stumbling block in negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
"Solve the refugee problem in Lebanon, and now you get rid of the refugee issue altogether," said the activist.
The cooperation, between Palestinian Fatah and the Lebanese forces may point to a first step towards integrating refugees into Lebanon, although considering that laws are still recently being passed to limit their rights, this perhaps remains a very distant prospect.