Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

To rebuild Gaza, we must learn the lessons of Nahr el-Bared

Posted by valecardia su 2 marzo, 2009

THE NATIONAL

The international donor conference today at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, which is expected to raise some $2 billion for the ailing Palestinian economy, is crucial to the future of the Middle East. The main focus of the conference is the reconstruction of Gaza – and rightly so. As many as 20,000 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed in the recent violence there, and more than 1,300 Palestinians, including more than 400 children, were killed.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake if donors were to focus exclusively on Gaza. International outrage at what happened there has created a rare opportunity for a comprehensive solution to the problem of Palestine and its refugee millions – as called for by countless UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, and without which no Middle East peace will ever last.

We in Lebanon understand this better than most. Our small country is host to some 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees, about a tenth of the entire population, scattered among us in a dozen different camps. Discontent in those camps is acknowledged as one of the main catalysts for Lebanon’s disastrous Civil War of 1975-1990 – and yet it has still not been satisfactorily addressed. Events at Nahr el-Bared, a camp in the north of our country, prove the point.

In 2007, Nahr el-Bared was infiltrated by a small terrorist group called Fatah al-Islam. In the struggle to flush them out, 180 Lebanese soldiers were killed and much of the camp was destroyed, leaving some 30,000 refugees homeless once again: in effect, a mini-Gaza of our own. Our government has pledged to help to reconstruct the camp, but despite many months of negotiations the $440 million of international assistance required to do this has still not been secured. Will this crucial project be overlooked once again by the foreign donors gathering at Sharm el-Sheikh? In short, if they are now ready to spend $2 billion, why not $2.5 billion?

The extra money would help to turn another “patch and mend” response to the latest Middle East crisis into something potentially far more durable. The Nahr el-Bared project is more than a simple (if expensive) exercise in reconstruction. Here in Lebanon it is seen as a unique socio-architectural experiment which, if it works – and we are convinced that it will – could provide a model for other Palestinian refugee communities in Lebanon and beyond, for them to live in dignity until such time as a just solution is found for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Our government, following an unprecedented level of consultation with Nahr el-Bared’s displaced refugees, intends not just to rebuild but to improve the camp, according to their needs. For their part, the PLO, which fully supported the Lebanese military operation in 2007, has agreed that Nahr el-Bared will remain under full Lebanese sovereignty in future. The lives of the camp’s residents will eventually be governed not by armed gangs, therefore, but by the rule of law.

The battle with Fatah al-Islam would have been even bloodier without the cooperation of the Palestinians of the camp and their political leadership, which made it possible to separate fighters and civilians from the outset of hostilities. Without this, many more civilians would have been killed in the operation. The contrast with Gaza is clear. The civilian population accepted that this was not a battle between the Lebanese army and the camp, but one against an enemy of both, and they believed our promises to rebuild the camp and compensate them for their losses after the battle. Letting them down at this stage would have serious and far-reaching consequences.

Our government continues to work hard to improve the lives of the Palestinian refugees. Both we and they have turned a new page and are working together to reverse the cumulative effect of 60 years of mistakes that have caused much suffering to both peoples. We aim to rebuild relations based on trust and respect for human rights and Lebanese sovereignty, without prejudice to their UN-endorsed right to return to their homeland. Relations have improved enormously since 2005 as a result, with ramifications for all Palestinians.

The rationale for the Lebanese approach is clear enough. The old order in the camps resulted in the rise of Fatah al-Islam and the catastrophe at Nahr el-Bared; we intend to establish a new order, based on human security and the rule of law, to prevent a reoccurrence in any of the camps in Lebanon. Gaza and Nahr el-Bared epitomise the whole Palestinian refugee issue, and amply demonstrate the consequence of failure to address the problem comprehensively.

The Nahr el-Bared project has become the symbolic flagship of my government’s policy. It would be a tragedy if it were allowed to sink for lack of funding.

Khalil Makkawi

Last Updated: March 02. 2009 9:30AM UAE / March 2. 2009 5:30AM GMT

Khalil Makkawi, a former Lebanese ambassador to the UK and the United Nations, is president of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee

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