Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Heitti has just announced via LBC on Wednesday that, in adherence to the Arab peace initiative that took place in Beirut back in March 2002, he will refuse the naturalization of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.
“The initiative tackles the essence of the Palestinian problem, which is the right to a state in which East Jerusalem is the capital,” he explained.
He added that the initiative emphasizes the rejection of naturalization and the need for the right of return for the Palestinians.
He explained, “We cannot, from an ethical or pragmatic perspective, expect to solve a national issue except by allowing the Palestinian people to express their national identity in their own independent state. Conversely, no one can coerce us [Lebanese government] to accept naturalizing them.”
The issue of what to do with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon exists since they were expelled from their country in 1948.
There were many tensions between the militia of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) born back then in refugee camps in Lebanon and Lebanese nationalist militias, which ended triggering the civil war in 1975.
Despite the government’s stated refusal to naturalize Palestinians today, there have been instances where many Palestinian refugees were naturalized.
In the past, Lebanon naturalized refugees who had sought refuge in Lebanon. According to The Century Foundation, “Lobbying efforts from the Maronite Church and the League of Nations led to” thousands of Armenians fleeing genocide to be “granted citizenship in 1924.”
Moreover, according to the same source, “Tens of thousands of Christian Palestinian refugees fleeing the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, more commonly known among Palestinians as the Nakba, were granted citizenship between 1952 and 1958.”
In 1994, the Syrian regime occupying Lebanon at the time naturalized 150,000 refugees, including Syrians and pre-dominantly Sunni Palestinians.
Most recently, on June 1st, 2018, President Aoun signed an agreement to naturalize 300 individuals of various nationalities, evenly divided into Christians and Muslims.
In a sense, the various sectarian interests in the country had often decided the fate of the Palestinians among other refugees residing within Lebanon.
There are many in Lebanon who believe that, since most Palestinians in Lebanon are generations removed from the original refugees who fled in 1948, they have essentially become more Lebanese over the years.
That, however, brings up the naturalization issue endured by Lebanese children born to foreign fathers, who are still being refused their right to citizenship by law.
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