Saturday, May 24, 2003

[Resume] Given these various agendas, what is the optimal solution to the Ain al-Hilweh imbroglio? The laissez-faire alternative seems the most pragmatic: if fighting is limited to the camp, then there is no need to intervene. The only problem is that, as Murr underlined, innocents are paying the price, and so too are Lebanese--from the assassinated Sidon judges to the intelligence officers gunned down last summer. In other words the violence is hardly as well contained as some presume.

Secondly, it is odious to see a Lebanese state that on a daily basis rejects the notion of Palestinian resettlement, tolerating the worst manifestations of the Palestinian presence. When virtually all Lebanese militias have been disarmed, when a former militia leader has been imprisoned and scores of his partisans harassed, it is fantastic to see Palestinian armed redoubts persisting. It implies the security services will only tread where they are sure to intimidate.

Under the circumstances, the preferred option is to disarm Ain al-Hilweh and make it as manageable a place as, let’s say, the Yarmouq refugee camp near Damascus. However, this must be done in a way that minimizes casualties, through negotiations that would make force unnecessary, or minimize Palestinian resistance if it becomes inevitable. A precondition for pacifying Ain al-Hilweh is that the Syrians enter the fray and make clear it is a priority.

Will Syria agree, given its interest in maintaining Ain al-Hilweh’s autonomy? That will depend on whether Lebanon makes enough of a fuss to get its attention. It would mean putting Lebanese welfare first, but also reversing years of humiliation during which wanted fugitives have used the camp as a refuge. As even the present government will admit, Lebanese credibility, never great to start with, is seriously at stake.[End]

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