25 May 2007
The peculiar situation in which Palestinians find themselves today has made them easy victims of extremist doctrine and related violence. The events unfolding in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip bear testimony to that fact.
Lebanon is host to many Palestinian refugee camps holding hundreds of thousands of people. Their living conditions are harsh and this harshness is exacerbated by the fact that there are no immediate prospects of the situation changing anytime soon.
Many observers believe that the only hope that that situation could change depends on Palestinians concluding a peace treaty with the Israelis. That too is becoming less tenable because of divisions within the Palestinians with extremists led by Hamas rather preferring to confront Israel militarily.
Following its victory in legislative elections in January 2006, Hamas formed a government that was subjected to various forms of sanctions by many countries, including many aid-donors to the Palestinian Authority. Much has been invested into the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel but at every turn in those negotiations, there is an obstacle. When the late Yasser Arafat was still the leader of the Palestinians, there was more cohesion and the world understood that he could effectively negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians. Today, the situation is different as Hamas is flexing its muscles and radicalizing many youths. Those involved in peace negotiations with Israel place their hope on the moderate Fatah Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas (successor to Yasser Arafat). With every passing day, it becomes obvious that Abbas can hardly effectively talk or negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians. His legitimacy is challenged by Hamas. Unfortunately for peace brokers, Israel regards Hamas as a terrorist organization with which it cannot negotiate. A dangerous stalemate is ripening with every passing day.
The ideological differences between Hamas and Fatah have created conditions that have not only stalled the smooth functioning of the Palestinian Authority, but have created bloody conflicts between the two camps. Peace brokers are increasingly investing efforts in preventing Palestinians from tearing each other rather than advancing on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace treaties. Because she has refused to tone down her bellicose stance against Israel and seek genuine reconciliation with Fatah, Hamas increasingly finds herself fighting both Israel and fellow Palestinians belonging to Fatah.
Getting back to the Lebanese front, the Palestinians in the refugee camps are increasingly being targeted for recruitment into Extremist groups. Taking advantage of the 1969 agreement preventing the Lebanese army from entering the Palestinian refugee camps based in Lebanon, these groups have also found the camps favorable places to take refuge.
The current fighting between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army at the Nahr al-Bared camp on the outskirts of Tripoli (Lebanon) is a clear example of how a sanctuary for helpless refugees has been abusively turned into a battlefield. Innocent Palestinian refugees now find themselves caught in cross fire between the Lebanese Army and combatants of a militant Islamic group. Those that are lucky to flee the fighting will sooner find themselves crammed in another refugee camp with even more appalling conditions than the ones they left behind.
Even though the triggering of the violence in Lebanon cannot be put solely on the doorstep of Palestinians as a group, the involvement of some of their own in it will certainly cause some ripples in the relationship between them and their Lebanese host.
Palestinians have endured so much hardship for the past six decades. Many of them are filled with bitterness and frustration. Under such conditions, people tend to have vengeful feelings. Militant groups are taking advantage of their plight to recruit followers. The fallouts from the radicalization of the Palestinians seem to hurt them more than help them.
Njei Moses Timah