The power of citizenship is probably best known by those who are denied it. Examine this statement with respect to the experience of Palestinians in Lebanon.

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‘The power of citizenship is probably best known by those who are denied it.’ Examine this statement with respect to the experience of Palestinians in Lebanon.

In 1948 over 100,000 Palestinians fled from Israel to Lebanon following Nakba. In the present day this number has swelled to over 450,000, even more if those undocumented are included (UNWRA, 2015). They occupy over a dozen camps and are make up the biggest user of UNWRA resources. Their swelling numbers has put strain on aid resources whilst also souring their initial warm welcome with locals. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in poverty, in a society that discriminates and oppresses them. Citizenship is political tool that could have the power to change their abject position.

Citizenship can be defined as “an institution mediating rights between the subjects of politics and the polity to which these subjects belong” (Isin & Nyers, 2014, p. 1). This is a definition of great breadth. The relevant concept within this definition is the rights afforded by citizenship. It is these civil, political and social rights that are denied to many Palestinians in Lebanon (and its resulting ‘power’ for them). For Isin & Nyers the power of citizenship is similar to Arendt’s “right to have rights”.

How powerful would citizenship be for Palestinians though? Since 1948 Lebanon has firmly supported the Palestinian ‘right to return’. This support has come as double edged sword. The Arab League asserts that for Palestinians to retain their ‘separate and special status’ they cannot be allowed to assimilate into local populations, isolating them. (Takkenberg, 1998, p. 62) Associated with this is the delicate sectarian balance of Lebanon; the president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and speaker of parliament Shia Muslim. The Lebanese political class has been virtually unanimous in agreeing that the largely Sunni Muslim Palestinian population can never be allowed civil rights because of the feared impact on the consociation balance. (Shafie, 2007, p. 14) In addition to this is the perceived security threat of Palestinians. The PLOs involvement in the Lebanese civil war is still firm in their conscience. (Haddad, 2006, p. 472) This is demonstrated most overtly in the 1989 Taif Agreement, whereby refugees’ were excluded them from the national reconciliation process and the General Amnesty Law. (Yassine, 2010) Observing these factors it could be argued that the powers afforded to citizenship would have no positive bearing on the Palestinians fortunes. So cemented is the political climate against the Palestinians that they would never be treated as equals. However this is a short sighted, reductionist argument. Looking to the surrounding nation of Jordan the lot of the refugee is much improved. The right of return can be maintained by the strengthening of a Palestinians identity. Political and public sectarian fears can be combated by the de-politicisation of the Palestinians and their integration in society.

Palestinians in Lebanon are not clearly legally defined. They are excluded from the UNHCR (Takkenberg, 1998, p. 68) denying them rights under international law. In 1987, the Lebanon abrogated the 1969 Cairo Agreement and with it the rights granted to Palestinians. (Shafie, 2007, p. 8) Lebanon considers “the Palestinians in its territory to be refugees under the care of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations” (Yassine, 2010) denying them rights at a national level. Their care is entirely left to UNWRA. However UNWRA has no legal power to ensure rights. In fact (Knudsen, 2009, p. 54) asserts “no international body secures legal protection for Palestinian refugees”. This has led scholars to coin the ‘protection gap’ whereby the ambiguous legal status of the refugees has led to abuse and discrimination. (Akram, 2002).
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UNWRA is the biggest advocate for Palestinian rights; however it could also be one of the biggest hindrances in the way of these rights. Whilst the Lebanese government, Palestinians and international community can rely on UNWRA to provide and care for the Palestinians they do not have to address any issues. However UNWRA has little power to improve the lot of the Palestinians. (Gottheil, 2006, p. 418) states that UNWRA “forced to abandon the pursuit of assisting refugees to get on with their lives - repatriation or resettlement - it became strictly a caretaker agency”. The problem lies ...

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