Pinhas Inbari
,    June 6, 2019 

The Fate of Palestinian Refugees in Syria and Lebanon

Syria: Yarmouk Camp refugees waiting for food distribution in 2014. (UNRWA)

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 19, No. 8

  • The refugee issue (and not Jerusalem) is the “essence” of the PLO, and without the Palestinian refugee problem, the PLO would not exist. In other words, even if Israel and the PLO were to reach an agreement on Jerusalem and the other clauses of the final status agreement such as borders, the conflict would not be resolved until an agreement is reached on the refugee problem.
  • On the eve of the launch of the U.S. peace deal and the Bahrain economic conference, it is important to question whether an agreement with the PLO would be necessary and appropriate to “solve the refugee problem” or whether the Arab spring will create a dynamic whereby the problem will evaporate by itself without any negotiations.
  • The most dramatic change in the Palestinians’ status took part in Syria. The brutal civil war caused significant demographic changes that can be defined as the war crime of ethnic cleansing, as Sunnis, including Palestinians, have been driven out of the country.
  • The large Yarmouk refugee camp adjacent to Damascus, known as the “capital of the camps,” has ceased to exist. A secret European initiative sought to transfer the refugees from Yarmouk to the Palestinian-controlled Jericho area in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas rejected the initiative, however, insisting that the right of return does not apply to territories in the Palestinian Authority but to Israel.
  • After the destruction of the Syrian Yarmouk camp, the Lebanese Ain al-Hilweh camp next to Sidon became the main Palestinian camp and declared itself to be the new “capital of the diaspora.” The Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria to the camps in Lebanon were joined by non-Palestinian, Syrian refugees. These migrants have completely changed the demographic composition of the camps in Lebanon in general and the more that Syria is emptied of its Syrian citizens the proportion of Sunnis in Lebanon rises.
  • In Lebanon today the total number of Syrian refugees is estimated at around one million.1 Thus, the “refugee problem” in Lebanon is no longer about Palestinian refugees, but rather Syrian refugees.
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