Tuesday, August 17, 2010

There is no reason to celebrate Palestinian rights

There is an Arabic expression that I sometimes find useful:

"خذ الحكمة من أفواه المجانين" 

Loosely translated, it means: "seek wisdom from the mouth of the insane."  In this spirit, I would like to recall something that the mad messianic Generalissimo in Rabiyeh said a month ago:

"We can't issue a law that gives the Palestinians the right to own property.....we can issue a law to reclaim properties owned by foreigners"

He is of course dead wrong to suggest that we can - or should - seek to reclaim property sold to foreigners, but he is right make a link between the two. How can Lebanon bar Palestinians from owning property, but allow other foreigners to do so?

There is something fundamentally flawed with the law that Parliament passed today, granting Palestinians the right to work in Lebanon.  It stinks of continuing discrimination against one particular nationality. It is also absolutely the wrong move for two reasons:

  • It continues to bar Palestinians from jobs that require membership in a syndicate, a medieval guild-like system that should be abolished for everyone. 
  • It continues to bar Palestinians from owning property.

What is the law doing exactly? It is allowing Palestinians to take basic jobs, but bars them from more professional jobs, such as doctors or lawyers.  Basically, the law is telling skilled, potentially successful professionals that they are encouraged to move to another country.

Furthermore, by denying Palestinians the right to own property, we are telling every entrepreneurial Palestinian that even if you are successful, you can't buy a house. What sort of incentive is that? Why should this person bother being entrepreneurial at all? Property rights underpin the most essential incentives for an economy to work.

The problem with the law originates in the way the debate was framed in the first place, by the reliably schizophrenic Walid Jumblatt.  This law should not have been presented to parliament as a call for Palestinian "rights" - as though it was a charity endeavour - when knows that there continues to be underlying resentment towards them among a large part of the population. Rather, Parliament should be discussing "Lebanon's" interests.  It is in our interest that the Palestinians are economically successful because that will only strengthen our economy.  It should also be the right of any Lebanese business to employ the best person for a particular job - be they Palestinian, French or Indian. We should also have the right to sell property to whoever is willing to pay the highest price, be they Palestinian, Saudi or Extraterrestrial.  We would be doing ourselves a disservice by not welcoming Palestinian investment in our country with a red carpet.

It is true that Palestinian groups routinely violate Lebanese laws, and have yet to accept to disarm. But holding an entire population of 400,000 hostage for the actions of a few thousand thugs is the sort of collective punishment one would expect from Saddam or Stalin. This is not acceptable behaviour by the sort of democracy Lebanon aspires to be.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Julien BLANCJanuary 17, 2013 at 9:17 AM
    Dear Oussama Hayek,
    Thank you for this article.
    For those interested by the topic of the right to work of asylum seekers and refugees, visit my blog 'Right to work for asylum seekers and refugees' or the blog of the NGO Asylum Access on the Right to work.
    As you seem to be knowing the Lebanese law quite well, you might be interested by filling in Asylum Access online survey and document the restriction on the right to work experienced in Lebanon by refugees.