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The Palestinians have been used once again by sectarian interests, and they have suffered the most. The situation will not change, says Rougier, unless refugees are allowed to work in Lebanese society and able to live under new and different influences rather than socialized only by religious clerics. He believes, though, that nothing should be done to naturalize them, because it could upset the Lebanese balance of power and leave Palestinian refugees, once again, caught in Lebanon’s inner contradictions. (Such naturalization would also dissolve negotiations about the right of return.) “So what needs to be done is to distinguish between the issues, between what is social (the right to work), what is political (and should be discussed at the regional level), and what is linked to the legal situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” says Rougier. “In order to do that, Lebanese parties would have to stop frightening the Lebanese society about the risk of tawtin.”
Until that happens, Palestinians and all of Lebanon are at great risk. As Iraq becomes a less hospitable place for jihadists and foreign fighters, and as there are fewer American targets to go after, these veterans, experienced at fighting the most advanced army in the world, will look for new battles. Andrew Exum, a former U.S. army officer who led a platoon of light infantry in Afghanistan in 2002 and Army Rangers in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been studying militant Islamist groups. “The fighting in Nahr al Barid is, unfortunately, just the first round in what I fear will be a series of battles fought in the aftermath of the Iraq War,” he says. “On Internet chat rooms, we’re seeing militants turn away volunteers to go fight in Iraq and promising the next fight will be in Lebanon and the Gulf. Lebanon, especially, is a magnet for Sunni extremists,” he says. “You not only have a haven for these groups in the Palestinian camps, with security services from rival Arab states competing for their loyalty and attention, you also have two tempting targets: both the pro-Western ruling coalition in Beirut, as well as the opposition, led by a powerful block of Shia parties. How can we not expect these Sunni militants, who have spent the past four years waging war on the Shia of Iraq, to try and carry that fight on to the large, politically active Shia population in Lebanon? Or on to the pro-Western regime that precariously hangs onto power?”