by Shoshana Bryen
It has been said that Jordan is the only Arab country in which Palestinians have “full citizenship.” That is less than a complete truth. As Secretary of State John Kerry pursues his plan for a “two state solution,” the insecurity of Palestinian legal status in Jordan is emerging.
Israel’s vociferous objection to removing the IDF from the Jordan River line in the West Bank is easy to understand. Maj. Gen. Ya’akovAmidror, former National Security Advisor said bluntly, “Only Israeli forces can make us sure that we will not find ourselves living with another Gaza Strip in Ramallah, which is five miles from the Israeli parliament in the city of Jerusalem. This is so important for us that we are not going to give it away.”
The Jordanians, too, are adamant about rejecting the proposal. There is close security cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian security services. The Jordanians are capable and dedicated to preventing infiltration of operatives and weapons into the West Bank through its territory. The Israelis are equally dedicated to border security along the Jordan River that helps keep the Kingdom secure.
But more is at work.
The estimable Arab-Israeli journalist Khalid Abu Toameh, senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, reported this week that a group of retired Jordanian army generals issued a statement warning their government against accepting Kerry’s proposals for fear that Palestinians would be “settled” in Jordan. “This is an American-Zionist plot to liquidate the Palestinian cause at the expense of Jordan.”A Jordanian columnist wrote, “Jordan’s politicians and parties want to alert the world that Jordan is playing host [to Palestinians] and Jordanians believe that Kerry is offering to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state.”
Why would Israel want to replace its best friend in the Arab world–Jordan–with its worst enemy, a radical Palestinian State with the size, infrastructure, finances, weaponry and international legitimacy of the Kingdom?
It doesn’t. The Jordanians are, in fact, reflecting a little-known fact of life east of the River: the shaky legal status of Jordanian Palestinians and the deep desire of East Bank non-Palestinians to be rid of them. A quick recap of Jordanian/Palestinian history:
1949: In the course of its war against Israeli independence, Jordan takes control of most of the area defined by the UN for a Palestinian Arab State.
1950: Jordan formally annexes the West Bank in a move only Britain and Pakistan recognize as legal. All Palestinians are considered Jordanian citizens.
1967: Jordan loses physical control of the West Bank and the people living there, but not the responsibility. The Jordanian Constitution says the West Bank remains part of Jordan.
1983: Jordan introduces color-coded travel cards for West Bank-origin Palestinians:
- Green for Palestinians still living on the West Bank;
- Yellow for Palestinians living on the East Bank, but with substantial material or family assets in the West Bank;
- Blue for Palestinians from Gaza who live in Jordan, essentially permitting them to live only in refugee camps with no political rights. (These cards had preceded the 1983 changes.)
The status of Yellow Card holders is complicated. They can to live in Jordan, but are required to obtain all their documents – identity cards, marriage licenses, car registration, etc. – in the West Bank. This has led many to believe that if a Palestinian State emerges, they will be transferred there.
The closer worry appears to be that Green card holders, plus Palestinian refugees residing in third countries will flood the East Bank, or “Jordan proper.” While admitting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into Jordan, no Palestinian refugees have been permitted to cross the border.
There is no religious rivalry in Jordan as most people are Sunni, but there is a serious ethnic division.
While people of Palestinian origin make up approximately 60% of the residents of Jordan, East Bank non-Palestinians–who call themselves Trans-Jordanians–had seen themselves as the country’s elite, serving at the highest echelon of government and the military (which is why retired military officers were part of the protest). The Palestinians, having had many government-related avenues closed to them, became more entrepreneurial. King Abdullah II, in an effort to strengthen the Jordanian economy, modernized the stock market and contract law, opened the Aqaba-Eilat Free Trade Zone with Israel, and introduced other incentives into the system. These primarily benefitted Palestinians in business, alienating TransJordanians who were already “miffed” by the King’s Palestinian wife.
Now the TransJordanians are further worried about being swamped by Palestinians from the West Bank and elsewhere, and the transformation of Jordan into the Palestinian State either by legal fiat or by demographic overload.
Jordanians reject Secretary Kerry’s proposals because they are only “playing host” to Palestinians who they believe should not be not full citizens. And they believe only the IDF, not the U.S. or the UN, will protect them from an unwelcome influx of more.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
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