Jordan’s West Bank/East Bank story
And now for some news from the Levant..
As the fairytale peace process in the Middle East ‘continues’ between Israel and Palestine, one must take a look at what’s happening across the river in Jordan. According to several news reports that have emerged out of the Kingdom, Jordan has been embarking on a rather interesting project of its own: ‘revoking the citizenship’ of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin, or as they’re calling it: “clarifying their status and recognizing them as West Bank citizens.”
Jordan – whose population comprises a majority (usually cited to be close to 60-70%) of first, second and third generation Palestinians – lost the West Bank territory in the 1967 war to Israel. While the country still maintained administrative rights to some extent over the West Bank, Jordan decided to hand over all control over the West Bank to the PLO in 1988, in the hope that this would help the PLO to understand the responsibility of administering those areas. That said and done, Jordan has continued to provide financial support to the West Bank as well as continued with its policy initiated in 1954 to provide Jordanian citizenship to all citizens of the West Bank as well as refugees from the 1948 war. Given that most Arab League countries refused to do the same – saying this would eliminate the ‘right to return’ for Palestinians – this move by Jordan has meant that a sizable portion of Palestinians were just not able to rebuild their lives in a new country but also pave the way for several rags-to-riches stories. Even though Palestinian refugee camps (that have turned into entire large-scale areas) still exist and are impoverished, the level of integration has been remarkable (if you can just forget about Black September, that is)
However, Jordan may just be turning all of their hard-earned goodwill into dust by this new move. According to the Minister of Interior,
“We’re not expelling anyone, nor are we revoking the citizenship of Jordanian nationals. We are only correcting the mistake that was created after Jordan’s disengagement from the West Bank [in 1988]. We want to highlight the true identity and nationality of every person.”
The Jordan Times explains what this means:
Following the disengagement (in 1988), Jordan issued yellow cards to Palestinians in Jordan and the diaspora holding Jordanian passports, which entitled these individuals to the full rights of Jordanian citizenship.
Palestinians in the West Bank who had family living in Jordan were issued green cards, which entitled them to temporary Jordanian passports to facilitate travel but did not grant them citizenship rights.
Palestinians with yellow cards who return to Palestine and receive recognition as nationals under either Israeli or Palestinian law revoke their right to a yellow card and are issued a green card when they renew their passports. Conversely, Palestinians with green cards may be granted yellow cards in certain circumstances, such as when their parents reside in Jordan and hold yellow cards.
But now both the Jordan Times and the National have reported that there has been an increase in the number of yellow card holders being given green cards instead, and the National has also reported cases of passports being cancelled or difficulties in renewal.
To make this very simple, the Jordanian government is attempting to revert back to a situation where they are able to demarcate between those hailing from the West Bank and East Bank, in an effort which they say is to ensure that those of Palestinian origin have the right to return to Palestine and to ‘uphold’ the disengagement process from the West Bank’s administration.
But does this move make any logical sense? The reason Palestinians were given citizenship may have been because Jordan had control over the West Bank but also was borne from a humanitarian need. It seems fairly strange to one day decide that a vast majority of the country may no longer be applicable for the citizenship that they have had for so long. Even the legality of it is questionable: a law that was supposed to put this move into process was reportedly never approved by the Jordanian parliament nor ratified by the late King Hussein.
There are so many conspiracy theories that one could draw from this series of events. One – that is circulating on the Web – is that Jordan is attempting to take the responsibility off their hands of having to deal with Palestinians altogether, a claim that really is quite baseless given the fact that if they had to absolve themselves, they wouldn’t have waited this long. The other would be to ensure that if the ongoing efforts of the Obama administration were to fail to broker peace in the region, the long-rumoured-and-much-decried Jordan solution would come into play once again. And if this post isn’t quite as inflammatory as you thought it would be, Google will point you to a number of websites posting all sorts of random theories.
I may be very optimistic, but I really do find the conspiracies hard to believe. Jordan may have its share of detractors, and Palestinians living in the country may have legitimate claims about their status and rights in the country, but one has to give Jordan credit for doing what they have done for Palestinian citizens so far. It would be a shame if they would let this state of affairs and wild rumours continue – or go on without a clear and level-headed clarification than the one given by Jordanian interior ministry officials:
Interior officials have defended the procedures saying that they are meant to counter Israeli policies to “empty the Palestinian lands from their legitimate residents”.