A decision by the Jordanian government to open administrative offices in Jerusalem that will allow residents of the holy city to renew their documents including their passports has been well received by Jerusalem’s Palestinians who hold Jordanian travel documents.
Palestinians living in Jerusalem are considered residents of the city yet they are not citizens of any state. They are neither citizens of Palestine, Israel nor Jordan, but are allowed to carry Jordanian travel documents. In the past, Palestinians in Jerusalem needing to renew a travel document or file a birth or marriage certificate had to travel across the King Hussein Bridge to Jordanian Interior Ministry offices in Amman. Israeli-issued permits to exit across the bridge (costing NIS 230) and an exit tax (around NIS 180) amount to around $120 per person. The fee for a passport is JD200 ($282).
Fawaz Shahwan, head of the Civil Affairs Department at the Interior Ministry, said on Jordanian state television on January 22 that Jerusalemites will soon be able to process personal documents without having to travel to Jordan to do so.
Shahwan described the change in Jordanian policy “as part of King Abdullah’s interest in Jerusalem’s holy places and the people of Jerusalem, these services are being made to help strengthen the steadfastness of the people of Jerusalem in their city”.
Since 1967, Israel has separated the city from nearby Palestinian towns, including Bethlehem and Ramallah. A census was conducted in the summer of 1967, soon after the June war, and every Palestinian registered in Jerusalem and their descendants received permanent residency and a blue ID.
Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem on June 27, 1967 and the imposition of Israeli law allowed Jerusalem’s Arab residents to own cars with Israeli licence plates, which allows them to travel freely in Israel and in the occupied territories. They also became eligible to receive social benefits and had the same taxes levied on them as on Israelis, although there has been little spending on Palestinian infrastructure programmes in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. A casual traveller can immediately notice the difference when travelling to nearby Jewish settlements by noticing roads, parks, and sidewalks. Still, this was viewed as a privilege in comparison with the situation of their brothers and sisters in the rest of the occupied territories who live under military rule and face travel restrictions.
This situation changed dramatically since 1988 and specifically as a result of the first Intifada, which began in 1987. Jordan severed administrative relations with the West Bank, including East Jerusalem in 1988, and when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Palestinians outside Jerusalem became the administrative responsibility of the new Palestinian government. Thereafter, these Palestinians were issued Palestinian passports and other personal documents (birth, marriage, death certificates, etc.). Israel had fiercely fought against Palestinians in Jerusalem being under Palestinian control, thus turning 330,000 Palestinians — 37 per cent of the entire population of West and East Jerusalem — into political orphans.
This arrangement led to cries from Jerusalemites to Jordan to reestablish relations with them, at least on an administrative level. Some Palestinians are saying that since Jerusalemites have no citizenship in any country, it makes sense for Jordan to make an exception for them in regard to the 1988 West Bank disengagement, thus they could be considered dual Palestinian-Jordanian citizens even though they will not be allowed at the present time to hold Palestinian passports.
The wall and other discriminatory Israeli policies have had their economic effects on the people and also on institutions in Jerusalem. Israel continues to close major Palestinian public institutions in violation of a letter of assurance sent by US Secretary of State James Baker on the eve of the Madrid peace talks in October 1991. The Israeli closures include Orient House, the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce, the Higher Tourism Council and the Jerusalem branch of the Palestinian Prisoners Club. In addition, Palestinian cultural institutions are barred from receiving funds from the Ramallah-based government, leaving them with significant financial problems. The same was made in a letter by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart in 1995. But all these letters of assurances have been discarded as Israel has used 1945 emergency laws adopted from the British mandate to close 22 Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem since 2001.
Jordan’s special relationship with Jerusalem was highlighted in the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty and the agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation on Jerusalem. The agreement signed in Amman in 2013 gives the Jordanian government a role in the status of the city’s Christian and Islamic holy places. These agreements, however, deal with land and buildings, ignoring Jerusalemites’ actual needs, which have become considerably more acute in recent years, especially after Israel erected the wall around Jerusalem, denying access to the city by Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank.
Jordan’s recent policy change, while welcomed by Jerusalemites, is not enough to lead to major improvements in the lives of Palestinians in the holy city. It is incumbent on the Palestinian and Jordanian leadership to work together to find solutions to the many socioeconomic problems that have arisen as a result of persistent Israeli efforts to isolate Jerusalem from its natural Palestinian networks and connections. This issue is of utmost importance and cannot and should not be delayed or left to that of reactions. A proactive Jordanian-Palestinian policy is more possible today than ever before due to the high degree of cooperation and meeting of minds between both people and both leaderships.