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22 June 2017

To strengthen steadfastness of Palestinians in Jerusalem

By: Daoud Kuttab
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King Abdullah’s iftar banquet for Jerusalemites has become an annual tradition and has grown in importance.

His Majesty invited tens of political, religious and social Palestinian leaders from Jerusalem for meetings and the breaking of the Ramadan fast on Sunday.

A number of Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset also participated in the discussions about the status and future of the holy city.

King Abdullah, the Hashemites, have a special connection to Jerusalem that has been enshrined in treaties and agreements.

The Israel-Jordan agreement gives Jordan a special role in any decision regarding the future of the city’s holy Islamic sites.

Article 9 of the 1994 treaty states: “Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.”

A further agreement signed in 2013 by President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah reaffirms the Hashemites’ custodianship over the holy places, while recognising Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The annual meeting at the Royal Palace allows for a review of the status of Jerusalem and the efforts to block Israeli attempts to Judaise the city and restrict Palestinian access to the holy sites, especially to Al Haram Al Sharif.

The King and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an understanding under the auspices of US secretary of state John Kerry in 2014; its basic clause was that Al Haram Al Sharif is for Muslims to pray and for others, including Jews, to visit.

This visitation right involved strict time and number controls, but these are slowly eroding.

What was agreed to was that groups of no more than 15 visitors are allowed to visit Al Aqsa Mosque during the visitation hours for tourists.

The numbers have risen a lot, especially during Jewish holidays, and neither Palestinians nor Jordanians have been able to restrain Israelis’ arrogant behaviour.

Of interest to Jerusalemites are also many social, health and economic issues.

The city’s main hospitals are suffering from major financial debts, the school system is being pressured to apply the Israeli curriculum and the Israel-built wall has caused major economic losses as the number of Palestinians coming to Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank has dwindled.

While municipal elections took place in all West Bank cities this spring, East Jerusalem has not had a single municipal election since 1967 when Israel unilaterally annexed the city and forced Palestinians to vote for the united city.

Palestinians have consistently boycotted the Israeli-run “united city” elections and were, therefore, left political orphans.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian government is not allowed to do any activities, fund any project or hold any meeting in Jerusalem.

A children’s puppet festival funded by Norway by way of the Palestinian Ministry of Culture was banned by Israel.

The Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and other institutions, such as the Orient House, were closed by Israel despite agreement with US and Israeli officials on the eve of the Madrid Conference for Peace that Palestinian institutions will not be closed.

The political vacuum has allowed many hooligans and thugs to claim power in East Jerusalem, with the Israeli police often turning a blind eye to them as long as they do not hurt Israelis.

Forged land documents are on the rise and individuals are complaining that thugs are often blackmailing them and forcing them to make concessions on their land and house deals, and local restaurants and businesses that they have to pay protection money.

There is much that Jordan and the Palestinian government can do in Jerusalem within the limited confines Israel has allowed in the city.

Agreement on an ad hoc committee to follow up on the affairs of Jerusalemites would be a positive step in the right direction.

Jordan can also do much to help improve business, especially tourism to Jerusalem.

Travel for Jerusalemites to Jordan has been hampered by archaic policy decisions that make the trip very costly and difficult.

Under the guise of protecting Jerusalem from mass exit, these bureaucratic and costly procedures are forcing Jerusalemites to look West and to use Israeli airports, shopping and entertainment areas, rather than come to Jordan and use Jordan as a hub to the rest of the world.

There is need for an effective mechanism and a sound leadership to overcome these huge challenges facing Jerusalem and Jerusalemites.

A robust Jordanian and Palestinian involvement in creating a mechanism to deal with these issues will go a long way to strengthening the steadfastness of Palestinians in the holy city.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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