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19 October 2017

Jordan and Palestinian reconciliation

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The Palestinian reconciliation effort sponsored by Egypt and supported by the rest of the world appears to be moving in the right direction.
 
Jordan, which has championed the Palestinian cause and has been encouraging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to engage in the American-led peace process, was not involved in any way in the efforts to unite the two major Palestinian movements, Hamas and Fateh.
 
Jordan’s official spokesman publicly endorsed the reconciliation in a short statement given to Jordan TV last  Thursday, but that was the extent of the involvement of the Kingdom in this crucial issue that is expected to improve Palestinians’ ability to negotiate with a united front.
 
Part of the reason for this absence is geographical and part is political.
 
Gaza, where the rebellion against the central authority in Ramallah took place, is physically adjacent to Egypt’s Sinai and has no border with Jordan.
 
Between 1948 and 1967, Egypt was running a custodianship government over Gaza, while the West Bank was annexed on April 24, 1950, to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan after a public referendum.
 
Jordan has not had a good relationship with Hamas. In 1999, Jordan deported Hamas leaders living in Jordan and closed their offices.
 
Leaders who have Jordanian citizenship, like Khaled Mishaal, have not been able to return (except for short visits when there were deaths in the family).
 
Jordanians have regularly accused the hawkish wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan of being a cover for Hamas in the Kingdom.
 
But despite the geography and politics, the reconciliation effort should be of high interest to Jordanians.
 
If the process moves as expected, ending up in total unification of government and policies, leading to presidential and parliamentary elections, a meeting of a newly reformed PLO might take place after the elections.
 
While Abbas would like to hold the meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in the West Bank, it is more likely that it will take place either in Gaza or outside Palestine.
 
Jordan is the most likely location to hold a meeting of the reformed PNC, and therefore it will need to be ready to allow Palestinians elected from the Hamas movement to come to Jordan.
 
The issue of travel to Jordan has other humanitarian complications.
 
Gazan Palestinians, whether living in Gaza or the West Bank, are not allowed into Jordan without prior approval. They are granted blue bridge cards.
 
Palestinians living in the West Bank are granted green bridge cards and Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship living in the West Bank hold yellow cards. Those with green or yellow cards are allowed to travel to and through Jordan without prior permission. Blue cardholders, even if they have changed their residency from Gaza to the West Bank, still need prior approval before being able to travel.
 
Some analysts are worried that if the Rafah crossing is open, Jordan will make the travel of Gazans to and through Jordan even more difficult. Palestinians will be encouraged to travel by way of Rafah, even though those living in the West Bank will not be able to easily get to Gaza, as they will need an Israeli permit to do so.
 
The reconciliation effort might also negatively affect the status of some 250,000 Gazans living in Jordan but lacking Jordanian citizenship.
 
Gazans, many living in the Gaza refugee camp, near Jerash, have to travel on temporary Jordanian passports and have faced problems in getting jobs and being allowed to join professional associations like the lawyers, doctors and engineers associations. Former Jordanian prime minister Abdullah Ensour agreed to treat Gazans like Jordanians when the electricity subsidy was removed. Now Gazans are worried that the current economic austerity talks, including the possibility of removing the subsidy on bread, might apply to them as well.
 
The reconciliation effort is an internal Palestinian affair. Egypt has been entrusted with it because of geography and history, and as part of an Arab League decision to follow up on the reconciliation efforts. This mandate should not be seen as having long-term implications.
 
At the same time, Jordan needs to end its bridge policy of discriminating between Palestinians from West Bank and Gaza, and treat all Palestinian passport holders as equal. 
 
On the larger political effort, both Egypt and Jordan, as well as the entire Arab world, should be fully supportive of the Palestinian effort to end the occupation and should continue to encourage Israel to accept the Arab Peace Plan for ending the occupation of 1967 of all Arab lands and an agreed-to solution of the Palestinian refugee problem in return for normal relations with Israel.

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



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