A recent statement made by a group of retired Jordanian army generals, which calls for Palestinian refugees to be stripped of their Jordanian passports, has sent shockwaves across the kingdom.Last year, Jordan started stripping Palestinian Arabs of their citizenship in an effort to make Jordan less Palestinian and therefore to forestall the idea that Jordan is already a Palestinian state.
The unprecedented statement was provoked by the haunting fear of the so-called “Jordan option” to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the expense of the kingdom by establishing a Palestinian state in Jordan.
The previously negligible group touched on sensitive issues that have been, until lately, considered taboo in the country’s political dictionary, namely Palestinian-Jordanian relations and the future of Palestinians in the kingdom.
The statement said efforts by Israel and its supporters to settle Palestinians in the kingdom are succeeding, pointing to the fact that the kingdom is home to 4.5 million Palestinians, some holding Jordanian citizenship and some not.
“The worst part of the conspiracy is that it has supporters in the kingdom who call for settlement of Palestinians and granting them equal political rights under support from Israel and the US,” said the statement, calling for drastic measures to control the swelling effect of these lobby groups.
There is no reliable information on the exact number of Palestinians in the kingdom. Authorities claim they are half of the population, although independent figures have given 65 percent of the kingdom’s 6 million population as a number. The Palestinian population is mostly concentrated in major cities including Amman, Irbid and Zarqa as well as refugee camps around these cities.
But they are far from being fairly represented in the parliament. With seats being elected on the basis of geographical region rather than the size of the overall vote, power has been disproportionally granted to ‘East Bankers’ from Jordan’s desert areas in the north and south.
The statement’s shocking content did not come out of vacuum, with many eastern Jordanians lobbying to add to the constitution the decision made by King Hussein to disengage from the West Bank in 1988.
The decision by the late king was meant to pave the way for the Palestinian Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat to negotiate the Oslo agreement, which the PLO signed a few years later.
Prominent columnist Nahid Hattar is one of the promoters of the plan to put the disengagement decision in written law in order to sever all ties created between the Palestinian state and Jordan since 1951.
A group of intellectuals and political leaders from around the country have come together to counter the suggestion of the retired generals.
In mid-May, around 360 prominent Jordanians joined a movement to push for dialogue and political reform to confront efforts to settle Palestinians in the kingdom. The statement called for a “comprehensive” reform that guarantees all the kingdom’s citizens – both Jordanians and Palestinians – full political and civil rights to strengthen the country’s “internal front” against what they described as attempts to transform the struggle with the “Zionist enemy” into a domestic conflict between “East Bank Jordanians” and Jordanians of Palestinian origin.
Until early 1970, Palestinians who fled their homeland in the aftermath of the 1948 war with Israel enjoyed full political privilege, including joining the army.
But following the civil war, there has been a systematic policy to uproot Palestinians from key political institutions in favor of Jordanians in the East Bank.
The Palestinians moved to control the economy through prominent families that owned banks and major enterprises.
But with talks over final issues including the future of refugees and borders, the possibility of permanent settlement of Palestinians as well as a desire for a larger piece of the political cake pushed conservative Jordanians to sound the alarm over the “Jordan option,” according to a former minister who did not wish to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
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