Jan 27 2014

Jordan eager to represent Jordanian-Palestinian refugees

Published by at 5:06 pm under Articles,Jordan



By Daoud Kuttab

Up until the convening of the Arab League summit in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, in October 1974, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was the official representative of Palestinians. After all, Jordan was home to most Palestinians before 1967, and the West Bank (including east Jerusalem) was part of the kingdom from 1952-1967. Palestinians living on both sides of the Jordan River were — and many still are — Jordanian citizens.

During the summit in Rabat, the Arab League recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the “sole and legitimate” representative of the Palestinian people everywhere. For the most part that has been accepted. But Jordan continues to host the single-largest group of Palestinian refugees: 42% of all registered Palestinian refugees live in Jordan and have full Jordanian citizenship.

It is this fact that has caused Jordan to try to wiggle its way back to some sort of representation. Jordanian governmental and parliamentary officials have recently stepped up their rhetoric about the need for Jordan to play some kind of role in representing those refugees, who are also their citizens. The potential of the success of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s mission has heightened interest by Jordan.Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour opened up this new line of discussion by stating Jordan’s official policy on Palestinian refugees: “Every Palestinian refugee [who came] to Jordan between 1946 and 1949 has the right of return and compensation.” Ensour also said all refugees who have become citizens should exercise their personal rights to return and receive compensation. Jordan also hosts nearly half a million refugees from the Gaza Strip who have not been granted citizenship. Their fate is also of extreme importance to Jordanians in terms of the country’s demographic balance; many conservative Jordanians fear that the country’s original citizens might become a minority in their own country. This means that Jordan thinks it has a say in at least three different categories of Palestinians: those who entered Jordan before the 1949 armistice agreement, those who became refugees in 1948 and 1967 and those from the Gaza Strip who have made Jordan their refuge but have never received citizenship because the Gaza Strip was never part of Jordan.

But while Ensour might have danced around the issue of representation of Palestinians who have become Jordanian citizens, parliament Speaker Atef Tarawneh was much more explicit.

Tarawneh was quoted by a parliamentary bloc he met with recently as saying that “40% of Palestinian refugees in the kingdom have Jordanian citizenship and the government must assist them in exercising the right of return and receiving compensation.”

It is clear that the Jordanians, who host more than 2 million Palestinian refugees, feel that they must have a much bigger role in any negotiations that will permanently settle their fate. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Naser Judeh, who chaired the UN Security Council session this week, made his country’s position quite clear. “Most of the refugees on our territory are Jordanian citizens in addition to their status as refugees, and it lies at the heart of our responsibilities to protect and restore their legitimate rights recognized by the international terms of reference pertaining to the peace process. As a host country, we, in turn, have rights for the burdens we have shouldered,” Judeh said.

It is the last part of Judeh’s statement that is of utmost interest to Jordan. Hosting so many Palestinian refugees for so long has costs, and Jordan wants to make sure that as a country it is compensated for this daunting multi-decade effort.

Jordanians have been talking about numbers in the billions of dollars as the amount of compensation that the kingdom has a right to demand. Such a payment would most likely be made on condition that Jordan agrees to permanently host most of the Palestinian refugees now living in the country and carrying a Jordanian passport. The actual amount that Jordan would seek as compensation for hosting Palestinian refugees — and how it is calculated — is a closely guarded state secret.

International experts have estimated that the total cost of compensating Palestinian refugees could reach $12 billion, while Palestinians have estimated anywhere from $20 billion to $200 billion. It is not clear what percentage of this compensation would be granted to host countries such as Jordan. Of course the discussion in Jordan is rarely on figures but on the general issue of the final status of the refugees and protecting their rights.

There is no doubt that the heightened official and public interest for Jordan to be involved more directly in the peace talks stems from a feeling that we are approaching some crucial decision-making time. Jordanians want to have a strong say in how issues such as the status of Palestinian refugees in Jordan is finally settled and ensure that the kingdom is properly and fairly compensated for its decades-old effort to host the largest number of Palestinian refugees.

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