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On test is a friendship



The seriousness of the US-initiated framework for a possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem appears to have shaken dormant relations in the region, including in Jordan. The Palestinian-Jordanian relationship, which is experiencing its highest degree of cooperation and mutual trust, is being put to the test.

The challenges facing this important relationship stem from identity issues that have plagued Jordan for decades but which have been pushed under the rug.

Jordanian politicians, pundits, journalists and even government officials are expressing different degrees of concern and worry regarding the aftermath of US Secretary of State John Kerry plan, even though information about the plan is very sketchy.

The potential of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resurrected badly needed discussion about political reform, which was delayed until the resolution of the Palestinian cause. The refugee issue is perhaps the most important part of this discussion.

Two million registered refugees in Jordan are the biggest single group of Palestinian refugees in the world. Their case is even more complicated by the fact that they are also full Jordanian citizens, though not equitably represented in Parliament as a result of large-scale gerrymandering.

Murmurings began on websites and social media, and from former Jordanian officials, including former prime minister Marouf Bakhit, who requested that a Jordanian representative attend the ongoing US-led talks to ensure that Jordanian rights are preserved.

The issue of Palestinians in Jordan was also included in the discussions about the rights of Jordanian women to pass on citizenship to their children.

A promise by the government to a parliamentary coalition led by Madaba MP Mustafa Hamarneh to give civil rights to children of Jordanians provoked angry responses from East Bank Jordanians who fear that this will cause a shift in the sensitive demographics of Jordan.

Respected columnist Fahed Fanek picked up on the issue saying, without substantiation, that the idea of giving temporary or permanent passports to Palestinians caused the emptying of the West Bank.

The discussion, however, was further escalated when members of Parliament demanded a briefing from the government on the progress of the peace talks.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriate Affairs Nasser Judeh gave a general briefing about Jordan's key interests in the peace talks, but this did not please the MPs who wanted more details.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour came to the podium and surprised parliamentarians by questioning the transparency of the Palestinian side vis-à-vis the Jordanian counterparts.

Ensour said that Jordanians are afraid of a Palestinian surprise, a hint to the fact that Jordan, like many others, was caught totally by surprise when the Oslo back channel produced the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian memorandum of understanding. Although he praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the media picked on Ensour's questioning of the Palestinian openness to Jordan.

Ensour's claim, however, was quickly responded to by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Malki. He insisted on the fact that Palestinians are totally open and transparent with Jordan.

Malki's statement produced some angry remarks from some Jordanians.

Former head of the Royal Court, Riyad Abu Karaki, wrote on his Facebook page that Malki's statements were inappropriate.

He used the Arabic word "eib" (shame) to describe the hints at the disconnect between the palace and the government.

There is no doubt that the national identity issues confronting Jordanians if and when the Palestinian issue is resolved are daunting.

Real political reform and an equitable share to all citizens, which has been postponed for years, will not be justified any further.

While the late King Hussein's memorable quote that Jordan is for its citizens, irrespective of origin, remains the guiding principle for the way forward, many fear that the interests of some Jordanians who have benefited from the central government for decades will be washed away once the need for equity among all citizens become the rule.

The author is a veteran Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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