After a series of bad news coming from Washington regarding the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and the defunding of a small grant to keep East Jerusalem’s hospitals running, good news for Jerusalemites had come from Jordan.
Jordan’s Civil Status and Passports Department has initiated a new mechanism for renewing passports for residents of Jerusalem that is less expensive and much less cumbersome. The fee for the renewal of passports has been reduced from JD200 to JD50, and Jerusalemites can now apply for or renew a passport in East Jerusalem without having to go through the expense and trouble of travelling across the King Hussein Bridge to Amman.
Unlike the rest of the Palestinians, residents of Jerusalem have remained stateless and political orphans. The 330,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are not allowed to have Palestinian IDs or passports and are not Israelis either, and although they can apply for an Israeli citizenship, few have done so and even fewer of those who did apply have been granted citizenship.
The key to this Jordanian gesture, of course, is not about money or bureaucratic simplification, but comes from the fact that that there is a King and a government that actually cares and want to do something about supporting the steadfastness or “sumud” of the people of Jerusalem.
Of course the issue of Jerusalemites is very tricky. While Jerusalem, like the rest of the West Bank, was included in the unification act of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1950, this legal situation has been interrupted by the Israeli occupation of 1967 and later by the Palestinian intifada and the Jordanian decision to severe administrative ties with the West Bank.
Since the 1988 decision by His Majesty the late King Hussein, the citizenship issue was settled. Those who lived in the East Bank were allowed to retain their Jordanian citizenship and those in the West Bank were no longer citizens, but were allowed to keep their Jordanian passports as a travel document. Many who go back and forth, especially in Jerusalem, kept their Jordanian citizenship. The number of Jordanian citizens now living in East Jerusalem are said to be about 100,000.
The situation changed again after the Oslo accords and the creation of the Palestinian National Authority. All Palestinians, except Jerusalemites, were granted a Palestinian national number, an ID and a regular passport. While this was coordinated with Israel, the Israelis were adamant about not allowing any Palestinian living in Jerusalem to hold a Palestinian passport.
This meant that Jerusalemites were somehow punished and turned into the political orphans because Israel does not allow the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah to engage with them, while it has little concern to them, and their well-being.
The issue of the holy places, like Al Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was coordinated as Jordan held previously a special status in the holy places and had guaranteed under its peace treaty with Israel to have a special role. Jordan’s Jerusalem Islamic Waqf operates in Jerusalem and Jordanian-paid guards help protect and manage Islamic sites. The guards and those supporting the effort now stand at 1,000 Jordanian-paid employees. They work in administration, education, public relations, tourism as well as guarding the holy places.
The sensitive issue of the holy places was regulated in a special agreement signed in Amman in 2013 between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and His Majesty King Abdullah. But the human side of this issue has been left unresolved.
For its part, Israel has ceased naming Jerusalemites’ citizenship as Jordanian and is now calling it “undetermined”.
Jordan’s latest move regarding the passports has triggered a public discussion in Jerusalem. Why not exempt Jerusalem from the 1988 decision to severe political and administrative ties.
Some people might take this the wrong way. This idea is a temporary stop gap aimed at restoring the morale of the people of Jerusalem, and ensuring that the city’s Palestinians are not left alone to the Israelisation policy that is taking place in housing, education, health, tourism and general business.
This can be done in coordination with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the same way the issue of the holy places was jointly done, without reducing the rights of the Palestinians. This would enhance the rights of the Palestinians in Jerusalem and would help put a temporary stop to the quick deterioration that is happening in a city that is supposed to be the capital of Palestine, but is now outside the power of the Palestinian leadership. Revisiting the issue of ties with Jordan will not, and should not, reduce Palestinian aspirations to have the holy city as the future capital of the state of Palestine, but it can go a long way in supporting the steadfastness of the people in the city and ensuring that they can stay put on their lands and homes.
Jerusalem’s political orphans are crying out for help from any direction. Anyone who can help support the people of Jerusalem in any way must do so. This is the right time for a serious coordinated decision that can help support the “sumud” of the people of Jerusalem.