An additional problem that has darkened the relations between the Jordanian government and the Palestinians is the claim that Palestinians are marginalized. This is reflected in the absence of Palestinians in the decision-making process, and in positions in the military, security, and intelligence, as well as in their meager representation in political positions. They are discriminated against in the division of electoral districts and therefore the parliament does not reflect their true proportion in the population. The rate of unemployment among Palestinians is high, because the government prefers to employ the graduates of Bedouin universities, and not of the Palestinian ones. In many cases, Palestinians who are suspected of activities against the state have their citizenship revoked, and their ability to appeal the revocation of citizenship is limited. Arbitrary and outrageous decisions are taken against them, and they have nowhere to turn for help.
The marginalization of the Palestinian majority in Jordan spawned talk among them during this past year – the year of the “Arab Spring” – of the “alternative homeland”. Originally, this was a derogatory expression, relating to the intention of Israelis – Ariel Sharon, for example – to turn Jordan into a Palestinian state. The Palestinians want the northern part of Jordan, the area populated by a significant Palestinian majority, to become an autonomous area or even totally independent, regardless of what happens between Israel and the Palestinians who live in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Because even if a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will arise, this will not solve the problem of the tension between the Jordanian regime and the Palestinian citizens of Jordan. Therefore they have the right to solve their problem at Jordan’s expense, without regard to any solution that might be found west of Jordan between Israel and the Palestinians of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
This explains why King Abdullah has met often with the American President Obama: his father – Hussein – fought with all of his strength against the founding of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria because he saw it as an irredentist threat to Jordan, while Abdullah is trying to convince the United States into pressuring Israel to establish a Palestinian state quickly in Judea and Samaria, so that he can say to the Palestinian Jordanians, “Whoever is interested in living in a Palestinian state should move to the Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria”. The situation that results is that there is today a sort of negative competition between Israel and Jordan: whichever of the two states will not give the Palestinians a state within its own territory, and succeed in fobbing off the hot potato called the “Palestinian State” to the other side, wins.
There is a certain resemblance between the claim of the Palestinians in Jordan and the claim of the Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel, mainly in the Galilee. Also those Palestinians who are among us (in Israel) claim that a Palestinian state will not solve their problem as a Palestinian minority that lives in a Jewish state. Therefore they demand autonomy, if not independence, in those areas of the Galilee where they are a majority. Israel firmly rejects this demand, and Jordan is no different from Israel in its approach to the Palestinian demand. However, there is one small difference between Israel and Jordan: the Palestinians in Jordan are an absolute majority within the population, while in Israel their proportion (including Bedouins) is approximately one fifth of the citizens of the State of Israel.
The situation in Jordan is fragile, because during the past year the king began to lose esteem among the Bedouins, the traditional supporters of the house of the Hashemites. He apparently does not share his father’s abilities in public relations, and his efforts to placate Palestinian public opinion in Jordan do not please the Bedouins. The economic situation in Jordan also does not add to the stature of the king, and there is high unemployment. The lower the king sinks in status, the stronger become the voices among the Palestinian public to go to battle against the regime, and conduct a struggle like those in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, which was the main feature that characterized public conduct in the Arab world during the past year. Among the Palestinians in Jordan there is plenty of resentment against the regime, and it could very well be that the shock waves of the “Arab Spring” will bring the Palestinian Jordanians out from their tranquil places of business to turbulent street demonstrations, which may begin soaked in blood while no one knows how it might end.
The idea of the “alternative homeland” gives chills to Abdullah II, king of Jordan and his Bedouin supporters, who have no alternative at this point, because if this idea will break out to the streets, he and they may find themselves in a situation similar to Mubarak, in the best case, and in the situation of Qadhaffi in the worst case. In a tribal society such as that in Jordan, things may deteriorate into harsh violence quickly, and the result of the battle might be a bloody scene reminiscent of what has been occurring in Syria during the past year.
The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.