A flurry of visits by Arab and Islamic officials to East Jerusalem in the past few weeks has left Palestinians wondering what is happening.
Prince Hashem visited Jerusalem followed by a joint visit of Prince Ghazi and Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa. The head of Jordan’s security service, Hussein Majali, was the last to visit. His visit was followed by statements from Palestinian Islamic waqf officials and the Israeli media that an important leader would be visiting soon.
All visits included a tour of Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest place of worship.
Jordan’s agreement with Israel includes a clause stating that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has a special right and status vis-Ã -vis Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
Commentary regarding the visits was varied. There were those who said it was connected to the controversy over the bridge to the Maghreb gate. Months ago, Jordan intervened to defuse tension over Israel’s plans to tear down the existing passageway and rebuild it. After Jordan’s intervention, Israel agreed to postpone the issue. Since further discussions and a possible decision are pending, Jordanian officials may have wanted to have a first-hand idea of the area and the issues connected with Israel’s plans.
Another motivation behind the sudden flurry of visits could very well be the future of East Jerusalem. Jordan, which has been playing an important role in facilitating Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, understands that the issue of Jerusalem is perhaps the biggest obstacle to any breakthrough.
Yet another issue that has been looming in recent months is the status of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population. Numbering nearly 300,000, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are officially a stateless population. Israel provided East Jerusalemites residency, but it has been withdrawing it from many.
A practice described by Palestinians as ethnic cleansing is withdrawing their residency for administrative reasons.
The current right-wing government of Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have accelerated this process. As a result of the problems faced by the Palestinians, many opted to apply for Israeli citizenship, as an indirect way of safeguarding their right to their birthplace.
Palestinians from Jerusalem who obtain Israeli passports are asked to hand in their temporary Jordanian passports. In response, Jordan decided to deny those Palestinians entry into Jordan using their Israeli passports, even those who have close relatives in the Kingdom.
Israelis or Arab Israelis who are not from Jerusalem are routinely granted visas at the Sheikh Hussein Bridge. As the number of Palestinians receiving citizenship has risen in recent years (reportedly reaching 60,000), the issue has been brought back to Amman to rethink the policy.
The Jordanian minister of interior also made a surprise visit to Ramallah. Sources at the interior ministry say that Jordanian officials are divided between those who understand the reasons for trying to obtain Israeli citizenship and therefore feel those individuals should not be singled out for punishment. On the other hand, some feel that if the pressure of a ban is lifted, almost all East Jerusalemites may end up applying for Israeli citizenship.
In this regard, there is yet another point of view, suggesting that Jordan should offer those interested Jordanian citizenship because of their unique situation and because Israel is refusing to allow them to hold Palestinian passports.
Israel allows its citizens to hold second passports and thus an East Jerusalemite could easily have an Israeli and a Jordanian passport.
The sudden flurry of visits also came after the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, publicly called on all who can to visit Jerusalem as a statement of solidarity. Abbas said what Faisal Husseini said in this regard, namely that visiting a prisoner doesn’t equate recognition of his jailers.
Jerusalemite Palestinians and the general Palestinian and Jordanian public are curious about the reason behind this sudden interest and wish they could be included in the discussion, rather than learn about them in the media.
Jordanian-Palestinian relations have improved considerably in recent decades. The friendly relationship and trust between King Abdullah and Abbas are obvious to all concerned. Jordan’s persistent and unwavering support to the Palestinian cause, in word and deed, are beyond reproach.