A Palestinian spring for Jordan?

Jordan's King Abdullah is worried about the Arab Spring making its way to his doorstep.

Man votes in Amman 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Man votes in Amman 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
Speaking to The Washington Post, King Abdullah of Jordan urged Israel to jump-start peace negotiations with the Palestinians; otherwise, he said, “Israel will have to choose between democracy and apartheid.”
While Israel-bashing by Abdullah is nothing new, this “apartheid alert” from a regime based on apartheid policies against a Palestinian majority is shocking.
Abdullah’s attempts to publicly bash Israel, desperately sponsor born-dead peace talks, and welcome Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Amman, all indicate that Abdullah is worried about the Arab Spring making its way to his doorstep.
While Abdullah’s kingdom has been witnessing a much calmer tone of protest, nonetheless, they are regular and could grow into a revolution if the Palestinians join in (which so far they have not).
The Palestinian majority in Jordan have endured decades of discriminatory policies. In Apartheid South Africa, citizens were classified according to their race. As a result, the black majority ended up being ruled by a white minority. In a similar way, Abdullah’s Hashemite regime separates Jordan’s citizens into East Bankers (Beduin) and Palestinians. The East Bank minority, although also discriminated against, has been much better off than the Palestinian majority.
BUT IS it really fair to compare the half- British king’s regime to Apartheid South Africa? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Under the Hashemite regime, the last time a Palestinian served as prime minister was 21 years ago, and Tahir Masri lost his position in less than a year. Israel’s demonizers, including King Abdullah, simply overlook the fact that Azmi Bishara – an Arab-Israeli former Knesset member – ran for prime minister of Israel in 1999, despite being an outspoken enemy of the Jewish state, and received fair Israeli state TV coverage just like his Jewish opponents.
On the legislative level, Israel’s Arab minority has 14 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, while Abdullah’s Palestinian majority has six seats out of a 120-member Parliament. In Israel, Arabs serve as mayors while not a single Palestinian is currently serving as a mayor of any of Jordan’s cities, including the Palestinian-dominated Amman, Abdullah’s capital.
And Jordan’s discriminatory policies are not limited to the government, they they affect the Palestinian majority’s everyday lives. The UN Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) confirms Abdullah’s kingdom treats its Palestinian majority as refugees, despite the fact that they obtained Jordanian citizenships when the Hashemite regime occupied and annexed the West Bank in 1948. Israel, on the other hand, recognizes its Arab minority as full citizens with no questions asked.
Abdullah himself has admitted that his Palestinians are discriminated against. In 1999, when Abdullah was newly crowned following the death of his father King Hussein, Abdullah visited an Israeli-controlled crossing point between Jordan and Israel and delivered what the CNN described then as “a long-awaited message to Palestinians under his rule” by calling on fellow Jordanians to work toward “ending class divisions that have marginalized Palestinian citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom,” vowing that “discrimination must end.”
However, according to two Palestinian-Jordanian former senior officials, Abdullah’s actual policy was to sustain discrimination against Palestinians. This was made public in a US Embassy-Amman cable, exposed by Wikileaks, quoting former prime minister Tahir Masri and Abdullah’s former senior advisor, Adnan Abu Odeh.
That cable also documents a littleknown fact, namely that only 35 percent of Jordan’s Palestinians are registered refugees. If that is true, let’s do the math.
According to UNRWA there are 1.8 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan. If that constitutes a mere 35%, then the total number of Palestinians in Jordan could be as high as 5.2 million.
Jordan’s population is 6.5 million. Now, if Abdullah is discriminating against approximately 5.2 million, or 80%, of his country’s 6.5 million citizens, then accusations of “apartheid” should be more of a concern to him than to Israel, whose Arab (Palestinian) minority has full access to state services, public jobs, education, welfare and even the army for those desiring.
Discriminatory polices under Abdullah even extended to withdrawing passports from Palestinians. Human Rights Watch issued a report in 2010 confirming that the Jordanian government has been withdrawing citizenship from Palestinians in Jordan at random, and as a result destroying livelihoods and breaking families. Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Lea-Wahtson commented at the time that “Jordan is playing politics with the basic rights of thousands of its citizens.”
“Playing politics” is exactly what Abdullah was doing when he labeled Israel as a country moving towards apartheid. Abdullah is worried his disenfranchised and angry Palestinian majority will end up toppling him into the stream of the Arab Spring, and therefore he is doing what most Arab governments have been doing best for years: blaming their failures and shortcoming on Israel to distract their own people.
Abdullah should realize that Jordan’s Palestinians are fed up with him and his policies and that all of his anti-Israeli talk will not deter them from joining the Arab Spring. Abdullah must know that the Palestinian majority in Jordan is more concerned with the daily bread they cannot afford and the dignity they no longer have because of a king who treats them as sub-human.
Abdullah and other Arab rulers must realize that bashing Israel will not get them an Arab-Spring exemption.
Mudar Zahran is a Palestinian-Jordanian writer who resides in the UK.