Despite State of War, Jordan Pumps Millions Into Occupied West Bank
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel may hold the mortgage, but Jordan has millions of dollars on deposit in the occupied West Bank.
Although Jordan is officially at war with Israel, the Arab nation has nevertheless bankrolled Palestinian jobs and education in the disputed territory for more than two decades.
This odd relationship appears likely to change now that King Hussein has announced he will sever legal and administrative ties with the West Bank.
Hussein so far has declined to be specific about what links would be eliminated. But Palestinians fear a key lifeline to the outside world could be cut off if he cancels passports held by most of the West Bank’s 850,000 Palestinians or closes the Allenby Bridge linking the West Bank to Jordan.
Hussein, whose grandfather united the east and west banks of the Jordan River in 1950, sends up to $200 million annually to the West Bank and east Jerusalem for hospitals, Islamic institutions, agriculture and education, according to Yasser Obeid, the director of the West Bank’s Arab Health Center.
The money covers salaries to 21,000 former Jordanian government officials, lawyers who went on strike after the 1967 occupation, and Palestinian teachers.
In addition, Jordan has contributed $12 million annually to the Wakf, or Moslem Religious Council, which oversees Jerusalem’s landmark Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques.
Palestinians in West Bank and east Jerusalem classrooms study Jordanian textbooks, and college qualification examinations are sent across the Allenby Bridge from Amman.
The Jordanian dinar is the main form of currency in the West Bank and the Cairo-Amman Bank opened a branch two years ago in Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city. Since then, Palestinians have deposited $45 million into the bank.
Despite Hussein’s move to distance his kingdom from the Israeli-held territory, Obeid predicted Jordan still would wield influence in the West Bank.
″We Palestinians and Jordanians are one people ... and the relationship between us will not change,″ he said in an interview. ″Hussein provided funding not to win hearts, but because he felt obliged to support our people under occupation.″
Amin Majaj, one of 30 Palestinians who lost their Jordanian Parliament seats this week when Hussein dissolved the lower house, disagrees.
″It’s very likely Hussein will lose influence in the West Bank. Just think of the institutions and employees who depend on Jordan. What about them?″ Majaj, an east Jerusalem doctor, said in an interview.
In announcing his intention to bow out of the West Bank, Hussein apparently intended to send a message to the Palestine Liberation Organization that he would not take their place at a table to negotiate Middle East peace, as Israel has suggested.
The Israeli proposal is based on the U.S.-brokered 1978 Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt, which included a prominent role for Jordan in negotiating the future of the occupied territories.
One Israeli official told The Associated Press that, while apparently pulling back from an active role in negotiations, Hussein also ″is telling the PLO: ’Remember, there are things I can do for the Palestinians that you can’t do. I have quite a lot of clout.‴
″Hussein just has to be careful not to go too far, because 70 percent of his own people are Palestinians, and he doesn’t need any trouble from them,″ the official said on condition of anonymity.
Hanna Siniora, pro-PLO editor of the east Jerusalem daily newspaper Al Fajr, predicted Hussein would benefit from his decision to loosen his hold on the West Bank.
″Jordan will gain a new relationship with the Palestinians based on respect for their national rights,″ he told The AP.
Most Israeli officials say privately they doubt Hussein will take drastic steps, such as closing the bridges between Jordan and the West Bank that Palestinians rely on for business and as their main link with the Arab world.
″What has happened up to now is mainly symbolic and doesn’t have a real effect on the daily life in the West Bank,″ said an Israeli diplomatic source. ″In our assessment, he might take another step or two, but will stop short″ of taking drastic steps.
In one step, state-run Jordan television canceled weather reports and a Palestinian program for the occupied territories, the television’s news editor said Tuesday from Amman.
However, the editor, Alfred Asfoor, said the programs might be aired again in the future.