Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Palestinian-Transjordanian Rift: Economic Might and Political Power in Jordan

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Palestinian-Transjordanian Rift: Economic Might and Political Power in Jordan

Article excerpt

The political developments in Jordan since the events of 1970-71 shaped the Palestinian community and Transjordanian society (mostly tribal) into two conflicting ethnic groups. The Jordanian Palestinians are a political minority, while simultaneously constituting a slim demographic majority yielding economic strength through dominance in the private economic sector, a matter that is a source of heightened inter-communal tensions. Analyzing data on the 500 largest economic concerns in Jordan and on the 173 companies that were traded on the Jordanian stock exchange in 1995-1996 leads to the conclusion that the prevailing image of a dichotomous, sector-based economy grounded in Transjordanian and Palestinian ethnic groups receives empirical corroboration. Following a discussion on the nature of the Jordanian economic elite in terms of the overall political system, the author concludes that the economic influence of wealthy Palestinians does not extend to the political realm. Thus, even the most prosperous individuals (or family corporations) in Jordan do not constitute a pressure group or a known and particular lobbying force, neither as businessmen nor as sub-groups on the basis of extraction. The Palestinians' financial activity in Jordan and their control of the banking sector give them, as a group, a special status with inherent political implications. Progress toward economic and political liberalization will enable the Palestinians to yield more meaningful political influence in the future.

In the fall of 1995, a heated debate over Jordanian-Palestinian relations broke out in the Jordanian press, involving politicians, academics, and columnists.1 The debate followed the publication of the results of a public opinion poll on the future relations between Jordan and the Palestinian entity (the state in the making) carried out simultaneously in Jordan and the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza), in which most Jordanians and Palestinians alike favored some form of political unification (confederation, federation, or complete unity) between Jordan and the future Filastin.2 The discussion of the future relations between the two political entities was only a pretext for the consideration of a much more delicate topic, which until the late 1980s was regarded as taboo in Jordan's media and public conferences: the future of the Jordanian citizens of Palestinian extraction (hereafter: Palestinians) in Jordan, particularly their political rights and civil status.

This issue was first raised publicly after King Husayn's announcement, in July 1988, of Jordan's judicial and administrative disengagement with the West Bank, and it took on a new intensity as a result of the ensuing political developments and the peace process. The 1990-91 Gulf crisis resulted in the return to Jordan of over 200,000 Palestinians, which aroused fears among the original "East Bank" Jordanians (hereafter: Transjordanians) that demographic changes favoring the Palestinians would lead to the loss of power of the tribal elite. A growing group of Transjordanian nationalists viewed the peace process beginning with the Madrid Conference of 1991, followed by the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) (September 1993) and by the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan (October 1994) as an opportunity to reorganize the internal Jordanian structure: to construct a clear and separate Jordanian territorial nation and identity, to declare the number of Palestinians in the kingdom as an outcome of the peace agreement (implementation of the right of return of 1967 displaced Palestinians), and to stipulate that political rights and Jordanian citizenship would accrue only to those Palestinians who would renounce their Palestinian identity and accept political assimilation,3 i.e. accept the current order of the Hashemite monarchy and the role of the Army, and remain loyal to the regime and the state even in the cases of a possible clash between Jordan and future Filastin (the Palestinian state). …

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