A recent decision by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to cut back its services has left Jordan and other Arab countries extremely worried about the possibility that they may be forced to grant citizenship rights to millions of Palestinians.
During the last few weeks, many Jordanians have expressed deep concern that the UNRWA measures may be part of a "conspiracy" to force the kingdom to resettle Palestinian refugees.
According to UNRWA figures, more than two million registered Palestinian refugees live in Jordan. Most of the refugees, but not all, have full (Jordanian) citizenship, the figures show. The refugees live in 10 UNRWA-recognized camps in Jordan.
The "Cyber City" refugee camp in Jordan, where a number of Palestinians are being housed. (Image source: ICRC)
Jordan is the only Arab country that has granted citizenship to Palestinians. Still, many Jordanians see their presence in the kingdom as temporary.
Although there is no official census data for how many inhabitants are Palestinian, they are estimated to constitute half of Jordan's population, which is estimated at seven million. Some claim that the Palestinians actually make up two-thirds of the kingdom's population.
Over the past few decades, the Jordanians' biggest nightmare has been the talk about resettling the Palestinians in the kingdom by turning them into permanent citizens. The talk about turning Jordan into a Palestinian state has also created panic and anger among Jordanians.
Jordan's "demographic problem" resurfaced last week when a senior Jordanian politician warned against plans to resettle Palestinian refugees in the kingdom.
Taher al-Masri, a former Jordanian prime minister who is closely associated with the ruling Hashemite monarchy, sounded the alarm in an interview with a Turkish news agency.
Commenting on UNRWA's severe financial crisis, which has resulted in cutting back services to Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, al-Masri said: "I believe this is part of a plan to turn the issue of the Palestinian refugees into an internal problem of Jordan. UNRWA is paving the way for liquidating the Palestinian cause."
Al-Masri, whose views often reflect those of the monarchy, expressed fear that the UNRWA cutbacks would prompt the world to consider the idea of turning the Palestinians in Jordan into permanent citizens, especially as most of them already carry Jordanian passports.
Al-Masri and other Jordanian officials maintain that Jordan is entitled to protect its "national identity" by refusing to absorb non-Jordanians.
Earlier this week, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour raised many eyebrows when he announced that there were more than two million Palestinians living in Jordan who are not permanent citizens. Ensour was apparently referring to those Palestinians who carry temporary Jordanian passports.
Jordanian and Palestinian political analysts described Ensour's comments about the Palestinians in Jordan as "fuzzy" and "controversial." They noted that Ensour mentioned the Palestinians together with Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have found shelter in the kingdom in recent years, and that therefore the Jordanians consider the Palestinians' presence in their country only temporary.
"The remarks of the prime minister are ambiguous, controversial and very worrying," commented Bassam al-Badareen, a widely respected journalist in Amman. "He referred to the Palestinians as being part of the foreigners and Iraqi refugees in Jordan."
Ensour's remarks, like those of al-Masri, are further proof that Jordan and the rest of the Arab world are not interested in helping solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria -- the three Arab countries where most of the refugees are living -- are strongly opposed to any solution that would see Palestinians resettled within their borders.
That is why these countries and most of the Arab world continue to discriminate against the Palestinians and subject them to Apartheid laws and regulations. Although Jordan has granted citizenship to many Palestinians, it nevertheless continues to treat them as second-class citizens.
In the past few years, the Jordanian authorities have been revoking the citizenship of Palestinians in a move that has been denounced as "unjust" and "unconstitutional."
The Arab countries have consistently justified their discriminatory policies against the Palestinians by arguing that this is the only way to ensure that the refugees will one day return to their former homes inside Israel. According to this logic, the Arab countries do not want to give the Palestinians citizenship or even basic rights, to avoid a situation where Israel and the international community would use this as an excuse to deny them the "right of return."
But some Palestinians reject this argument and accuse the Arab countries of turning their backs on their Palestinian brothers.
Dr. Ahmad Abu Matar, a Palestinian academic based in Oslo, blasted the Arab world for its continued mistreatment of Palestinians.
"All the Arab countries are opposed to resettlement and naturalization of Palestinians not because they care about the Palestinian cause, but due to internal and regional considerations," Abu Matar wrote. "We need to have the courage to say that improving the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in the Arab countries, including granting them citizenship, does not scrap the right of return."
Noting that Palestinians have long been deprived of their civil rights in the Arab world, particularly in Lebanon, where they are banned from working in many professions and live in camps that do not even suit "animals in the jungle," Abu Matar pointed out that the U.S .and Europe have opened their borders to Palestinians and even given them citizenship.
Addressing the Arab countries, the academic wrote: "Improve the living conditions of the Palestinian refugees. Allow them to settle down. Give them citizenship so that they can live as human beings."
But Abu Matar's appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears in the Arab world. The Arabs do not care about the Palestinians and want them to remain Israel's problem. Countries such as Lebanon and Syria would rather see Palestinians living as "animals in the jungle" than grant them basic rights such as employment, education and citizenship.
It is no surprise that refugees fleeing Syria have no ambitions to settle in any Arab country. They know that their fate in the Arab world will be no better than that of the Palestinians living in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab countries.