Tens of thousands of Palestinians living in Jordan have been stripped of their Jordanian citizenship over the past few months.

The Arab governments want the Palestinian issue to be Israel's problem alone. But Israel will never be able to handle this matter alone.

Defending the measure, the Jordanians authorities claim that it is actually intended to help the Palestinians as it will thwart any attempt to settle them permanently in the kingdom.

"Jordan is not Palestine and Palestine is not Jordan," the Jordanian Minister of the Interior, Nayef al-Kadi, explained. "The Palestinians should be allowed to return to their homes in Palestine."

The US and its Western allies must press the Arab dictatorships to end their anti-Palestinian policies and start treating Palestinians in a better way.

One can imagine the response of the United Nations and European countries if the Knesset tomorrow approved a law that bans Palestinians from working in any profession or if Israel started stripping the 1.4 million Arabs of their citizenship.

The next time the terms apartheid or oppression are used with reference to the Middle East, one must remember the intolerable conditions of Palestinians in most of the Arab countries.

With a 70% Palestinian population, Jordan is clearly seeking to solve its own "demographic problem." In other words, the Jordanians would like to see fewer Palestinians in their kingdom.

Like most of the Arab countries, the Jordanians have never felt completely comfortable playing host to large numbers of Palestinians.

When the PLO tried to establish a state-within-a-state in the kingdom in the late 60's and early 70's, Jordan's King Hussein ordered the army to launch a massive assault on the refugee camps in the kingdom, massacring thousands of Palestinians in what has since become to be known as Black September.

The Palestinians who were expelled from Jordan to Lebanon later played a major role in the Lebanese civil war. Over 100,000 people are believed to have been killed in that war, which lasted for more than a decade.

This time, however, the PLO managed to establish its own independent entity in Lebanon, turning Yasser Arafat into the de facto ruler of large parts of the country.

Many Lebanese still hold the PLO responsible for most of the destruction and deaths in their country.

That is perhaps one of the main reasons why thousands of Palestinians were massacred by Christian militiamen and Syrian soldiers in some of Lebanon's refugee camps after the PLO was expelled from the country in the early 80's.

This is also the reason why Lebanon later passed laws that ban Palestinians living there from working in nearly 70 professions.

Palestinians living in Lebanon's refugee camps are still being subjected to draconian measures that include, among other things, severe restrictions on their movements. At one stage, it was forbidden for a Palestinian to read a newspaper in public.

In Syria and Iraq, the other two Arab countries with large Palestinian "refugee" populations, the situation has not been any better. The Syrians have refused to allow thousands of Palestinian families fleeing Iraq to enter its territory, leaving them stranded in temporary tent communities along the border between the two Arab countries.

Many Palestinians who were once spoiled by Saddam Hussein have been targeted by angry Iraqis since the collapse of the Ba'ath regime in Baghdad. Most have lost their homes and property, while several hundred are reported to have been killed or injured over the past six years.

One of the Palestinians' biggest tragedies occurred after the first Gulf War, when hundreds of thousands of them were expelled from Kuwait and other Gulf states.

The Palestinians had become the price for Arafat's public support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, one of several Arab countries that used to give the PLO billions of dollars each year.

Since the liberation of Kuwait, almost all of the Arab countries have stopped channeling large funds to the Palestinians. For the past two decades, the Palestinians have been almost entirely dependent on American, European, Japanese and Canadian tax-payers' money. However, the Arab governments have not stopped paying lip service to the Palestinians, who only get nice words and promises of support from their Arab brethren.

Obviously, the Arab governments do not want to play any significant role in solving the plight of the Palestinians living in the Arab world. Asked why Palestinians were still living in crowded and poverty-stricken refugee camps surrounding Amman, a Jordanian political analyst replied: "We need to keep them in refugee camps so that they will continue to stick to their right of return to Palestine. These camps are the most prominent symbol of the Palestinian issue."

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