The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 26, 2002


By Khaled Abu Toameh

Approximately 80,000 Palestinians have left the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year, a rise of 50 percent compared to last year, a senior Palestinian Authority official said Monday.

The official, who asked not to be named, told The Jerusalem Post another 50,000 Palestinians are now trying to leave through the Jordan River bridges and the Rafah border crossing.

"We are seriously talking about transfer," the official added. "We are holding urgent deliberations with the brothers in Jordan and Egypt to try to stop the influx."

He estimated that at least half of those who have already left would eventually decide to settle in another country.

The figures, which do not include Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who have Israeli-issued ID cards, are based on data provided by several PA ministries, which issue various travel documents for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Last week Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser revealed in an interview with the Post that about 1,000 Palestinians from his town had left the country over the past few months.

Thousands of Palestinians have been camping in the open air outside Jericho, waiting for their turn to cross the Allenby and Adam bridges into Jordan. Hundreds others are waiting near the Rafah border crossing.

According to the PA official, at one stage more than 40,000 would-be entrants were gathered near Jericho. Many of them have been waiting for weeks after Jordan decided to limit the number of West Bank Palestinians entering the Hashemite Kingdom.

The Jordanian authorities say they do not want to help Palestinians leave their homes for fear Israel will not allow them back. But Palestinians say they believe the Jordanians are afraid a large number of Palestinians want to live permanently in Jordan.

Under pressure from the PA and humanitarian organizations, some of which have supplied the stranded Palestinian travelers with tents and food, the Jordanian government earlier this month agreed to allow 1,000 people a day to enter Jordan.

The move came after the Palestinians complained that Israel was preventing them from returning to their homes in the West Bank.

A PA cabinet minister, who visited Jordan last month for talks with Jordanian officials on the restrictions, said he could understand the Jordanians' fears. "They fear that [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon wants to expel the Palestinians to Jordan, where they would be able to establish a substitute state," he told the Post yesterday. "This is understandable."

The minister added that top Jordanian government officials told him Israel could seize the opportunity during an American military strike on Iraq "to try and get rid of as many Palestinians as possible."

One of the measures currently being applied by the Jordanian authorities requires each Palestinian to deposit a sum of 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,400) to ensure that they do not settle in the kingdom.

Khaled Khatib, a leader of the Palestinian Democratic Union, an offshoot the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, warned that tens of thousands of Palestinians could be driven out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip when the US launches a military offensive against Iraq.

"Israel might exploit the situation to mount a wide-scale military operation to destroy the PA and expel tens of thousands of desperate Palestinians," he said. "But this plot will not succeed because our people have learned from previous mistakes."

In 1991 Jordan opened its borders to tens of thousands of Palestinians expelled from Kuwait and other Gulf states in retaliation for PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's support for Saddam Hussein.

"No one is opposed to Palestinians visiting Jordan," said Jordanian writer and columnist Fahed Fanek. "But the fear is that many visitors do not want to go back and are seeking a refuge, be it in Jordan, the United States, Canada, Australia, or elsewhere."

"One cannot blame them as individuals, because life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is intolerable for both economic and security reasons," he added. "But we have a national duty to Jordan, first, and to Palestine, second, to block gradual transfer and prevent the Palestinian state from being relocated outside Palestine, specifically to Jordan."

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