Ammon News, Editor's Choice

Jordan Scrambles to Recoup Funds for Palestinians Lost to U.S. Cuts

[9/19/2018 7:37:27 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan has embarked on an overseas lobbying campaign to replace funding that the Trump administration pulled last month for an agency that supports hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the kingdom. Jordan, a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East, fears the funding cuts could destabilize an economy already strained by more than 658,000 Syrian refugees, and ignite social unrest by cutting vital services to the Palestinians. Jordan’s King Abdullah and the country’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, seek to replace the $300 million the U.S. pulled from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency this year, representing about a quarter of the agency’s budget. Efforts to bridge the gap have left a $200 million shortfall. Last week Jordan convened a meeting of the Arab League in Egypt to solicit more funds. Saudi Arabia and others pledged support but not additional money. Next week, Jordan will host a conference with Sweden, Germany, Japan and others on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. They hope to fill the gap and plan for the agency’s future after the U.S. ends its remaining $60 million contribution next year. The U.S. isn’t expected to attend. The agency, known as Unrwa, supports Palestinians who fled their homes in what is now Israel around the time of the 1948 war that followed the country’s founding. Those people and their descendants now number about 5 million, including at least two million in Jordan. Both the Trump administration and Israel argue that the agency fosters a culture of dependency that prolongs Palestinian separateness. They say preserving refugee status perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Trump administration official said the U.S. welcomes efforts by Jordan and others to solicit additional funds for UNRWA, but said such initiatives won’t succeed. “It is time to acknowledge UNRWA’s model of operations is failing,” the official said, adding that the U.S. hopes to begin discussing moving Unrwa’s services to host governments or other organizations. Officials said the U.S. has offered to provide Jordan with humanitarian funds to replace Unrwa funds. The Unrwa cuts come as the Trump administration slashes more than $200 million in bilateral aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as part of efforts to pressure Palestinian officials to resume peace talks. Drastic cuts to Unrwa could push thousands of Palestinian children from school in Jordan and cripple essential services for hundreds of thousands of refugees, such as medical clinics and trash collection, Jordanian officials and analysts say. ​They also risk​ sparking​protests​in Jordan, a pro-Western monarchy that in recent years has provided a critical bulwark to the violent extremism emanating from neighboring Iraq and Syria. Jordan’s economy, buffeted by the unrest next door, is already fragile. To cut high government debt, Jordan removed subsidies this year on bread and raised taxes on a range of products, a new burden for millions of Jordanians. Jordan’s stability also is a concern for Israel next door. King Abdullah and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in June to discuss ties and regional developments. “Jordan is the quintessential buffer state,” said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The security of this historically pro-West, pro-U. S., moderate Arab kingdom has been considered a vital U.S. interest for decades.” In its quest for funds, Jordan wants to avoid antagonizing the Trump administration. The U.S. is Jordan’s most important guarantor of security, offering a $1.3 billion aid package this year for its military and economy. “The way in which we’re managing this whole sort of effort is not to make it as if it’s the rest of the world against the U.S.,” Mr. Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, said in an interview. Unrwa officials said they’ve heard little from the Trump administration about why it is cutting contributions. “I am very prepared to sit down and have critical reviews of Unrwa’s work—any question that comes up, from operations, to accountability, to neutrality and others,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, Unrwa’s commissioner general. Caught in the budget battle are people like Saadi Shalaan. The 57-year-old electrical engineer, a Jordanian citizen whose parents were born near Jerusalem, sends his children to free Unrwa schools in the Wihdat refugee camp where they live. Private schools are too expensive, he said. Public schools are overcrowded and unable to accommodate more students, officials say. Like Mr. Shalaan, about 400,000 Palestinians live in 10 official refugee camps and more than 120,000 children are enrolled in Unrwa schools. In 2017, Unrwa spent $175.8 million on operations in Jordan. Unrwa’s mandate is up for a renewal vote at the U.N. late next year. It last passed in 2016 with a wide majority and Trump administration officials concede it is likely to do so again. Still, Jordanian officials fear that an increasingly pessimistic outlook among Palestinian refugees over their future, coupled with the country’s economic woes, could ignite violent protests. That moment, officials say, may come when thousands of students can’t return to school because of a lack of Unrwa funding. “Ultimately you suffocate those people,” said Mr. Safadi. “You send them further toward despair and anger.” *Wall Street

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Jordan takes steps to support Jerusalem’s Palestinians

[9/19/2018 7:32:36 AM]

AMMONNEWS - The Jordanian government's decision to reduce fees on passports for Palestinians in Jerusalem has revived hopes of a larger role for the kingdom in defending the rights of Jerusalemites. On Sept. 4, the Civil Status and Passports Department (CSPD) reduced passport fees from 200 Jordanian dinars ($281) to 50 dinars ($70) and allowed Jerusalem residents to apply for passports from the city instead of having to travel to Jordan. CSPD Director Fawaz Shahwan told Al-Monitor that the decision was taken to help ease life for Jerusalemites. “Starting Sept. 4, Palestinians in Jerusalem can go to the Islamic [Waqf] courthouse in Jerusalem, apply for a new or renewed passport and within a week have the newly issued passport delivered to their homes,” Shahwan said. He noted that an agreement between Jordan Post and the Wasel Company, a Palestinian package delivery service, has helped facilitate the delivery of official documents. Wasfi Kilani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, told Al-Monitor that the decision to reduce passport costs was part of a broader attempt to support the “sumud” (steadfastness) of Jerusalemites. “With clear instructions from His Majesty, King Abdullah, we have been working on a comprehensive plan that aims at strengthening the presence of our people in Jerusalem,” Kilani said. According to Kilani, in a further testament to Amman's support, the number of Palestinians on the payroll of Jordan's Jerusalem Islamic Waqf has risen. “Today we have 1,000 people who are on the payroll working as guards, tour experts, administrators and public relations employees in Jerusalem,” he remarked. Last year, the number stood at about 800. Jordan's increased interest in the status of Palestinians in Jerusalem has been well received. The Sept. 10 broadcast of “Eye on Jerusalem,” a weekly program on Jordan Television, reflected widespread support from both public and private individuals in the city. Hanna Issa, secretary-general of the Islamic-Christian Council for Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor that there is widespread appreciation in the city for the Jordanian gesture in support of Jerusalemites. “The importance of this gesture addresses both daily needs and the political situation,” Issa said. “With such interest by the Jordanian kingdom in Jerusalemites, this will go a long way in protecting our people from the threat of expulsion.” Calls by Palestinians in Jerusalem are being heard for the renewal of a larger political role for Jordan in the city to fill the vacuum that causes major problems for the city’s 330,000 residents, who are often in a position of being political orphans. Although Jerusalem, like the rest of the West Bank, was included in the Hashemite kingdom's unification act (1950), its legal status was upended by the Israeli occupation in 1967 and later by the Palestinian intifada leading to Jordan's decision to sever administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988. The citizenship issue was settled as a result of the 1988 decision. Palestinians living on the East Bank were allowed to retain their citizenship, and those on the West Bank were no longer citizens but were allowed to keep their Jordanian passports as travel documents. Jordanian sources told Al-Monitor that some 100,000 Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship now live in East Jerusalem. Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, the situation of Jerusalemites changed yet again. After the creation of the Palestinian National Authority, Palestinians, with the exception of Jerusalemites, were granted Palestinian national ID numbers and a regular passport. Although all the issues related to the newly established Palestinian government was coordinated with Israel, the Israelis were adamant about not allowing any Palestinian living in Jerusalem to hold a Palestinian passport. In 2013, Palestinian officials replaced the term “Palestinian Authority” with “State of Palestine” on passports. The issue of the holy places, including Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was coordinated by Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization, as Jordan had previously had special, custodial status over the holy places. Jordan was also guaranteed retention of its special role in its peace treaty with Israel. Jordan’s Islamic Waqf continues to operate in Jerusalem, and Jordanian-paid guards help protect and manage Islamic sites. The sensitive issue of the holy places was further regulated in an agreement signed in Amman in April 2013 by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah. The human side of the issue, however — the political rights of Jerusalemites — was left unresolved. Jordan’s latest move regarding passports has triggered public debate in Jerusalem revolving around the idea of Amman exempting Jerusalem from the 1988 decision to severe political and administrative ties. Tareq Khoury, a member of Jordan’s parliament representing Zarqa, which has a large number or residents of Palestinian origin, told Al-Monitor that he has always been opposed to the 1988 decision to severe relations with the West Bank. “As a pan-Arabist, I am in support of all actions that unify Arabs,” Khoury said. He added that the issue of Jerusalem is sensitive. He calls for re-establishing Jordanian administrative ties over it, but recognizes that this must be thoroughly studied and would need to be coordinated with the Palestinian leadership. Jerusalem’s political orphans are crying out for help. The Jordanian and Palestinian leaderships must exert the time and effort to coordinate with local Jerusalem leaders to find a way to ensure that any decision taken will help support the sumud of the people of Jerusalem. *Al-Monitor

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Jordan, Turkey mull new free trade pact

[9/18/2018 4:10:10 PM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordan and Turkey on Tuesday discussed prospects for sealing a new free trade agreement (FTA) following the Kingdom's suspension of the previous agreement in March this year. This came during a high-level meeting Minister of Foreign and Expatriates Affairs, Aymand Safadi, and Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply, Tariq Hamouri, held with their Turkish counterparts, Mouloud Jawish Oglu and Ruhsar Pekcan. In this context, Hamouri said Jordan took the decision of suspending the agreement, signed in 2009, because it did not achieve the hoped-for goals, adding that technical teams from both countries will hold more and time-framed meetings to arrive at specific results over the agreement in a manner that serves both countries interests. Turkey's Minister of Trade, Ruhsar Pekcan, said a task force was set up so that Jordan can maximize its benefit from the FTA, assuring that her country will step up its investments in Jordan and will create a climate that enables businessmen from the two countries to invest and launch joint ventures. Separately, Minister of Foreign and Expatriates Affairs, Aymand Safadi and his Turkish counterpart Mouloud Jawish Oglu held wide-ranging talks focusing on bilateral ties and a host of Middle East issues, particularly peacemaking efforts, Syria and the UNRWA's financial crisis. In a press conference following the meeting, Safadi said regional instability and the crisis in Syria are leaving a toll on the region's countries and peoples, emphasizing that Jordan and Turkey eye-to-eye on the need to find political solutions to the region's problems. "The Syrian crisis has been prolonged and we must work to achieve a political solution that preserves the unity and cohesion of Syria, a solution that stops the destruction and protects the Syrian people. Such solution must put the interests of the Syrian people ahead of any other interests and away from any calculations, agendas or conflicts," Safadi said. He added that Jordan encourages the voluntary return of refugees to their homeland whenever they wish to do so and where they will play an important role in the reconstruction of Syria. The foreign minister stressed that the Palestinian issue remains Jordan's core issue and that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on pre-June 4, 1967 lines based on the two-state solution is a Jordanian priority. He added: "We want peace, a comprehensive and lasting peace, and for that, any solution must do justice to the Palestinian people, end the occupation and lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state." Safadi underscored the strong, systematic and constructive cooperation between the Kingdom and Turkey on Jerusalem. Regarding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Safadi pointed out that the agency is experiencing a severe financial crisis and that its fiscal deficit must be offset because preserving the UN body means preserving the right of five million Palestinian refugees to live in dignity. "In order to do so, we, in Jordan, have initiated early on a major effort to mobilize international support for the UNRWA so it can continue playing its role according to its UN mandate. The UNRWA is linked to the refugee issue, one of the final status issues that must be resolved in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions, including Resolution No. 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative, and guaranteeing the refugees' right to return and compensation," the minister asserted. The two sides also discussed bilateral relations. In this context, Safadi said: "We are working to find wider horizons and the free trade agreement that we want must reflect positively on both countries." The Turkish foreign minister praised Jordan's role towards the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem, expressing Turkey's support for all efforts exerted by the Kingdom in this regard. He stressed that his country is trying to bridge the gap that resulted from the United States' decision to stop its financial contribution to the UNRWA.

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Jordan-Syria Get Ready for Reopening of Border Crossing to Boost Relations

[9/18/2018 6:31:20 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Jordanian sources said that the Kingdom’s top priority in the possible reopening of the crossing was security. Alghad newspaper quoted military sources as saying that the Nassib crossing is vital for being the only transit that links Jordan to several countries through Syria. The crossing in Syria's Daraa governorate was closed in April 2015 after the deterioration of the security situation in the border area. The team's meeting was held last Wednesday at the Jaber crossing, on the Jordanian side of the border in Mafraq governorate. It is one of the busiest crossings on the Syrian border. The number of trucks passing through it before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011 amounted to 7,000 a day. In early July, the Syrian army regained full control of the crossing, which was opened in 1997. Its reopening needs time to set the appropriate security conditions for passengers and trucks that will take the route towards Damascus and other Syrian provinces, Brigadier General Mohammad Alawneh told the German news agency. Alawneh stressed that the safety and security of carriers should be considered as one of the government's top priorities. Jordan regards security as a priority in light of the incidents that have taken place in Syrian areas that are adjacent to the Jordanian border, and the control of different armed factions of these areas, he stressed. *Asharq Al-Awsat

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Kuwait, Jordan relations reaching new levels: Jordanian speaker

[9/18/2018 6:28:37 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives Atef Tarawneh affirmed yesterday that the bilateral ties between Kuwait and Jordan are reaching high levels of strength. Jordan News Agency (PETRA) quoted the speaker during Kuwaiti Ambassador to Jordan Aziz Al-Daihani’s visit to Amman where he accepted the speaker’s invitation on behalf of Kuwait’s Speaker of the National Assembly Marzouq Al-Ghanem. Objective of the visit is to solidify the existing bonds of friendship between Jordan and Kuwait. In other news, Jordan’s Prime Minister Dr Omar Razzaz said yesterday that central banks across the wider Arab region are fully capable of dealing with the challenges facing the global economy. The Jordanian premier’s remarks came in a speech he delivered during talks involving the governors of Arab central banks, including the chief of the Central Bank of Kuwait Dr Mohammad Al-Hashel. “Sustainable development remains our goal in order to cope with the economic, political and social changes taking place in our region, ” Razzaz said. He cited a raft of broad reforms the Hashemite Kingdom has introduced in recent years, “which has proved instrumental in building trust in Amman’s economy.” Meanwhile, the governor of Yemen’s central bank Dr Mohammad Zamam said that global economic growth has by and large slowed down, making sustainable development a rather far-fetched goal, particularly for underdeveloped nations. The Yemeni official added that development projects have become all the more significant nowadays as many economies across the Arab region are struggling to overcome stagnation. On how much economic growth needed, the chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund Dr Abdulrahman Al-Humaidi said that more than five percent is required to bring down the unemployment rate. On the economic challenges facing the Arab region, he pinpointed financial stability and structural reforms as among the most perennial concerns, “which are crucial to increase the productive output.” The agenda for the meeting revolves around the challenges facing the global economy and the possible ripple effects felt by countries across the Arab region. *KUNA

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FM, UAE counterpart discuss ties, Mideast issues

[9/15/2018 4:04:35 PM]

AMMONNEWS - Minister of Foreign and Expatriates Affairs Ayman Safadi and HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, on Saturday emphasized that the two countries are keen to further cement bilateral ties in various domains. During a meeting in Abu Dhabi today, Safadi and Sheikh Abdullah reviewed regional developments, especially those related to the Palestinian issue, efforts to make progress towards the two-state solution and efforts to bridge the financial deficit facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The two sides stressed the importance of concerted efforts to ensure that UNRWA continues to provide its services to refugees in accordance with its mandate. Safadi appreciated the support provided by the UAE to the Agency, while Sheikh Abdullah praised the efforts exerted by the Kingdom to mobilize support for it. Safadi pointed noted the continuous growth in cooperation between the two countries in all fields, reflecting the strength of the historical strategic relations between them. Sheikh Abdullah underlined relations between the UAE and the Kingdom, stressing the UAE's keenness to continue supporting Jordan, which has a "special place in the heart of every Emirati." The two ministers also discussed developments in the Syrian crisis and stressed the importance of reaching a political solution to the crisis in a manner that preserves the unity and cohesion of Syria and restores its security and stability. They also stressed the need to activate pan-Arab solidarity to address common challenges.

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Jordan, Syria discuss plans to reopen border crossings

[9/15/2018 10:10:56 AM]

AMMONNEWS - A joint Jordanian-Syrian technical committee has met to discuss the planned reopening of all border crossings between the two countries, a Jordanian government source said Thursday. The source, preferring anonymity, said the committee would continue to meet regularly until agreement was reached regarding what procedures were needed to reopen the crossings. The Ramtha and Nassib border terminals, the two main crossings linking Jordan and Syria, were both closed during Syria’s seven-year conflict. The Nassib terminal, the main border crossing for Syrian exports to Jordan and the Arab Gulf States, was captured by Syrian opposition forces in 2015. In July of this year, however, the strategic crossing was recaptured by Syrian regime forces.

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