July 23, 2009
Palestinian Rights: A WarningBy Joel B. Pollak
A grave injustice is being committed against the Palestinian people -- perhaps among the greatest in their history. Thousands are being systematically robbed of their citizenship, made stateless once more by a hard-hearted government that pays lip service to peace and the two-state solution, but which seems determined to undermine both.
Israel? No -- the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the monarchy that occupied the West Bank from 1948 to 1967 and which has long had an uneasy relationship with its Palestinian majority. Now, cynically claiming that it has the Palestinians' best interests at heart, the regime of King Abdullah II has begun removing the citizenship of Palestinians with roots in the West Bank.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads:
The Jordanian policy is a clear violation of these fundamental rights. Thus far, it has been met with protest in Amman and mild complaint from the Jordanian media. Yet the rest of the world has been silent.
That includes the world's leading human rights organizations. As of this writing, the front page of Amnesty International's website features an appeal for Israel to cooperate with the UN's "independent" fact-finding mission on Gaza, but nothing on Jordan. Human Rights Watch, which recently bashed Israel for the benefit of donors in Saudi Arabia, has yet to react.
The official explanation given for the decision to revoke the citizenship of Jordanians of Palestinian origin is that Jordan wants to send a signal to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu: Jordan will not allow Israel to "resettle" Palestinians in Jordan. Never mind that the people who are losing their citizenship were "resettled" in Jordan decades ago.
It seems probable that the real motive of the Jordanian decision is to entrench the control of the Hashemite monarchy to stave off demands for democratic reform. The rise of democracy in Iraq and the recent protests in the streets of Tehran have created new expectations that the region's autocrats are desperate to subdue.
So, too, with Jordan. Though it is among the more liberal Arab states and enjoys both peace with Israel and free trade with the U.S., the monarchy is fragile. Its decision to strip Palestinians of their citizenship puts the peace process at risk by creating the false expectation that Israel will absorb millions of Palestinians currently outside its borders. Yet that is a risk the monarchy seems prepared to take to protect itself.
The Kingdom's decision may be also regarded as a response to President Barack Obama's new Middle East policy. Emboldened by Obama's harsh approach to Israel and his meek support for democratic movements in the region, Jordan has taken the opportunity to restore "stability," using Palestinians once again as the political pawns of the Arab world.
Neither Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- voluble in recent days on the need for Israeli concessions and "self-reflection" -- has criticized Jordan, though the U.S. has a great deal of leverage there. The Palestinian diaspora, so quick to protest when Israel defends itself against Hamas terror, is nowhere to be seen.
When Netanyahu appointed Avigdor Lieberman as his foreign minister, there was global alarm. Lieberman was already notorious for his radical and reprehensible suggestion in 2004 that Israel might one day strip its Arab citizens of their citizenship. Yet now Jordan has begun to do exactly that, and the world has encouraged it through stark indifference.
The issue ought to be an urgent priority for the UN Human Rights Council. Ironically, Jordan was re-elected to a seat on the council in May -- the same election that saw the U.S. join the council as well. If U.S. membership is to mean anything more than a legitimization of the council's anti-Israel bias, it must raise the issue of Palestinians in Jordan before the council's next session opens in September.
Until then, this episode serves as a reminder not only of the casual disregard of Palestinian human rights in the Arab world, and the anti-Israel bias of much of the human rights community, but also of the risks of subjecting American prerogatives to the judgment of international institutions run by countries that violate at home what they try to enforce abroad.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in the aftermath of the Civil War, prevents the government from depriving any American of his or her citizenship. Theoretically, Jordanian citizens enjoy constitutional rights of their own, but the Jordanian constitution begins its section on rights with a disclaimer: "Jordanian Nationality shall be defined by law."
For the Palestinians of Jordan, their country's leadership in the UN Human Rights Council and subscription to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are of little use or comfort against the arbitrary powers of their government and the passivity of the international community. As the U.S. takes its seat on the council, theirs is a sobering example, and a warning worth remembering.
Joel B. Pollak is a recent Harvard Law graduate and the author of Don't Tell Me Words Don't Matter: How Rhetoric Won the 2008 Presidential Election.