Jordan wary of Israel-Palestinian peace plan

AMMAN, Jordan — This is a country ruled by a monarch who serves as the overextended host for guests who never seem to leave, his kingdom crowded with stateless people and war refugees — 200,000 Iraqis, 600,000 Syrians, and more than 2 million Palestinians.

So when it comes to Secretary of State John Kerry’s bid to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Jordanians say no one outside the negotiation room has more at stake than they do.

As Kerry prepares to sell a framework agreement that will outline US proposals for a two-state solution, many here are fearful that peace will come at the expense of a weak, pliable, indebted Jordan and that nothing will come of the long-held Palestinian demand for refugees’ ‘‘right of return’’ to homes they left when Israel became a state in 1948.


About 3 million of King Abdullah II’s subjects today, fully half of the total population, are of Palestinian origin, including his wife, Queen Rania.

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Though most Palestinians here hold residency cards, Jordanian passports, or even full Jordanian citizenship, more than 2 million are also registered by the United Nations as ‘‘refugees,’’ those who fled Israel after the 1948 war and three generations of their descendants. About one in five still live in refugee camps, which, after 65 years, now resemble slums.

Many Palestinians here would like at least the right, if not the reality, to return to a new Palestinian state, or to be compensated by Israel or the international community for their losses. Some want to go back to their home towns in Israel, a state many have never seen. Other Jordanians just want the Palestinians to go.

Abdullah met last week with President Obama in California. Late Friday, the president announced that he will ask Congress to approve a new round of financial aid for Jordan to help manage the influx of refugees from Syria.

The US Agency for International Development has estimated that it will cost the government of King Abdullah II about $900 million to host the refugees this year alone.


Obama said he will seek $1 billion in loan guarantees for Jordan, using the full faith and credit of the United States to help make it easier for Jordan to borrow money. The new guarantee would be on top of a $1.25 billion loan guarantee Congress approved last year, the first one ever for Jordan.

Under a loan guarantee, the United States essentially acts like a cosigner on loans and would be responsible for repaying the principal and interest should Jordan default.

Obama also will seek a new, five-year funding agreement for Jordan. Administration officials did not immediately say what level of funding would be sought, saying that detail remained to be worked out. An existing five-year funding agreement with Jordan expires in September.

Both the loan guarantees and the funding agreement require approval from Congress.

These are perilous times for the monarch. Lacking oil, short on water, and overwhelmed by Syrian refugees, Jordan is burdened with more than $25 billion in public debt and suffering through an economic crisis. A few pennies’ rise in the cost of electricity, tobacco, or fuel can send protesters into the streets.


Now a remarkable cross section of Jordanian society is warning the king and his government to refuse any peace plan that does not satisfy what Jordan calls its ‘‘highest interests,’’ namely the incredibly thorny issue of the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Many Jordanians have never fully accepted the Palestinians, who do not enjoy equal access to government jobs, university scholarships, and military service. In the parliament, laws are rewritten every election cycle to ensure that Palestinians are underrepresented.

‘‘This is a big problem for poor Mr. Kerry. I don’t know what he is going to do,’’ said Abdul Hadi Majali, a former Jordanian ambassador to the United States and a leader of a prominent tribe that controls a large bloc in the parliament.

‘‘There are many Jordanians who say this is our country, we’ve shared all our assets, we’ve shared political power and seats in parliament and offices in the palace. But now it is time for a solution,’’ he said. ‘‘You hear people asking: Why are the Palestinians still here?’’

Lawmaker Mohammad al-Qatatsha said Abdullah was briefed on the framework proposals by Kerry, who told him Israel would not accept any of the 3.8 million Palestinian refugees, according to the Palestinian news agency Maan.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly said they will not allow any large number of Palestinians to return to Israel, because they would diminish the Jewish majority. How many Palestinians would be welcome in a new Palestinian state is unknown.

Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns was here recently, assuring leaders that Jordan is being consulted. He told reporters, ‘‘One of the biggest challenges in making progress not just toward a framework but toward a permanent status solution is to develop a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.’’