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Jordan's king launches identity campaign

By
SANA ABDALLAH

AMMAN, Jordan, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Jordan's King Abdullah II has launched a campaign to affirm Jordanian nationalism and identity -- in which a third of his subjects are of Palestinian origin.

In a letter to Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb instructing him to set up a national commission to implement the Jordan First campaign, Abdullah wrote: "Jordan First must be a common denominator between all Jordanians regardless of their origins, orientations, views, talents, faiths or races ... It should be established by the family, to begin with, schools, universities, youth centers and private and public institutions ... It should be adopted by Jordanians in villages, badia, camps and cities."

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The letter was published by Jordanian media Thursday.

In his letter, Abdullah said Jordan First meant focusing attention at home and giving priority to national interests, and called for integrating the idea of "loyalty to the homeland." But his mention of the camps refers to the 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, where 1.5 million registered Palestinians live.

Most refugees have been given Jordanian citizenship but still dream of returning to their former home in what is now Israel, or the West Bank and Gaza.

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Another 1 million Jordanians of Palestinian origin live in the cities, mostly in the capital, Amman, who enjoy full citizenship rights.

The remainder of Jordan's 5 million population consists of original Jordanians, Bedouins, Circassians, Chechens and Syrians.

In recent weeks, the government has been pushing the Jordan First slogan through the official media as meaning putting Jordan's national and economic interests above all else. Billboards and posters with several hands carrying the Jordanian flag, plus the slogan "Jordan First" have filled the streets almost overnight.

Analysts said Abdullah's campaign was primarily a bid for Palestinian loyalty. A source close to the monarch --whose wife, Queen Rania, is originally Palestinian -- was seeking "a unified Jordanian identity, with its variations in its social fabric, to form a strong country."

But one Palestinian critic of the campaign in Jordan said the king was asking the Palestinians in his country to "abandon their Palestinian identity, which is already threatened because of the Israeli occupation of their homes."

Palestinians in the refugee camps and most middle class and affluent Jordanians of Palestinian origin continue to identify themselves as Palestinians, even if they were born in Jordan and would not return to live in a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, analysts said.

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They say they would continue to identify themselves as such until they have a choice in going back to a Palestinian state, after which they could choose to be identified as Jordanians should they have the option of remaining in Jordan.

On the other hand, most of the original Jordanians also regard the Palestinian Jordanians as Palestinians, as opposed to being "equal Jordanians."

In a country largely dominated by tribalism, analysts said it would be a difficult task ahead for the newly established commission to change the mentality and system where the original Jordanians have been the senior civil servants holding top posts in government and military departments, while the Palestinians have made up the bulk of the private sector business community.

The king's warning against "accusative misinterpretation of Jordan First out of its comprehensive, pure and noble context into narrow visions," has left little room for opposition or independent analysts to dissect what lies ahead under Jordan First.

Sources close to the king said the appointed commission would draft how to go about applying Jordan First by maintaining Amman's firm principles, including its rejection of accepting more Palestinian refugees that would further change the balance of the country's demography.

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Following the eruption of the Palestinian uprising two years ago, Jordan at first placed restrictions on Palestinians coming into the country for a few months, but eventually eased them after finding the new arrivals were returning to the West Bank and did not pose a major increase in the refugee population.

The sources said the commission would also determine whether and how to integrate the Palestinian Jordanians into the kingdom's system once and for all.

Most of the commission's members are original Jordanians, but there are also some Palestinian Jordanians, including a very wealthy businessman with large investments in the kingdom, and another who heads the Palestinian Affairs Department.

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