Jordan needs an administrative czar to solve bridge problems
The decades-old conflict with Israel and the aftereffects of the Israeli occupation of what was Jordanian land in the West Bank continue to be a source of hardships and problems for individuals and businesspeople on both sides of the Jordan River.
Attempts to resolve the many problems that continue to reverberate as a result of the 1967 occupation of the West Bank whether by individuals, organisations or foreign country representatives are met with huge difficulties.
Be it the bridge policy, trade issues, the special status of East Jerusalemites or Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian trade, all these issues are faced with immense bureaucracy.
Jordan, like the rest of the world which does not recognise the Israeli occupation, translates this lack of recognition into not treating the King Hussein Bridge as part of an international border.
What applies to movement of people and goods at any other border crossing does not apply on Jordan’s only crossing point into the West Bank. But this lack of legal and political recognition does not make the crossing point any different. Individuals, diplomats, businesspeople and representatives of international organisations cross the bridge in both directions and often have to go through legal and administrative hoops to make this trip easier.
Unlike any crossing in the world, Jordanian border officials demand to know what document one leaves the other side with in order to decide to allow you entry. The same applies when one leaves Jordan.
For businesspeople trying to import or export products across the bridge, the problem is extremely complicated and costly.
Three governing parties, Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, have different demands, requirements and concerns that make the potential of a lucrative cross-border trade that much more difficult.
Trying to bring a container from Ramallah to Amman, the problem is that there are no scanners at the bridge, which has always been seen as a temporary crossing point despite the decades it functioned that way.
Even when certain countries offered to give the parties the needed security scanners, there is a law that bars any crossing point other than Aqaba from receiving containers.
The problem is not a real one, because the West Bank has no waterways and therefore cannot hurt Aqaba’s imports, but a Cabinet-level decision needs to be made.
In the case of East Jerusalemites, they are not allowed to enter Jordan unless they have a special Israeli-issued permit that costs 180 shekels ($50) per person.
Palestinians from Jerusalem are not allowed to leave using Israel issues multi-use travel permits (laissez-passer) because Jordanians are worried that this would somehow be used by Israel to deny Jerusalemites their residency rights.
The same does not apply though to Jerusalemites flying into Queen Alia International Airport from Ben Gurion airport.
No official has been willing to change this decades-old policy that costs Jerusalemites about JD20,000 a day, which is totally unnecessary.
Jerusalemites are also not allowed to use the Sheikh Hussein Bridge although Palestinian (and Jewish) citizens of Israel are allowed to use it, even with their cars.
The high cost and inconvenience for a family from Jerusalem to come to visit friends and relatives in Jordan has meant that many prefer to fly to Turkey or other destinations, rather than make the short crossing over the bridge.
Jordan’s bridge policy is complicated and extremely sensitive. Administrative-level bureaucrats and even Cabinet ministers are afraid to change policy so as not to be viewed as appeasing Israel or as putting Jordan’s sensitive relations with Israel and Palestine in jeopardy.
As a result, many decisions have been left unchanged since 1967 even though Jordan and Israel have a peace treaty and Jordanian and the Palestinian leadership have excellent relations.
What is needed to remedy these issues is a single high-level official that is able to wade through bureaucratic red tape and unfounded fears and concerns.
A former prime minister or a retired senior military official that has both the trust of the top leadership and the ability to solve complicated issues should be appointed (and maybe connected directly to the prime minister) to help solve these complicated issues.
Such an administrative czar can solve many problems and become the efficient go to person.
There is need for a full review of existing policies, listening to all affected parties and for the courage and the wisdom needed to solve this problem in a way that preserves Jordan’s interests while accommodating the humanitarian and business needs of hundreds of thousands who make the difficult and unnecessarily complicated journey across the bridge.
Not all problems of moving people and goods across war produced borders can be solved, but many issues can be without the need to change the laws or cause a diplomatic crisis.
It is high time that the troubles, pain and suffering, as well as the potential for better business relations, are given the high priority they require.