At midnight on July 31, 1988, one million Arab residents living in the West Bank who had been “Jordanians” since 1950 were no longer “Jordanians”.
On August 1, 1988 those one million Arabs amazingly became subjected to a semantic conversion - to be known thereafter as “Palestinians”.
This remarkable transformation came about by an amendment to the Jordanian Nationality Law as a result of a speech given by Jordan’s King Hussein on July 31, 1988 announcing the severance of Jordan’s administrative and legal ties to the West Bank and relinquishing claims of Jordanian sovereignty in the West Bank. No laws were passed by Jordan on the details of such disengagement.
Two days before the king's disengagement speech, Jordan’s Ministry of Interior had issued disengagement instructions comprising 22 articles.
Article 2 of those instructions provided for withdrawal of Jordanian nationality from residents of the West Bank stating: "Every person residing in the West Bank before the date of 31/7/1988 will be considered as [a] Palestinian citizen and not as Jordanian."
With one stroke of the pen one million West Bank Arabs entitled to exercise self determination as citizens of Jordan were reduced to a group of stateless citizens with no political rights at all.
There are strong arguments to justify the claim that the substance and manner of that decision violated Jordanian law.
Article 1 of the 1952 constitution stated: “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an independent Arab State. It is indivisible and no part of it may be ceded …”
Furthermore Article 33(ii) of the constitution required parliamentary approval by the National Assembly for all decisions affecting the general or personal rights of Jordanians. None was obtained.
The government maintains that King Hussein relinquished the West Bank and East Jerusalem in an administrative act, not an agreement or a treaty, and therefore the constitutional article does not apply. However, despite the possible invalidity of the action taken, the fact remains that it was done and has been enforced for the last 22 years.
Jordan, prior to its unification with the West Bank in 1950, occupied the 78 per cent of historical Palestine located east of the Jordan River. Jordan had only received its independence and release from the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine in 1946, and from that time on was called “The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan”.
The West Bank and East Jerusalem (5 per cent of historical Palestine) were subsequently captured by Transjordan following the end of Britain's mandate over the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine - located west of the Jordan River - and in the ensuing Arab-Israeli war in1948.
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