Overshadowed by the historic signing of the Palestinian selfrule accord, another Middle East breakthrough took place quietly last week at the U.S. state department. Just one day after the PLO-Israeli agreement, negotiators for Israel and Jordan initialled an agenda laying out the elements of their own peace accord. Ike agenda sets out a framework of issues for an eventual deal based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. That could lead to an agreement on the border between Israel and Jordan and to joint economic efforts. But it is the fate of Palestinian refugees that is likely to be the main issue in future negotiations.
The United Nations estimates that there are 1.2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan. The community was formed during the Arab-Israeli War that followed the partition of Palestine—and the creation of Israel—in 1948. Jordan also has taken in as many as 800,000 Palestinians who fled their homes in the West Bank of the Jordan River during the 1967 war. Many of those Palestinians now want to return home to what they believe will become an independent Palestinian state. Says Ibrahim AlKurdi, a blacksmith in Jordan’s East Bank: “There are 12 tradespeople who have shops in my building, and five of them said they would go back immediately—just drop everything, take their tools and go.”
Late last week, PLO officials said Israel had agreed to allow as many as 400,000 Palestinians to return home over the next five years. Saeb Erekat, deputy head of the Palestinian peace talks team, says that the refugee problem is “the major issue which will either make or break the peace negotiations.” After decades of despair, Jordan’s Palestinian guests are daring to dream of a home of their own.
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