Iraqi and Palestinian refugees are our brothers – Jordanian Minister

Jordan may be geographically small, but its role in the ever-shifting and fragile struggle for peace in the Middle East is vital, insists Dr Nabil Sharif, Jordanian Minister of Information and Communication.

The leading Jordanian lawmaker called for the creation of a situation in Iraq and Palestine that would encourage refugees to go back home.

RT: Jordan was criticized last year by Reporters without Borders for closing down two satellite stations of Iranian origin. Is there a fear that Iranian influence could destabilize the Kingdom?

Nabil Sharif: First of all let me correct the premise of the question. We did not close down any Iranian stations. What happened actually was that the correspondents of these stations were working without a proper permit and we asked them to apply and of course I think some, one of them at least, did not apply. There are of course conditions like in every other country in the world, there are conditions that apply to anyone who wants to work for a foreign media establishment and I think there were problems with the permits. So I think the stations themselves were not the issue. The issue was the people working for the stations as far as living up to the requirements of the permit conditions.

RT: Is there a fear that Iranian influence could destabilize the Kingdom?

NS: No. We don't have fear to this as far as this issue is concerned at all. We feel quite confident as to the stability and security of our country. We feel that we have, of course, a very secure border, because Jordan really enjoys good relations with almost all countries in the world. But we are vigilant, of course; we are quite careful about any likely threats from here and there, but we do not feel that we have to be panicky about this.

RT: There has been some controversy surrounding the revoking or alteration of the citizenship of Palestinians who settled in the kingdom in the 1950s. How would you respond to such criticism and what factors led to this decision?

NS: There is no decision of this nature at all. We do not withdraw nationalities of, as you say, Palestinians or Jordanians of Palestinian origin. We do not even have this term: Palestinians or Jordanians of Palestinian origin, Jordanians of Syrian origin, we only have Jordanians. That's the only term we use.

In the case of Jordanians who have residency in the West Bank, they are given permits by the Israelis. We would like these people, these Jordanians to maintain these permits in order to have, to keep their right in the West Bank. If they were all to abandon these permits and go anywhere else they would only contribute to the confiscation of Arab land, to confiscation of Arab rights and of course this was done in implementation of an Arab summit that was held in 1988 after the administrative disengagement agreement that was proposed by the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and again, accepted by an Arab summit so Jordan is really implementing what the PLO said at that time and we are also aware of the fact that if we just make it easy for people, either Palestinians or Jordanians who have property in the West Bank to leave. We are only facilitating the process of confiscating of Arab lands and of Arab rights and we do not want to be a party to that.

RT: The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said that he plans to deport some 70,000 Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan. What is your response to this?

NS: That is really a negative development and we completely reject this decision and oppose it. You cannot definitely uproot people from their land and throw them anywhere else in the world and expect to have peace with them or their representatives. This just doesn't happen. We would like all these unilateral steps to stop immediately, because they are very dangerous to the peaceful atmosphere and they will definitely torpedo any efforts to move the peace forward.

RT: As the UNHCR's (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) budget continues to decline, are there plans to allow Iraqi refugees in this country, greater freedom to work?

NS: Iraqi guests in Jordan are working with all the freedom that there is. First of all we do not definitely call them “refugees”. They are our brothers; they are in suffering and in a very difficult situation. They sought our help in Jordan as brothers. In our Arab culture, you [help] your brother. You share with him your loaf of bread. You split it in half and give half to your brother. So out of this tradition, out of the long history that binds us with our Iraqi brothers, we decided to host them here temporarily until the situation in their country improves and then they can go back to their country. But while they are here, of course Jordan, as you know, is not a rich country. Especially this year we are really living through a difficult economic situation. We have a deficit in the budget, there is a strain on our economy from different angles, but nonetheless, our Iraqi guests are still among us and they are enjoying everything.

His Majesty King Abdullah was very gracious in permitting all Iraqi children to enjoy education just like their Jordanian counterparts, to enjoy healthcare. All Iraqis enjoy healthcare, just like Jordanians and education for all Iraqi children is free in Jordan. But there is a limit to what Jordan can give as far as this issue is concerned and we do call upon the international community to continue helping, to even boost its assistance to Jordan in order to enable it to better serve the Iraqi guests.

RT: What do you believe is the solution to this problem of the Iraqi diaspora?

NS: Of course the solution to the Iraqi people living in diaspora, whether in Jordan or in Syria or in Europe or anywhere else in the world, is to create a situation back home, to create a situation in Iraq itself that would encourage Iraqis to go back home. The question is: why aren't these people going back home? They probably feel that the security situation is not as they desire. They feel that there are still issues with the situation, with the internal situation back home. Of course this matter is up for the Iraqi people to decide, but again there are definitely encouraging signs in Iraq going on. The decision of the allied forces to withdraw from Iraq, next year, the political process that's going on in Iraq is going quite well. There are setbacks sometimes. The electoral process that happened recently is still hung as we would say but we do hope that Iraqis form different backgrounds will come together and decide to put Iraq first, to do whatever they can in order to keep the stability and prosperity of their country.

RT: With tension surrounding the establishment of a new Iraqi government, do you think we could see more and more people leaving Iraq?

NS: We don't know. We hope this will not happen. Of course still the consultations are going on to form a new government in Iraq. The political parties are discussing it. Of course, as I said, we don't like to interfere in what is happening there, but our message is very clear. We do hope that all Iraqis will come together and choose a government that represents them all, a government that lives up to their aspirations and definitely when this happens Iraq will resume its role in the Arab nation and definitely the Arabs also have a role to play in supporting Iraq as one country, definitely not one party at the expense of the other. Iraq is not stable, the whole Arab nation is not stable, the whole region is not stable. We have a vested interest as Arabs to help Iraq resume its role within Arab ranks.

RT: Because of the situation in Iraq and the Palestinian question, is it likely that there will be greater influences from outside Jordan affecting what people are thinking and doing internally that could ultimately lead to destabilization of the kingdom?

NS: We do not think really that there is cause for worry as far as the stability and security of Jordan is concerned. The threats around us are known to everybody but we are confident that people who are living in Jordan, whether Palestinian refugees who are forced to live outside their country because of the occupation or Iraqi guests who are again forced to live outside their country because of the conditions there. They definitely appreciate the security and stability they find here and the fact that they are able to live quite normally and they are, they will be with us in trying to maintain the security and stability, because it is definitely in the interest of all of us living together in this country.