Palestinian PM turns to Jordan first

The Palestinian prime minister’s visit to Amman has given a boost to the potential that Jordan can provide a serious alternative to economic dependency on Israel.

al-monitor Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh seen during an interview with Reuters in his office in Ramallah, Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 27, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta.

Jul 11, 2019

On July 3, Jordanian taxi driver Mohammad Hamdan dropped off at the local passport agency office three Palestinians he had picked up at the Palestinian Embassy in Amman. Shortly afterward, when he had to hit the brakes while driving downhill, a bag stuck under the back seat flew forward. He opened the bag and found it was full of money. Hamdan returned to where he dropped off the passengers, and even went back to where he picked them up, but couldn’t find them. He called a local taxi radio show and the anchor told him to take the bag to the nearest police station.

Two hours later, the passengers showed up at the police station and couldn’t believe their eyes when they met the driver and recouped their bag. They had withdrawn the 192,000 dinars ($270,800) to make a land deal, but had to go back to a government agency to get a missing document when they forgot the bag in the taxi.

The next day, the local radio station, Radio al-Balad, honored the driver, who received on-air calls from the head of the General Union of Mechanical and Ground Transport Workers and a representative of the mayor’s office.

A member of the Palestine National Council, Najeeb Qadoumi, came to the radio station in person to thank Hamdan and to applaud “brotherly” Jordanian-Palestinian relations. A number of taxi drivers came to the station to be photographed with the driver who had returned such a large amount of money.

The same radio station runs a weekly news exchange program with Radio Nissa FM in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where anchors talk about what is going on in their respective communities.

These anecdotal stories speak volumes about the depth of relations between Palestinians and their nearest neighboring country, Jordan. It was no surprise that the newly appointed Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, chose Amman as his first foreign capital to visit July 7 and 8. Jordan was not only chosen because of its proximity and the strong ties with its people, but also because it provides the most logical country to begin the “delinking" process from Israel, which the new prime minister has been talking about. Jordan is the only country other than Israel that borders the West Bank and one of two Arab countries that have signed a peace agreement with Israel.

Hamadeh Faraneh, who is Jordanian-born and a citizen of Jordan, who has the unique distinction of being of a member of the Palestine National Council and a former Jordanian member of parliament, told Al-Monitor that it was natural for Shtayyeh to visit Amman as his first foreign visit outside of Palestine. “The visit comes as a result of the high coordination between both sides and it reflects the high expectations that Jordan can play a decisive role in helping Palestinians overcome the economic strangulation that Israel and the US are trying to place on the Palestinian government.”

Shtayyeh brought with him the ministers of energy, economic cooperation and transportation. According to media reports and statements by top officials on both sides, the two-day meetings produced important results and launched a new era of relations. The electricity that Jordan supplies to Palestine will increase from 26 megawatts to 80 megawatts per day. “This is enough not only to supply the needs of Jericho, but also most of East Jerusalem,” the Palestinian Minister of Energy, Omar Kettaneh, told reporters.

On the economic front, Jordan and Palestine agreed on a major increase in the items that will be exchanged from both sides and on the mode of delivery of products. Gone is the “back-to-back” expensive process, now replaced by “door-to-door” delivery of products. Back-to-back means that trucks reach a particular border point and products are carried from one truck to the other, while door-to-door ensures that products cross border points and deliver their products in one trip to the intended location.

Other transport and custom decisions are being processed, the ministers told the media.

Jawad Anani, a former Jordanian deputy prime minister and finance minister, told Al-Monitor that the agreements reached by both sides are mutually beneficial. “What happened in Amman is what Arabs should be doing rather than going to Bahrain,” Anani said, in reference to the US-backed "Peace to Prosperity" economic workshop, which Palestinians boycotted and Jordan sent a low-level delegation to.

He hailed the energy agreement, saying that it represents a win-win result. “Palestinians will be less dependent on Israel, and Jordan has an overflow of energy thanks to the large shale oil reserves that are being converted to electricity.”

Anani added that the potential for Palestinians to get oil from Iraq at reduced rates strengthens Jordan’s need for a more permanent delivery system. “This will greatly help the plans to place permanent pipes to transfer oil from Iraq to Jordan,” Anani said.

Anani, who is an economist and the former chair of the Amman Stock Exchange, said he is optimistic about an effort to create a profitable joint agricultural export company. “In the past, we have had two failed attempts at creating a successful agricultural export company. But this time if the company is jointly owned with Palestinians, there is a good chance for its success. But this means we need to revive the idea of an airport in the Jordanian side of the Jordan valley to speed up the delivery of fresh products to Europe and other locations.”

Samir Hulileh, former CEO of Palestine’s leading investment company PADICO, told Al-Monitor that he was very happy with the results of Shtayyeh’s meetings in Jordan. “I was impressed with the meetings and their results. It is a win for both the Palestinian government and the Palestinian private sector because it provides for the badly needed diversion of trade that many of us have been calling for.”

The story of the Jordanian taxi driver and the success of the visit of the Palestinian ministerial delegation have given a positive boost toward much-improved Jordanian-Palestinian relations that can benefit both people. Many are hoping that this will eventually lead to Palestinian independence from strangulating economic ties with Israel.

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