Amid rhetoric of brotherly relations and Arab national interests, a row over visa formalities casts a shadow over Jordanian-Lebanese bilateral ties. The latest development saw Jordan slapping entry restrictions on Lebanese nationals, claiming to reciprocate a Lebanese visa policy, which was apparently issued in a bid to control the arrival of Palestinians holding Jordanian nationality.
Jordanian authorities announced last week that starting August 1, Lebanese travelers would no longer be able to obtain visas as they enter the kingdom's airports and border posts. Instead they must apply for visas in advance at the embassy and wait for Amman’s approval.
Jordan then agreed to slightly relax restrictions for some categories of travelers, giving Beirut a second chance to go back on its moves. Lebanese travelers who could prove they are headed to Jordan on business and those who have “urgent matters” in the kingdom would be issued “immediate visas by the embassy in Beirut,” Jordanian ambassador, Anmar Hmoud, told the Daily Star.
This came as no consolation, though, for the many Lebanese who still must await clearance from Amman, a process that could take up to two weeks. The Lebanese embassy in Amman issues 150 visas daily throughout the year, and in summer, visa approvals can number up to 250 per day. Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Al-Khatibhas therefore announced on July 30, that Lebanese nationals will be granted entry visas within a period of between 24 hours and 48 hours at the maximum, reported AFP.
These policy amendments apparently followed a meeting between Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and his Jordanian counterpart, Ali Abu Raghib, who arrived in Beirut on July 26, for a three-day unofficial visit. According to the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, the two have discussed a Jordanian donation of 50 US-made tanks in a bid to help rebuild the Lebanese army. The move is reportedly now awaiting US approval.
Relations between the neighbors have been historically warm. In August 1999, King Abdullah II of Jordan proposed a tripartite grouping with both Syria and Lebanon, involving a unified entry visa for all three nations. The ultimate objective appeared to be a common Syrian-Jordanian market that would then merge with the Lebanese market. If introduced, the measure will have revived a practice that was used during the 1970s for travel between Syria and Jordan.
Citing "the special brotherly relations between the Arab people," a Jordanian source told the Saudi daily Okaz in June, that a trilateral committee is reviewing the introduction of a new procedure that will enable movement between Jordan, Syria and Lebanon using only an identity document of one of the three countries.
Nonetheless, friction arose in 1995 when Lebanon began requiring an entry visa for Palestinians — including nearly 400,000 Palestinian refugees who reside in Lebanon itself. In March 1999, the Lebanese government stopped issuing visitor’s visas to Palestinians born in Lebanon but with Jordanian citizenship.
In 1997, Lebanese authorities issued a six-point internal memo, carrying instructions to diplomatic missions abroad not to grant visas to Jordanians bearing “two-year passports” — clearly singling out Jordanians of Palestinian origin as unwanted visitors to Lebanon, according to the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar.
Official statistics indicate that nearly 500,000 Palestinians are bearers of such documents, issued since Jordan severed its legal and administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988, in addition to the majority of the 1.5 million West Bankers.
Lebanese officials utterly dismissed such press reports. Lebanon’s ambassador in Amman, Adib Alamuddin at the time, told the Jordan Times that all Jordanians were on an equal footing regardless of their origin, adding that the internal memo was, in fact, cancelled in April 1999.
Jordanian authorities then decided to ease visa procedures for Lebanese, in an attempt to convince authorities in Beirut to reciprocate. Two types of visas were thus issued for Lebanese nationals — either a one-entry visa available at the airport in Amman and at the land border post at Ramtha, or a six-month, multiple-entry visa issued at the Jordanian embassy in Beirut. However Jordan’s repeated efforts to convince Lebanese authorities to remove visa restrictions over the past six years were to no avail.
Jordan’s ambassador in Beirut Anmar Hmoud dismisses the claim that Lebanon needs to make a special case with regard to Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin. “Security concerns in the Arab world are identical,” he told the Daily Star. “The situation in Lebanon is no different from that in Jordan.”
And so much so that these concerns are not strange to Jordan itself, which reportedly undertook an unprecedented measure in mid-Jun 2000. The Palestinian daily Al-Quds quoted a high ranking Jordanian source as saying that the ministry of interior issued new instructions preventing Palestinians of the West Bank from entering Jordan without a prior consent from Jordanian authorities, justifying this measure in fears that Israel will gradually expel them. — (MENA Report)
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