The Palestinian great escape?
Abdullah Ashee, a 45-year old investor, is wanted in the West Bank for alleged fraud. But two years ago, while his case was being considered in a court in the West Bank city of Ramallah, he fled to neighboring Jordan. He says he entered Jordan legally and that he fled his home because he does not trust the Palestinian Authority’s legal system.
“The people who filed the charges against me are related to influential people from the Palestinian Authority – I was a victim,” Ashee told The Media Line. “I was facing prison and losing more money, so I decided to flee.”
It is hard to know how many Palestinians have fled to Jordan in recent years, but according to figures published on the website of the Palestinian Authority, its police have apprehended nearly 2,000 people who were trying to escape prosecution in the Palestinian territories by fleeing to Jordan. Legal scholars in Jordan say despite efforts by the PA, dozens have succeeded.
Jordanian officials acknowledge that many Palestinians leave the West Bank while their cases are being heard in Palestinian courts.
The situation is complicated by the close ties between the West Bank and Jordan. Jordan ruled the area from 1948 to 1967, when it came under Israeli control. An estimated 800,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank, out of a total population of 2.6 million, hold Jordanian citizenship, the impact of which is strengthened where there are close family ties.
Jordanian law prohibits the extradition of Jordanian citizens except in exceptional cases, so the kingdom’s government is unlikely to extradite Palestinians to the West Bank once they have entered Jordan.
The Palestinian justice system is still in its infancy and according to legal experts, Palestinian lawyers have made some mistakes. For example, says Mahmoud Naghawee, a member of the Jordanian Bas Association who has been involved in several cases of extradition requests for Palestinians from Jordan, Palestinian officials do not always send the correct documents to Jordan.
“Jordan’s legal system is very strict. For example, deportation would not take place without the original deportation request, but the Palestinians send a certified copy,” he told The Media Line. “By the time proper documents are sent, the wanted individual will have already left Jordan to a third country, which further complicates efforts to bring him to justice,” Naghawee explained.
Meanwhile, Palestinian diplomats said their attempts to pursue wanted individuals once they have left Jordan for a third country become even more complicated due to the fact that that the Palestinian territories is not a full- fledged state.
Many countries in Europe and Asia do not cooperate with the Palestinian Authority due to the absence of a legal frame work that allows the extradition of wanted people, despite the existence of the Interpol, which operates between states.
Officials from Jordan's Ministry of Justice said Jordan does deport Palestinians to the West Bank, depending on the gravity of the case. They declined, however, to give figures on the number of individuals who have been deported. Sources in the ministry said that no more than five people have been deported in the past four years.
Palestinian Ambassador to Jordan Attallah Khairi said the problem of extradition exists, but he played down its significance.
“Jordan did not shirk its responsibility to the Palestinian Authority on this issue, but cooperation on issues of financial corruption could be improved,” he told The Media Line.
Khiri said the Palestinian Authority and Jordan cooperate under the Riyadh Agreement between members of the Arab League, which allows the extradition of individuals sentenced to prison for more than one year.
Diplomats from the Palestinian embassy in Amman said the fact that many Palestinians hold dual nationality, Jordanian and Palestinian, makes deportation very difficult.
Palestinian diplomats, who spoke to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity, said the Palestinian Authority asked Jordan to freeze the financial assets of former senior Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan, who is wanted on charges of alleged corruption.
“Jordan did not cooperate in the Dahlan issue. It continues to drag its feet on the matter, demanding more papers every time we meet their demands,” said the diplomat.
Dahlan, who carries dual Jordanian and Palestinian citizenship, is believed to have fled to Jordan after a fallout with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He is currently wanted in the PA-controlled West Bank on charges of financial fraud.
Meanwhile, a Jordanian official from the justice ministry said Jordan has extradited a few individuals from its territories in cases related to money laundering.
Speaking to The Media Line on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, he said the case of Dahlah is purely political, and therefore Jordan cannot extradite him. “The issue of Dahlan is an internal Palestinian issue that Jordan does not want to be dragged into,” he said.