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What is the status of an Israeli woman who marries an Egyptian citizen? Is she Israeli or Egyptian? And what about her children? Will they have the right to a free education in Egypt like other Egyptian children, or will they have to make like foreigners and pay a fortune?

Two months ago the administrative court in Egypt handed down a ruling instructing the interior minister to revoke the citizenship of Egyptian men who married Israeli women, as well as that of their children. The reasoning was not new.

"Because the children of such mixed couples can have dual citizenship, Egyptian and Israeli, there is a danger that these Egyptian children will be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, and this means that there is a danger to Egyptian national security," explained the judge.

The decision caused an immediate uproar in the Egyptian foreign ministry, which feared that it is liable to undermine Egypt's status and to damage its efforts to prove that it preserves human rights.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and the Egyptian interior ministry hastened to submit a rare legal appeal.

"The decision of the court damages a situation that has existed for 30 years," read the appeal, "and does not present a clear-cut conflict that is appropriate to a discussion in court, whose job it is to determine acquired rights."

The appeal also noted that the decision could seriously harm the country's good name and international standing, by presenting it as one that does not respect human rights and freedom.

Egyptian officials believe there are about 20,000 cases of which Egyptian citizens wed to Israelis, mainly those who came to work in Israel and married during their stay. Egypt, which is watched closely by the U.S. State Department and interested Christian lobbies, was punished last year for harming civil rights: About $200 million of its U.S. aid payments were frozen by Congress.

This is the reason for determined efforts by the Egyptian foreign ministry and interior ministry to prevent another excuse for additional intervention by human rights organizations and the U.S. administration.

The court's ruling and the decision to appeal it naturally led to a long series of reactions by readers and Web surfers, who mentioned, among other things, that the Egyptian citizens married Palestinian women, "who were forced to take Israeli citizenship by dint of the tragic circumstances brought about by the 1948 war."

"Do you think that all the Arabs in Israel are with the Israeli government? Not at all," declared one Web surfer.

Another complained of the fact that while the Egyptian government "married the Israeli government," a reference to the 1979 peace deal, an Egyptian court wants to cancel the marriages of Egyptian citizens to Israeli citizens. "Where is the shame?" the surfer wondered.

There is no question that Israeli women, even if they are Arabs, constitute a terrible danger to Egyptian security.

If their children don't end up spies then they will be pilots in the Israel Air Force.

Back to the West Bank

But the situation of the Palestinians in Jordan is no better.

A Jordanian woman who marries a foreigner, including a Palestinian, cannot grant him or their children citizenship. If they divorce or he deserts her, the children are left with his citizenship and cannot benefit from Jordanian civil rights, which include a free education and low-cost health care. The Jordanian interior minister, Naif al-Qhadi, explained about 10 days ago that "it is impossible to grant civil rights to the foreign family members of Jordanian women, because there are about 62,000 Jordanian women married to foreigners, 37,000 of them Palestinian men."

But in Jordan there is another interesting twist to the law. Ex-pat Palestinians from the West Bank who are not refugees from 1948 can carry two types of identity cards, one yellow, which is valid for five years, and the other green, valid for two years - amounting to a temporary residence permit.

In recent years Jordan has been conducting a campaign to reduce the number of Palestinians carrying yellow ID cards, in order to encourage them to return to the West Bank. In the four years since the program's inception, about 2,700 holders of yellow IDs have been transferred. The trend is intensifying and causing a vehement public debate in the kingdom.

The official position is that a change in the status of the Palestinians stems from the need to preserve their Palestinian identity and to prevent the West Bank from losing its inhabitants, "as Israel would like."

Civil rights activists in Jordan, on the other hand, claim that the step is not legal and that it harms thousands of families who will be forced to leave Jordan and move to the West Bank because they will soon lose their citizenship.

They are also enlisting an unusual legal maneuver to aid them. While the Jordanian government claims that its activity is legal as a result of King Hussein's decision to disengage from the West Bank in 1988, the opponents claim that Hussein's decision had no legal validity at all, because it did not go through the procedures required by the constitution.

Does this argument mean that the West Bank is still part of Jordan? In Jordan there are some who believe so, including none other than former interior minister Rajai Dajani, the man who formulated the Jordanian disengagement plan. In an interview with the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad, Dajani said that "the disengagement decision did not go through all the constitutional stages and was not presented to the Parliament for approval, and therefore the decision is unconstitutional."

Constitutional or not, the West Bank is not returning to Jordan anytime soon.