Jordan to Palestinians: Stay out of local unrest

Faced with chronic strikes, king Abdullah appeals to Abbas, Mashaaal to keep ethnic Palestinians away from protests

By MOHAMMED NAJIB / THE MEDIA LINE
December 7, 2011 20:07
PA President Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II

PA President Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

RAMALLAH – Worried about political unrest at home, Jordan’s King Abdullah is pressing Hamas and Fatah leaders to keep ethnic Palestinians out of Jordan's internal struggles between the government and the opposition, sources in the Palestinian Authority and Jordanian intelligence told The Media Line.

Abdullah’s concerns are serious enough that two weeks ago he travelled to the PA headquarters in the West Bank City of Ramallah for the first time in 11 years to personally make an appeal to PA President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. He will relay the same message to Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal when the two meet for what would be the first time in eight years.

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While the civil strife in Jordan has not shaken the government as it has in neighboring Syria, the king has faced persistent demands for political reforms and was forced to dismiss his government in October. Last Friday, over a thousand Jordanians protested in Amman against corruption, demanding reform. The tensions have been exacerbated by the rebellion in Syria, the US withdrawal from Iraq later this month, and the kingdom’s deep economic problems, as well as the turmoil of the Arab Spring.

Palestinians play a key role in Jordan where by some estimates they make up as much as 70% of the population, but are often regarded as less loyal to the royal family than the East Bankers, as Jordan’s more veteran population is known. While East Bankers dominate the armed forces, the security services and ministries, most of the kingdom’s business leadership is Palestinian.

A senior Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Media Line said that the king sought help from Abbas in lobbying Palestinians in Jordan to avoid protests, which have been strongest in the southern Me’an and Tafila governorates. Instability in Jordan would harm Palestinian businesses, he warned.

The meeting with Mashaal
has been subject to media speculation for weeks but has yet to actually occur. On Monday, the king’s adviser for media affairs, Amjad Adaileh, told The Jordan Times that Mishaal’s visit is still on and would take place within days or weeks.

When it happens, the king is expected to tell Mashaal that Hamas and its followers in Jordan must refrain from joining protests against the government, according to Jordanian security sources who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity. Jordanian Islamists, led by the local Muslim Brotherhood, have been at the forefront of the opposition.

The king will also demand that Hamas, itself an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,  separate the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch them from the Jordanian branch.

The outreach to the Palestinians comes amid a period of flux for Palestinians. Abbas’ Palestinian-statehood drive in the United Nations has stalled, but the campaign has jeopardized aid from the US and caused Israel to delay transferring vital tax revenue to the PA. While Hamas is likely to benefit from the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party in Egyptian elections, the movement is worried that its headquarters in Damascus, where Mashaal is based, may be shut down if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is toppled.

The two movements have vowed to form a national unity government and stage elections next year, but have been unable select a cabinet. Abdullah is opposed to any reconciliation, which could enable Hamas to strengthen its presence in the PA-controlled West Bank, next to Jordan.

“A Fatah-Hamas joint platform of action, which may put an end to any prospect of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, would be viewed with great concern in Amman,” Oded Eran of Israel’s Institute for national Security Studies, said in a recent analysis.  

“The absence of any negotiations may drift into violent friction between Israel and the Palestinians with dire consequences for all concerned, Jordan included. The fear in Jordan of another wave of Palestinians fleeing a third intifada, in addition to fears from Syrian and Iraqi refugees, must surely cause sleepless nights in Amman,” Eran explained.

Nevertheless, as the Mashaal meeting suggests, Abdullah’s relations with Hamas are growing warmer. There were reports, later denied, that Jordan offered Hamas to move its headquarters to Amman. Last month, Jordan’s new prime minister, Awn Khasawneh, described the 1999 expulsion of Hamas leaders from Jordan as a “constitutional and political mistake.”

Analysts say that rapprochement is worrying Abbas, who despite the unity talk remains a bitter rival of Hamas. But Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri told The Media Line that the king assured the president that closer ties with Hamas would not come at the expense of the PA. That said, he also warned Abbas against getting too close to Hamas.

“King Abdullah II calmed Abbas and assured him that the Mashaal visit will not weaken or harm relations… [but] do not go far with Hamas reconciliation and do not formulate a national unity government with Hamas that could lead to more US and Israeli sanctions against the PA,” Masri said.

Retired Maj.Gen. Jibril Rajoub and the former head of the PA’s National Security Council told The Media Line that Abdullah does not have to worry about official Palestinian backing for his regime. “The stability of the Jordanian regime is the most important guarantee to stability of the Palestinians and their national security interest,” he said.

Abbas has confirmed in recent declarations that the Jordan is only for the Jordanians and it is unacceptable under any circumstances to be an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.

But Masri said that Abdullah is not likely to get much help from Abbas in keeping the lid on Palestinian protests, who he asserted has no significant influence on the Palestinians in Jordan.


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