Analysis: Amman caught between Hamas and Fatah

More of the country's elite now choosing to support Hamas as the best way to confront Israel.

By BRENDA GAZZAR
February 18, 2009 00:37
3 minute read.
Analysis: Amman caught between Hamas and Fatah

king abdullah 224 88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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An expected move by Jordanian parliamentarians to file a petition with the International Criminal Court at The Hague accusing senior Israeli figures of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead does not reflect the kingdom's official position, experts say. The petition is expected to be filed this week by the head of Jordan's Parliamentary Legal Committee, Mubarak Abu Yamin, against several Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, Arab media reported this week. "Jordan is an absolute monarchy, not a constitutional monarchy, which means the king has the power of authority over the government and the parliament," said Samer Libdeh, an Amman-based senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Liberty in the Middle East, a think tank that promotes democracy in the region. "The parliament does not have decision-making leverage over foreign policy issues," he said. The move does, however, reflect increasing tension between those within the country who seek to inch closer to Hamas and its supporters, rather than to the more moderate Fatah and its supporters. "The major issue is that the majority of parliamentarians, as well as the current establishment in office from the palace and leading intelligence officers, have been calling to have close ties with Hamas," Libdeh said. More of the country's elite, including parliamentarians, are now choosing to support Hamas as the best way to confront Israel, he added. This was evident when a number of conservative tribal leaders visited Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during Israel's three-week military offensive. The move was considered a major shift, as tribal leaders generally stay in line with King Abdullah's policies. It was considered a clear message to him that Hamas better suited Jordan's strategic interests, Libdeh said. The rise of Islamism in the region is also influencing Abdullah, who has traditionally sided with the moderate camp and who appears to be at a crossroads, Libdeh said. Jordan is now flirting with the idea of moving closer to Islamic resistance movements and the countries that have supported them, such as Syria and, more recently, Qatar, he said. This was evident during Operation Cast Lead, when Jordan initially took a harsh stance against the offensive but then appeared to swing back to the Saudi-Egyptian camp. Although Abdullah did not allow protesters to demonstrate during the second intifada, he did allow Islamists to take to the streets during Israel's recent military operation in the Gaza Strip, Libdeh said. But the king decided at the last moment not to attend the Doha summit on Gaza, which was attended by states that sympathize with Hamas and was boycotted by Saudi and Egyptian officials. "Till this moment, he is swinging" between the two camps, Libdeh said. "He's not really clear about the direction that Jordan will go in, in the long run." The pressure Abdullah faces from conservative elements is also reflected in recent staff shuffles. In October, the chief of the Royal Court, Basem Awadullah, a reform-minded politician who had challenged the conservative establishment, left his job and was replaced by conservative tribal politician Nasser Lawzi. The post is among the country's top positions. Recently, the Royal Court has been taking the lead on the peace process, Libdeh said. And in December, chief of intelligence Maj.-Gen. Muhammad Dahabi, who held clandestine talks with Damascus-based Hamas political bureau member Muhammad Nazzal in Amman months earlier, was replaced by the more liberal Maj.-Gen. Muhammad Ratha'n Raqqad. King Abdullah likely brought in Raqqad in an effort to take a more balanced position following a row that occurred between the more conservative Dahabi and the more liberal Awadullah over who should take charge of the peace process file. "The king is caught between these two movements... the liberal and the conservative elements," Libdeh said. But as the debate continues among the elite on where Jordan is headed, America's $600 million a year in aid - which would certainly be in jeopardy if Jordan shifted to the "the axis of resistance" - weighs heavily as a consideration. "Jordan cannot escape this fact," Libdeh said.

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