Israel a big issue in upcoming Jordanian elections

Amid fears W. Bank residents will be dumped on Hashemite Kingdom, candidates call for "political resistance" to defend against "Israeli threat."

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
November 7, 2010 15:19
4 minute read.
Jordanian candidate greets voter.

Jordan Election 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

ZARQA, Jordan — Frustration with the interminable deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is bleeding over into Jordan, where bitterness at Israel is flowing more freely than ever during campaigning for this week's parliamentary elections.

Behind the anger expressed by candidates and voters lies US ally Jordan's greatest fear: That if peacemaking collapses, Israel will try to force it to take in the residents of the West Bank and stand as the Palestinian state. Recent talk by right-wing Israelis about the "Jordanian option" has only fueled the belief here that this is Israel's ultimate plan.

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"It would mean Jordan's demise and the obliteration of our national identity," Salameh Ghoweiry, an independent candidate, shouted to loud applause to a crowd of Palestinian Jordanians during a campaign speech in his constituency, Zarqa.

The town, east of the capital, Amman, is the hometown of al-Qaida in Iraq's slain leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and is a center for Islamic hard-liners.

Issues of rising inflation, steep increases in fuel and food prices and unemployment have arisen on the campaign trail as some 763 candidates vie for seats in the 120-member parliament in Tuesday's election. But the theme heard most often — and embraced by candidates of all political stripes — is anger at Israel, even more than in past elections in this country that, along with Egypt, is the only Arab state that has reached peace with Israel.

Many candidates trumpet denunciation of Israel on their campaign banners, and on the stump they call for "political resistance" to defend Jordan from the Israeli threat — avoiding any calls for violence — and for ending the peace treaty, a step King Abdullah II is highly unlikely to take. One moderate running for re-election, Khalil Atiyeh, is seen on posters proudly burning the Israeli flag.

"Resisting the Zionist entity and abolishing the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty is a national duty," proclaim the banners of a leftist, Khaled Ramadan, whose official campaign slogan is "Israel is the enemy."

"Since the peace process is dead, Jordan should prepare to confront Israel's atrocious scheme of forcing more Palestinians out of their homes in the West Bank and dump them in Jordan," Ramadan told The Associated Press in an interview.

A significant portion of Jordan's population has never been enthusiastic about the 1994 peace deal that then-King Hussein signed with Israel. But anger with Israel is running high across the board for a number of reasons — in particular, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is deeply distrusted, and most blame it for the failure of peace talks to get off the ground.

And many are convinced an eventual attempt to make Jordan the "Palestinian state" is in the cards.

Half of Jordan's population of 6 million are Palestinians.

The rest of Jordan's population are from Bedouin tribes who make up the backbone of support for King Abdullah II and his royal family. They fear that a "Jordanian solution" will mean the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan, throwing off the demographic balance and ending their domination.

"You can be sure that we will not accept, under any circumstances, a solution for the Palestinian question at the expense of Jordan," Abdullah told the Jordanian army recently. He sharply criticized Netanyahu as "living in a castle, watching the region from behind its walls."

Last month, MK Arieh Eldad of the hard-line National Union party backed such an option for the second time in the past year, proclaiming in a speech, "There's already a Palestinian state in Jordan. Jordan is Palestine." Some right-wingers in Israel regularly bring up the idea.

A spokeswoman for Israel's embassy in Amman, Merav Horsandi, said such comments "reflect the personal views of their holders and not the views of the government of Israel," which she said is committed to the 1994 peace treaty.

Further worrying for Jordanians was a rare instance of a non-Israeli politician weighing in. Geert Wilders — the leader of the Netherlands' third-largest party — enraged Jordanians by saying in June that the country should just change its name to Palestine and thus "end the conflict in the Middle East and provide the Palestinians with an alternate homeland."

So the campaign rhetoric resonates with the public.

Pro-government politicians — particularly tribesmen with strong ties to the king — are expected to sweep the election, especially since the largest opposition group, the fundamentalist Islamic Action Front, is boycotting to protest voting rules it calls unfair. That means that any criticism from parliament over Abdullah's strongly pro-Western policies or pressure from it to be tougher with Israel will likely only be cosmetic at most.

Still, the campaign has shown an atmosphere among the public that Abdullah can't ignore. It comes on top of frustration over the government's failure to create jobs or alleviate growing poverty.

"Enough with politics. We want to put bread and butter on our table," said Mohammad Abu-Atta, 51, an Amman construction worker. "How can we freely discuss politics and think properly if our children go to bed hungry?"


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