Palestinian Affairs: King switch?

A country that has consistently considered Hamas a threat has been holding secret talks with the group.

Jordan abdullah 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Jordan abdullah 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Alarmed by reports about a rapprochement between Hamas and Jordan, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this week dispatched a PA security delegation to Amman to inquire about the Jordanians' intentions. Headed by PA Interior Minister Abdel Razzak Yahya, the delegation met with Jordanian Interior Minister Eid al-Fayez and Mohammed Dahabi, director of the Jordanian General Intelligence force. The delegation's visit to Amman came amid reports that Abbas and the PA leadership were very worried about the secret talks that have been taking place between Jordan and Hamas over the past few weeks. PA officials said they were caught by surprise by the change in Jordan's policy toward Hamas. "We learned about the dialogue between Hamas and Jordan from the media," complained a senior PA official. "The Jordanians never told us about their plans to talk to Hamas." The Jordanians cut off their relations with Hamas in 1999, when it closed down the movement's office in Amman and banned Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who carries a Jordanian passport, from entering the kingdom. Until recently, Jordan was one of the few Arab countries that regarded Hamas as a threat to its national security. About two years ago, the Jordanians announced that they had seized various types of weapons that Hamas members had smuggled into the kingdom. Initially, Hamas denied the allegations. Later, however, Mashaal apologized to the Jordanian government, arguing that the weapons were intended for use only against Israel. The Hamas denial further enraged the Jordanians, who retaliated by cancelling a planned visit to Jordan by Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar. The Jordanians were convinced then that Hamas was planning a series of attacks on Israeli targets in the kingdom. They also announced that some of the Hamas members captured by the Jordanian security forces confessed that they were planning to launch rockets at Israel from Jordanian territory. "Regardless of Hamas's true goals and intentions, I don't think there is any country that would agree to have an organization smuggle weapons into its territories," said Jordanian lawmaker Bassem Haddadin. "It's about violating Jordan's sovereignty." Haddadin said he did not expect a breakthrough in relations between Jordan and Hamas. "In the best case, it will be a cold normalization, like that which exists between Hamas and Egypt," he said. "Jordan is not interested in helping Hamas consolidate its grip on the Gaza Strip or ease the political sanctions against it." Haddadin, like other Jordanian officials, said that Amman's policy toward the PA and Abbas remained unchanged. The Jordanians' message to the Palestinians and Hamas is that Amman will continue to regard Abbas's authority as the legitimate government, while pursuing a dialogue with the Islamic movement to try and help solve the crisis on the Palestinian arena. SO, IF Jordan has no intention of recognizing Hamas's rule in Gaza, and if the Jordanians are still angry with Hamas because of the weapons smuggling, what prompted King Abdullah to authorize the secret talks? Palestinian and Jordanian political analysts explained this week that the Jordanians have reached the conclusion that they can't continue to ignore the fact that Hamas has become a major player in the region. Bilal Shobaki, a political science lecturer at An-Najah University in Nablus, said that the Jordanians are also convinced that Hamas might even strengthen its standing, and play a bigger role in the coming months. The Jordanian conviction, he added, is based on the following factors: • Mahmoud Abbas's term in office is due to expire in January 2009.
  • Hamas has already made it clear that it won't recognize Abbas's authority beyond that date, and would seek to replace him with a Hamas "president."
  • Fatah's failure to reform itself and present itself as a better alternative to Hamas. Veteran Fatah leaders are continuing to block the emergence of a new and young leadership, a fact which has weakened the faction and damaged its credibility among many Palestinians.
  • The imminent departure of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and subsequent political turmoil in Israel which will delay any progress in the peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • The demise of the two-state vision, with the end of US President George W. Bush's term in office at the end of the year. A prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas [in return for IDF soldier Gilad Schalit]. The Jordanians believe that such a deal would further boost Hamas's standing among the Palestinians.
  • The cease-fire agreement that was reached between Israel and Hamas, which allows Hamas to consolidate its grip on Gaza. BUT THERE are also other reasons behind Jordan's decision to launch a dialogue with Hamas. These include Jordan's fear of the rising power of Islamic fundamentalism in the region, and Hamas's growing popularity among the kingdom's Palestinian majority. Moreover, the Jordanians are worried by Iran's increased attempts to establish power bases in the West Bank and Jordan through Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other fundamentalist groups. The Jordanians also believe that the talks with Hamas will help ease tensions between the Jordanian authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. These tensions reached their peak earlier this year, when the Muslim Brotherhood accused the Jordanian authorities of "forging" the results of the parliamentary election. This explains why the Jordanians have also been involved in a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose representatives continue to openly criticize the government's close ties with the US. As far as Abbas is concerned, the Hamas-Jordan rapprochement is not good news. His biggest fear is that the talks would "legitimize" Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza and undermine his authority. He wants Hamas to remain isolated there and boycotted by the world until the movement either succumbs, or the Palestinians revolt against it. However, the sanctions have thus far failed to achieve their goal of bringing down or undermining the Hamas regime. And there are no indications that the Palestinians in Gaza are close to even thinking of staging a rebellion against Hamas.