Honeymoon in Amman (Extract)

Hoping to thwart efforts to revive the 'Jordan is Palestine' concept, King Abdullah cosies up to Hamas

21ammandemo (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Extract from an article in Issue 21, February 2, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. About a kilometer west of the Israel Embassy in Amman, a shabby brown tent flanked by a makeshift cemetery of styrofoam tombstones marking the dead in Gaza stands on the edge of a busy road. This empty municipal lot is as close as the Jordanian government allows protesters to get to the Embassy. A group of young men sits in the sun next to the protest tent, getting up to show passersby the drawings, slogans and photographs declaring solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. "We'll stay here until the ambassador is removed," says one. "What keeps us going is that our message is getting through. The Arab public is awake." One small exhibit features a map of Israel and the Occupied Territories stamped by the bloody thumbprints of visitors. Though it's licensed, the young men said the authorities have come several times and ordered the tent to be taken down. In a rare gesture of public defiance against the authorities, the protesters refused. As Arab countries fall into either the pro- or anti-Hamas column, Jordan is usually assumed to be part of the anti-Hamas axis of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, it would be difficult to understate Jordan's past antipathy to Hamas. Within Jordan, the concern after the Hamas election victory in January 2006 was that Hamas would rally the Islamists in Jordan to overthrow the Hashemite regime. In April 2006, the government accused Hamas of smuggling weapons into Jordan intended to assassinate Jordanian officials and other targets. To go from that point to head of the Hamas political bureau, Khalid Mashaal's statement last week to a Jordanian delegation visiting Damascus, as quoted by Ammonnews, that "Jordan is the only country which has united its official and popular stand with regard to the crisis in Gaza" is nothing short of astonishing. In fact, the Jordanian government has allowed more than 400 marches and rallies in the past two weeks to protest Israeli actions in Gaza. In an unusual twist, the government is even actively supporting and encouraging the protests by expediting permits and allowing a flood of pro-Palestinian signs, banners and songs. Journalists and other political insiders, most of whom refused to be quoted directly, even anonymously, in an Israeli publication, say that Jordan has allowed these demonstrations because of its long-standing fears that Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are conspiring to hatch a plot to create an alternative Palestinian homeland in Jordan. Sensing its exclusion from such discussions, in 2007 Jordan began making overtures to Hamas in order to gain leverage against the "alternative homeland" concept. In a recent interview to Al Jazeera television, King Abdullah warned of "a conspiracy against the Palestinian people and their future." Such a conspiracy would not only destroy the idea of an independent Palestinian entity but also Jordan, the purported alternate homeland. "We must pay attention to the plot" and "stop the Israeli agenda as soon as possible," the king added firmly. Coming just after a high-profile op-ed in "The Washington Post" by America's former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, proposing a "three-state solution" in which Gaza goes to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan, the Jordanian regime was quick, as always, to squash the prospect of Jordan as Palestine. ("It will never happen," says a high-ranking Jordanian official.) Sources for this article point to signs that Jordan is continuing to cultivate that relationship with Hamas. In addition to encouraging protests in a way that the King Abdullah regime never has since gaining power in 1999, the government recently granted a license to the Islamist opposition newspaper, "As-Sabeel," allowing the weekly to now publish daily. The king also made a recent visit to Qatar, a country that is perceived in the Arab world as leaning more toward the Hamas-Syria-Iran perspective, and also a country with which Jordan has had serious diplomatic tensions. In October 1999, for example, the king closed Jordan's Hamas bureau and deported four senior Hamas members, including Khalid Mashaal, from Jordan to Qatar. Still, Jordanians fear that it is Egypt, and not Jordan, that is powerful enough to resist an imposed solution. "[Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak would gladly sacrifice not only Gaza but half of Egypt if he had to, just to get his son to replace him as president," says one prominent Jordanian journalist. Furthermore, hedging its bets with Hamas is risky for Jordan, says the journalist. "The government is in a lose-lose situation. If Israel emerges victorious, they will have a better position in any future negotiations, and if Hamas wins, the Islamists [in Jordan] will become stronger." Like Egypt, Jordan is facing intense pressure to act against Israel from its population, a majority of whom are believed to be of Palestinian origin. In downtown Amman, a music-shop owner blares the latest recordings about the death and destruction in Gaza and Arab inaction: "No one can uproot us from our land" and "We're calling out to you, great [Muslim] nation: Sleep and silence are the worst things." It is rare to publicly hear not only harsh criticism of Arab regimes but also pro-Palestinian lyrics. The shopowner's family is originally from Jenin, and he says sales are brisk, especially when the demonstrations pass by his shop. Throughout the downtown area, people are wearing colorful keffiyahs around their necks, as a sign of solidarity with the Gazans, and the conversations everywhere are about the latest developments in Gaza. Extract from an article in Issue 21, February 2, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.