Jordan´s Outreach to Hamas: The Politics of Distress (JCPA) JERUSALEM CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS) Jerusalem Issue Briefs Vol. 8, No. 12 Pinchas Inbari 09/17/08)
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- Until recently, Jordan was the only Arab country that had boycotted
the fundamentalist Hamas movement. However, in 2007 Jordanian
intelligence held a series of meetings with Hamas leaders to end
hostile relations and start afresh.
- Jordan´s greatest fear is that it be considered the "alternative
homeland" for the Palestinians. That is why all political formulas
that Jordan is ready to consider are based on the "two-state
solution" - a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and a
Jordanian state in the East Bank. Jordan would only consider
confederation arrangements with the Palestinians after a Palestinian
state is declared west of the Jordan River.
- Israel´s regional policies have thrown Jordan off balance. The
tahdiya (calm) agreement with Hamas caused great embarrassment
moderate Arab countries and exploded the policy of isolating Hamas.
In addition, in its prisoner deal with Hizbullah, Israel agreed to
hand over to Hizbullah the bodies of Jordanians. If Israel, for
pragmatic reasons, finds it appropriate to engage with Hamas, why
shouldn´t Jordan do the same?
- Traditionally, Jordan has cooperated closely with Israel to
maintain the status quo in Jerusalem, and Israel has formally
recognized Jordan´s role as the sole custodian of the Holy City´s
Muslim shrines, in line with the 1994 "Arava agreement." However,
Israel´s preference to work with UNESCO as opposed to Jordan
regarding repairs to the Al Aqsa staircase was seen to be aimed at
ending Jordan´s exclusive role as sole custodian of Jerusalem´s
- There is a virtual consensus in the Arab media that Russia has been
the winner in its bloody attack on Georgia, while the U.S. and its
Western allies failed to protect their Georgian ally. Following the
Russian invasion of Georgia, King Abdullah II flew to Moscow and
indicated an interest in buying Russian weapons, with all of the
implications such a move entails.
- Hamas influence in Jordan and the West Bank is rising. Iran and
Russia are moving to reshape the Middle East. At the same time,
Jordan fears it cannot trust the political will of its traditional
allies as Israel has diplomatically engaged Jordan´s adversaries -
Syria and Hamas. Jordan´s current policy can best be categorized as
a "distress call" - one that should be heeded by Israel and the West
before it is too late.
A 180-Degree Shift
Until recently, Jordan was the only Arab country that had boycotted
the fundamentalist Hamas movement and prohibited its leadership entry
into Jordan. Amman had ordered Hamas to close its offices in 1999 and
leave the country when it was revealed that Hamas´ Amman bureau had
been engaged in planning sabotage and terror operations.
Subsequently, the Hamas leadership headed by Khaled Mashaal attempted
to relocate to Qatar, but instead moved its base of operations to
Damascus in the same year. As recently as April 2006, Jordan openly
accused Mashaal of planning to assassinate government leaders and
launch terror attacks in the kingdom.1
However, in July 2007 it was reported that Jordanian intelligence had
held a series of meetings with Hamas leaders in order to end the
hostile relations with the monarchy and start afresh. The Jordanian
leadership initiated the meetings. This apparent 180-degree shift in
policy was accented by King Abdullah II´s visit to Moscow in August
2008 - in the immediate aftermath of the Moscow visit by Syrian
President Bashar Assad on the heels of the Russian invasion of
Georgia. Abdullah reportedly raised the option with his Kremlin hosts
of purchasing Russian weaponry for the Jordanian army.2
What caused Jordan´s 180-degree shift? A large part of the answer
lies in the conviction that the Annapolis peace process between
Israel and the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of collapse.
Currently, Jordanian government leaders are concerned with their
increasingly precarious situation. Iran, its Syrian partner and
Hizbullah and Hamas proxies are playing a destabilizing role in the
region, while Jordan sees Israel and the United States as currently
unwilling to confront them.
Abdullah senses danger in a troubling regional context featuring the
likely the collapse of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, a very
weak Palestinian Authority leadership, and growing Hamas power in the
West Bank and in Jordan. Amman is not confident that Israel and the
U.S.-led Western alliance will contain the growing threats.
Perhaps Jordan´s greatest fear is that it be considered
the "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians instead of a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. That is why all
political formulas that Jordan is ready to consider are based on
the "two-state solution" - a Palestinian state by definition in the
West Bank and Gaza and a Jordanian state by definition in the East
Bank. Jordan would only consider confederation arrangements with the
Palestinians after a Palestinian state is declared west of the Jordan
King Abdullah had been one of the biggest supporters of the Annapolis
peace process and had acted as one of its main "behind-the-scenes"
advocates. However, as negotiations hit a dead end, Abdullah lost
interest, and then became alarmed when he internalized the dangers
inherent in the lack of political will displayed by Israel, the
United States, and the West in confronting the regional threats
emanating from Iran, its Syrian ally, and surrogates such as
Hizbullah and Hamas.
Jordan: Israel Negotiated a Cease-Fire with Hamas
According to leading Jordanian columnist Muhammad Hussein al-Mu´mini,
writing in the mainstream Jordanian daily al-Ghad, "the problem began
when Israel made the tahdiya [calm] agreement with Hamas after
conducting negotiations with them through the Egyptians as if Hamas
is a sovereign political entity."3 Al-Mu´mini also noted, "the
tahdiya caused great embarrassment to the PA and the moderate Arab
countries, even to the international community that put Hamas in
siege." Israel, he said, "exploded the policy of isolating Hamas."
Israel´s regional policies have thrown Jordan off balance. Mu´mini
noted that in the prisoner deal with Hizbullah, Israel "sharpened
Hizbullah´s spear and gave it both international and Lebanese
legitimacy. It would have been better to hand the prisoners to the
Lebanese government." There was a Jordanian aspect to the deal with
Hizbullah, as Israel also agreed to hand over to Hizbullah the bodies
of Jordanians. According to Mu´mini, this was an "extreme provocation
to Jordanian diplomacy." He explained that, "There is a peace accord
with Jordan giving Jordan and Israel the legal cover for the exchange
of the dead prisoners´ bodies." If Israel, for pragmatic reasons,
finds it appropriate to engage with Hamas, why shouldn´t Jordan do
Another Jordanian analyst, Hamadeh Farawna, considers Hamas´ tahdiya
agreement with Israel the main reason behind the Jordanian-Hamas
reengagement.4 According to Farawna´s assessment, Jordan was also
impressed by Hamas´ resolve in obligating other terror factions in
Gaza to observe Hamas´ tahdiya with Israel. In this "encouraging"
context, Amman decided to lessen tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood
in Jordan. Farawna reminded us that despite the years of boycott,
Muhammad Nazzal of the Hamas diaspora politburo would still visit
Amman every three months.5
It is critical to consider that in May 2008, the Muslim Brotherhood
in Jordan elected Hamam Said, a self-proclaimed Hamas figure from
Jenin, as its leader. Said did not conceal his views that Jordan must
become a "muqawama - (resistance)" territory like Gaza and Lebanon.
A Political Dialogue between Jordan and Hamas
At this juncture, Jordanian intelligence exclusively has managed
contacts with Hamas. However, a political dialogue will likely
develop between Jordan and Hamas if the group assuages Jordanian
concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood will "militarize" its activities
in classical Hamas style.
Hamas, too, has sought a rapprochement with Jordan to further its
interests. The organization has been unhappy with its isolation in
Gaza and its precarious position in Damascus. While Damascus is not a
natural choice for a Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, Hamas had
little choice following its 1999 expulsion from Amman. Moreover, the
strained relations between the secular Ba´athist regime in Damascus
and the Muslim Brotherhood only intensified the problematic nature of
Hamas´ presence in Damascus.
Tensions worsened recently following the initiation of diplomatic
contacts between Syria and Israel. Hamas suspects that Syria might
exploit the meetings with Israel to tighten its grip on Hamas. A
Fatah website went even further by publishing a report that Syrian
intelligence arrested Hamas activists in Damascus.6 It is probable
that Fatah sought to drive a wedge between Hamas and Syria. And while
it is even possible that the report was fabricated, the political
environment surrounding the report would seem to provide a pretext
for its publication.
From Hamas´ vantage point, the May 2008 election of Hamas leader
Hamam Said as the new head of Amman´s Muslim Brotherhood rendered
Jordan the ideal location for the group´s activities. Jordan, for its
part, preferred the option of engaging Damascus-based Hamas leader
Khaled Mashaal in order to contain Said´s aspirations to
launch "resistance" actions from Jordanian soil, instead of
confronting him, particularly while Israel has maintained a ceasefire
with Hamas in Gaza.
Mashaal played an important role in Hamas´ rapprochement with Jordan.
On August 21, 2008, he said at a gathering of Palestinians in
Damascus that Hamas opposes "all the projects" that are now on the
table that aim at settling the refugees in Lebanon or
the "alternative homeland" in Jordan. "We shall not accept a solution
at the expense of Jordan, nor Lebanon, nor any other (Arab) party."7
Despite Jordan´s anxiety over Hamas and the prospect of being called
an "alternative Palestinian homeland," and in line with its
insistence on a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the kingdom has
on occasion indicated its readiness to assist the Palestinians in the
West Bank. Prior to the Annapolis process, Jordan reportedly was
interested in dispatching the Jordanian-commanded Palestinian Badr
Forces to the West Bank in order to impose the rule of law.8 Israel
blocked the initiative, but Jordan has still not disbanded the 2,000-
man Palestinian security force that was recruited from Jordan - not
the West Bank. The force belongs to the PLO´s Liberation Army and
maintains allegiance to the Palestinian flag. However, the force is
under the complete authority of the Jordanian supreme command.
Israel´s cabinet decision to torpedo the Badr Force option shelved a
potential opportunity to advance tripartite cooperation between
Jordan, Israel, and moderate Palestinians to advance the situation on
the West Bank towards a permanent solution.
However, Jordan´s current engagement of Hamas seems to indicate that
Abdullah will pursue a negative and more confrontational posture
Jordan may have already begun its new approach over the sensitive
political issue of Jerusalem. In early August 2008, Jordan launched a
campaign of tough rhetoric against Israeli and Western activity in
eastern Jerusalem that seemed to proximate Hamas´ declarations.9 For
example, both Hamas and Jordan publicly rejected the role of UNESCO´s
construction work on the staircase leading up to the Muslim holy
sites via the Mugrabi Gate.
The Jordan-Israel Relationship
Traditionally, Jordan has cooperated closely with Israel to maintain
the status quo in Jerusalem, and Israel has formally recognized
Jordan´s role as the sole custodian of the Holy City´s Muslim
shrines, in line with the 1994 Arava agreement signed by former King
Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. So it is a sign of acute
Jordanian distress that Jordan has recently attempted to draw
international attention to the Jerusalem issue.
For its part, Hamas opposes any non-Muslim involvement in the areas
in and around Jerusalem´s Muslim holy shrines. Jordan´s al-Mu´mini
wrote that Israel´s preference to work with UNESCO as opposed to
Jordan regarding repairs to the Al Aqsa staircase was "the last
straw," as it appeared to be aimed at ending Jordan´s exclusive role
as sole custodian of Jerusalem´s Muslim shrines in cooperation with
The Return of Russia´s Influence
Jordan also received a bear hug from an unexpected source: Dr. Ahmad
Yusuf, advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Isma´il Haniye said: "The
fundamental issue in (the Jerusalem crisis) is that there are
historic relations and religious and social links between us and
Jordan in addition to the (Jordanian) political interest in the
Palestinian problem since its inception." Hamas´ cozying up to Jordan
does not necessarily indicate a readiness to close ranks over the
Palestinian issue. However, it does reflect the roles of Iran and
Russia in a recalibration of superpower politics. Yusuf noted, "The
contacts between Jordan and Hamas are a result of regional and
international developments."10 Decoding his statement means: 1. Hamas
is completing the expulsion of Fatah from Gaza, and stands to
takeover the West Bank; 2. The Russian invasion of Georgia signals a
major recalibration of power in the Middle East that works in Hamas´
There is a virtual consensus in the Arab media that Russia has been
the winner in its bloody attack on Georgia, while the United States
and its Western allies failed to protect their Georgian ally.
Lebanese commentator Eyad Jamaleddine noted on the Ya Liban website
that the "U.S. abandoned Georgia as it did Lebanon."11 In the London
daily al-Quds al-Arabi, Abd al-Bari Atwan asked: Has the American
King Abdullah wasted no time in appealing to the reemerging Russian
power. Following the Russian invasion of Georgia, he flew to Moscow
and indicated an interest in buying Russian weapons, with all of the
serious implications such a move entails. The London-based Al-Hayat
disclosed that the king visited a Russian base near Moscow to watch a
demonstration of the Russian arsenal.13 Russian sources told the
paper that the visit gave a "strong push" to military cooperation
between the two countries, and that Jordan received a license to
manufacture the Russian RPG 32 anti-tank missile, to be
called "Hashem," with permission to sell this missile to third
Jordan is growing increasingly uneasy. Hamas influence in Jordan and
the West Bank is rising. Iran and, more recently, Russia are
ascendant and moving to reshape the Middle East. At the same time,
Jordan fears it cannot trust the political will of its traditional
allies. The United States appears to have backed off on Iran and
Syria, while Washington has avoided confrontation with Russia.
Furthermore, Israel has diplomatically engaged Jordan´s adversaries -
Syria and Hamas.
Jordan has not yet upgraded it contacts with Hamas beyond security
cooperation, to the political level. Hamas sources in Damascus
confirmed that Jordan would not be inviting Mashaal to Amman, and
Hamas´ politburo is not to be reinstated in the Jordanian capital.14
Jordan has not continued its aggressive rhetoric over Jerusalem. As
al-Mu´mini notes, "Jordan wants to keep its peace treaty with
Israel," but at the same time it seeks to create the means to force
Israel to take Jordan more seriously. Jordan´s current policy can
best be categorized as a "distress call" - one that should be heeded
by Israel and the West before it is too late.(Copy/right © 2008 JCPA.
2. 23 August 2008, http://www.daralhayat.com/world_news/europe/08-
3. Al-Gahd, 22 August 2008, http://www.alghad.jo/index.php?
4. Al-Gahd, 18 August 2008, http://www.alghad.jo/index.php?
7. Falasteen al-An website, http://www.paltimes.net/arabic/?
8. http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3043421,00.html, for
10. http://www.paltimes.net/arabic/?action=showcaht&cid=71, interview
with Hamas website, Filasteen al-An.
12. 25 August 2008, http://www.alquds.co.uk/index.asp?
13. 23 August 2008, http://www.daralhayat.com/world_news/europe/08-
14. Al-Anba of Kuwait, 4 September 2008,
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who
formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and
currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author
of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians:
Between Terrorism and Statehood.
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