Last September I bookmarked a newspaper piece about Jordan courting Hamas and promptly forgot about it. The headline was “As a Palestinian state recedes, Jordan contacts Hamas“, the piece in the Lebanese Daily Star by Saad Hattar, but only the first paragraph is still available without a subscription to the archives.
Jordan’s move to thaw relations with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) following nine years of estrangement has raised eyebrows as to the timing and the motives behind this tactic. Internal and external factors dictated the rapprochement amid growing Jordanian dismay at American and Israeli behavior.
Today there was a new headline, “Jordan and Hamas: a window briefly opened, then shut” and Hamas has once again become the orphan child in Jordan. This piece is by Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, who the Daily Star describes as “a journalist and former chief editor of The Jordan Times”. Since these things tend to disappear quickly, (yes, I know people use these pages for research) I have also archived it here.
I remember the first time I met Rana Sabbagh, as she was called then, at the old Jordan Times building in Amman. It started with a chance meeting with a man named Abdul Rahman on a bus. Many people gave me their addresses or phone numbers when meeting me for the first time, and I usually filed them and ignored them, but for some reason, after a week or so I went and looked up Abdul Rahman at the small supermarket (a hole in the wall grocery store, actually) where he worked. It turned out he had been an editor in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War. The country of the paper he was working for at the time was at odds with Iraq, so he had spent some time in Iraqi prison and still had problems walking as a result of strokes he had after being beaten in prison. He knew I was a teacher, but he told me I should write, and introduced me to his friends as “a journalist”. “Write a newspaper article about this subject”, he said, mentioning something that had just happened that day. “Then take it to the Jordan times and ask for the editor”, he told me. I did. At the desk at the entry to the Jordan Times/al-Rai building, they were dubious, but they made a phone call and directed me to that area. Rana Sabbagh was in a meeting at the moment, but I was escorted to a small room where I explained my business and handed over the article I had written. A half hour later, she appeared. She was concise, brief, strictly business. She told me exactly why she couldn’t accept the article, and told me what to do about it. A week later I brought her another article which she bought. I cannot even begin to describe what it feels like to see your own byline for the first time. Thank you Abdul Rahman; thank you Rana Sabbagh.
So back to Jordan and Hamas. If you really want to understand the complicated dance between Hamas and Jordan, read the whole thing. You will get everything you need to know about the situation without having to read anything else for background. But one thing really struck me. Jordan is allied with the Egypt/Saudi/PLA group and against terrorism of Hamas/ Hizbollah/Iran/ Syria. Jordan was itself the target of a spectacular assault on a wedding party by suicide bombers.
What then could entice Jordan, which some have called America’s only Arab friend, to open talks with Hamas, a notorius group on the CIA’s terrorist list that Jordan has little reason to love? Jordan hates religious extremists. Jordan hates terrorists. There were the usual answers you would expect about yesterday’s elections in Israel, and wanting to give the new U.S. president time to format policy, but just like back in the days when Rana Sabbagh was editing the Jordan Times, when the most startling and provocative ideas were found after you turn the page five, column six, Rana Sabbagh has buried her most interesting observations in the ending paragraphs of her piece. Jordan’s sudden courtship of Hamas was triggered by the fear of a new massive influx of refugees, this time from Palestine.
Insiders say the GID had little confidence that Abbas’ PA would not collapse in 2009, either leaving a power vacuum in the West Bank that might be challenged by Hamas or allowing Hamas simply to take the helm. In either case, the GID assumed that Hamas would prevent the influx of West Bank Palestinians to Jordan. And it would help ease the spillover of any security deterioration that would likely follow the PA’s collapse.
[Mohammad] Dhahabi’s [former head of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID), who was removed on December 29] calculation also reflected growing mistrust within the Jordanian establishment of Fatah, the dominant faction in the PLO, which Abbas heads. Dhahabi was worried that Fatah elites might negotiate a peace deal at the expense of Jordanian interests to save their faltering legitimacy. Having Hamas and the Jordanian Islamists on the side of official Jordan would curb the agenda of influential politicians in the US and Israel who continue to see Jordan as an “alternative homeland” for Palestinians.
Jordan’s sudden affection for Hamas, then was a result of powerful American interest groups (Jewish and Christian, although Sabbagh is too polite to say so) who do not accept the two state solution.
Jordan has now changed direction, but for how long? Sixty per cent of Jordanians are Palestinian. Jordan has welcomed wave after wave of refugees–Armenians, Circassians, Palestinians (after both the 1948 war and the 1967 war), and then the Iraqis. The Palestinian refugees, led by Fateh, started a civil war against Jordan in 1969, because after being pushed out of the West Bank, they wanted to use Jordan to continue their war on Israel. Several assassination attempts against King Hussein failed. How much more chaos can Jordan absorb? If Jordan’s Kings weren’t possibly the smartest heads of state in the world, America and Israel might long ago have lost their staunchest ally in the Arab world to religious extremists.
For now, the rapprochement with Hamas is (officially, at least) dead. But I suspect it wouldn’t take much to bring it back.
“We will continue to push for a two-state solution to protect Jordan’s security and stability while making sure that Palestinians in the West Bank are empowered with security and economic stability to stay on the ground and to bury the ‘Jordan is Palestine’ scenario,” a Jordanian official has said.
“We will not allow any local or regional forces to push us to embrace the agenda of chaos and destruction that Iran and its allies are pursuing.”
This is a joke right? Americans would never tell a sovereign nation they had to accept a massive resettlement of people from another country so they could be forced out because they were the wrong ethnic group? Wrong. Since the latest action in Gaza, the late night threads of PumaPAC have teemed with exactly that kind of sentiment. I thought it would disappear after the inauguration, but it has continued. In fact just yesterday it appeared here. If Jordan does ever embrace terrorism it won’t be because they want to but because they were pushed to by American extremists like this.