Jordanian views on the Palestinian-Israeli situation
I’m back now from a week in Qatar, London, and Jordan. I spoke with over a dozen leading Arab journalists, three top officials in Jordan’s Royal Court, several American officials, the head of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front (known for his close relations with Hamas), and a variety of Jordanian, Palestinian and Arab political analysts from ...
I’m back now from a week in Qatar, London, and Jordan. I spoke with over a dozen leading Arab journalists, three top officials in Jordan’s Royal Court, several American officials, the head of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front (known for his close relations with Hamas), and a variety of Jordanian, Palestinian and Arab political analysts from all trends. I missed Bashar al-Asad's surprise visit to Amman (his first in 6 years, I believe) by a day, but I did hear about it an advance at least and have some sense what it's about. Here's a first shot at rounding up what I heard:
I’m back now from a week in Qatar, London, and Jordan. I spoke with over a dozen leading Arab journalists, three top officials in Jordan’s Royal Court, several American officials, the head of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front (known for his close relations with Hamas), and a variety of Jordanian, Palestinian and Arab political analysts from all trends. I missed Bashar al-Asad’s surprise visit to Amman (his first in 6 years, I believe) by a day, but I did hear about it an advance at least and have some sense what it’s about. Here’s a first shot at rounding up what I heard:
Jordan and the "peace process"
The Jordanian officials I met all seemed pleased with the level and nature of U.S. engagement thus far, and all of them praised Obama and Mitchell’s early engagement on the peace process and strong commitment to the two-state solution. But all emphasized strongly that the time for listening was coming to an end and that they hoped to see the U.S. begin putting forward proposals. They all said that they did not want another “peace process” which would waste years without tangible change – they want a quick push to peace negotiations with clear, enforceable benchmarks. This is exactly what Amr Moussa said in Washington a few weeks ago, and it’s the same argument I heard from most of the Arab journalists — on both sides of the great Arab divide — that I talked to over the last week.
And then, there’s the "Jordan option." Everyone I spoke to seemed highly agitated about and adamantly opposed to any suggestion of Jordan returning to the West Bank. Almost everyone thinks that the Israelis want Jordan to do this, and almost everyone says that Jordan is bitterly opposed. One of the officials went on at some length explaining that the idea was not being considered by Jordan, was not acceptable, was rejected, was a non-starter, was not on the table, would be refused if put on the table (and so on).
But nevertheless, talk of the Alternative Homeland (al-Watan al-Badil, "Jordan is Palestine") was everywhere – fueled by Gaza, Netanyahu, and fears for the future of the two-state solution. Most journalists and political commentators brought this up at the top of their list of concerns, that even though everybody in Jordan (sic) opposed the idea, the government might be forced into it by Israel and the U.S. and that would mean the end of the Kingdom. They really do mean this – this is deeply rooted in Jordanian political identity and has been for many years dating back to the 1988 severing of ties with the West Bank. I was told one anecdote (which I can’t verify) that late last year a leading Jordanian politician infuriated the King by telling him that going to the West Bank could cost him his throne. I heard lots of identity talk: one journalist, for example, explained that the problem with democracy was that Palestinians represent a majority in the Kingdom and thus democracy would lead inevitably to the Alternative Homeland… a retrograde view which I associate with a much earlier period in Jordanian politics.
I think everyone in the U.S. would do Jordan and the Palestinians alike a serious favor if they would stop talking about the Jordanian option.
Hamas and the Palestinian track
What about the Islamists? In addition to my wider range of contacts, I had a long conversation with Zaki Bani Arshid, head of the Islamic Action Front, who is generally considered to be very close to Hamas and a leader of the “Hamas wing” in Jordan’s Islamist movement. Bani Arshid told me that the Palestinian unity talks would fail, because Fatah was not a free agent, Egypt was not a neutral broker, and Hamas would not compromise its core commitments. He described an agreement as important but not necessary – they would like an agreement to facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza and new elections, but feel that the people of Gaza will survive without American money. He seemed confident about the future, and said that Hamas would decisively win elections in the West Bank unless there is massive electoral fraud. (He also seemed keen to know whether Obama had received a letter that he had sent on inauguration day expressing the IAF’s welcome of his promised “change” — more on that in a later post).
Bani Arshid’s position fits well within the general tenor of what I heard from across the Jordanian (and Palestinian) political spectrum. Meanwhile, everyone seems to agree that Fatah has lost a great deal of legitimacy and influence, and is now relying almost exclusively on its status as the only viable conduit for international aid. People in Jordan tended to shake their heads and laugh softly when the idea of "strengthing Abu Mazen" or "rebuilding the PA" came up. I heard a lot about Abu Mazen’s struggles with Dahlan and other ‘warlords.’ Even those hostile to Hamas doubted that it was possible to try and build upon Fatah in the West Bank – there’s just nothing there to build upon. Fatah’s performance during the Gaza war also cost it support in Jordan – both at the official and the popular level, I was told.
For what it’s worth, Jordanian officials stressed to me that Hamas is an important part of the Palestinian body politic and seemed surprisingly open to its inclusion in a workable Palestinian government. While they believe that Hamas must meet the Quartet conditions, they seemed flexible on the timing (as one put it, “conditions are not necessarily pre-conditions”). I wasn’t sure how much to make of that, since they are mostly on the sidelines while Cairo handles the unity talks. But it still struck me as surprisingly flexible. At the same time, their main concern seemed to be that Hamas remain a Palestinian, not a Jordanian, movement (hence the Interior Minister’s remarks that Hamas would be treated like any foreign political movement, not as an internal Jordanian affair).
Still, virtually nobody I talked to was optimistic about the prospects of a Fatah-Hamas unity government. The divides are just too deep, and the demands on each side too incompatible with the core commitments of the other. Both feel strong (in different ways), and even if they would like an agreement they feel that they can live without one. Hamas will never give up its power in Gaza, I heard again and again, and will not accept any compromise on its core principles, while Abu Mazen will not able to accept the participation in government of an unrepentant Hamas and Fatah will cling to its role as the only conduit for international aid. Omar Suleiman’s trip to Washington may have shuffled the deck a bit, but that’s the word I was hearing last week.
More later, on Jordanian politics, the upcoming Doha summitt, and other bits and pieces left over from last week….
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark
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