Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 3   No. 8 Table of Contents
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August/September 2001 


The Jordan-Hamas Divorce
by P.R. Kumaraswamy

P.R. Kumaraswamy is an associate professor of Middle East politics at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi, India. During 1992-99, he was a research fellow at the Harry S. Truman Research Institute in Jerusalem. His publications include Revisiting the Yom Kippur War (edited, Frank Cass, 2000), and The Fateful Triangle: Israel, Hashemites and Palestinians, (co-edited with Efraim Karsh, Frank Cass, forthcoming).

Ibrahim Ghosheh
When Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghosheh arrived unexpectedly in Amman earlier this summer from exile in Qatar, defying a November 1999 government decree that banned the militant Palestinian Islamist group's activities, many expected Jordan to accept a compromise formula that would allow Hamas to resume its presence in the Kingdom. However, neither the ensuing acrimonious confrontation with the Qatari government nor the ongoing Intifada weakened King Abdullah's resolve. After spending more than two weeks at the Amman airport, Ghosheh was forced to "freeze" his membership in Hamas in return for re-entry into the country, thereby establishing a precedent for other exiled Hamas leaders.1

Nearly two years after its crackdown on Hamas and the deportation of its leaders, Jordan has maintained its refusal to play host to a group that has repeatedly exhibited hostility towards Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and above all the Middle East peace process.

Background

Until 1999, relations between Hamas2 and the Hashemite establishment in Jordan were quite cordial. The late King Hussein's tolerance towards the group was born primarily of a mutual animosity towards Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement. The radical Islamist movement's presence in Jordan was condoned, if not supported, as a means of preserving Jordanian influence in the West Bank.

This interest driven relationship came under stress following the 1993 Oslo Accords and the formation of the PA the following year. Hamas's inflammatory statements against the peace process, calls for the destruction of Israel and determination to pursue terror attacks against the Jewish state put it at odds with Jordan, particularly after the movement launched a series of deadly suicide bombings against Israelis in the spring of 1996. At times, Hamas directly expressed opposition to Jordan's relationship with Israel. For example, shortly after the Israel-Jordan peace treaty was signed, Hamas declared that it "does not differentiate between the Oslo agreement and the Jordanian-Israeli agreement; we oppose and reject both."3

The PA also put pressure on Amman to withdraw its tacit support of Hamas, which contested Arafat's authority by calling for a "national body" to replace the obsolete PLO.4 In April 1996, Palestinians officials even blamed Jordan for allowing the presence of a Hamas activist who was conspiring to assassinate Arafat.5

Ahmed Yassin
There were soon indications that Jordan was becoming uncomfortable with the presence of Hamas. The group's leadership was regularly warned not to incite violence against Israel or make anti-PA statements; sometimes these warnings were accompanied by strong-arm tactics, such as incarcerations. In September 1997, Ghosheh was detained for two weeks after claiming that Hamas was responsible for the triple suicide bombing in Jerusalem.6 At regular intervals, the Jordanian, Arab and Israeli media speculated the impending shift of the Hamas bureau out of Jordan.7

However, even when acting against Hamas, Jordan still saw the movement as an integral part of his brinkmanship vis-à-vis Arafat (despite his July 1988 disengagement, Hussein continued to seek a political foothold in the West Bank and even managed to secure a symbolic position of authority over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem). Hussein secured the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from Israel in September 1997, but refused to host the Sheikh when the latter wanted to visit Jordan the following year - a move widely seen as a Jordanian attempt to revive its ties with the PA.8

This kind of ambivalence continued to characterize Jordan's policy toward Hamas until the death of King Hussein in February 1999. The government remained coy about the presence of Hamas in Jordan. For example, in November 1998 Information Minister Nasir Judah declared that the "representation of Hamas in Jordan does not go beyond the fact that some Jordanian nationals with certain political and ideological inclinations are making statements within the existing democracy and freedom of expression in Jordan. There is no Hamas leadership in Jordan."9 The same position was maintained by Hamas as well.10

Within months after Abdullah assumed power, it was clear that a policy shift was in the making. Though married to a Palestinian, King Abdullah lacked the historical baggage, emotional attachments and political ties that inhibited his late father from completely separating Jordan from the Palestinian territories. Moreover, he was under considerable pressure from the United States and Israel to help facilitate the success of impending final status negotiations between the PA and Israel. Jordanian officials were apprehensive that Hamas could "undermine" their relations with Israel, the US, the EU as well as the PA.11 In the words of one official, "Jordan could no longer afford that the main opposition to the PNA was coming from its capital, where Hamas leaders were becoming the real movers of the movement."12

On August 31, 1999, five commercial offices in Amman registered under the names of Hamas leaders were closed, a host of Hamas activists were detained and arrest warrants were issued against five Hamas leaders, including its bureau chief, Khalid Mashaal; politburo members Musa Abu Marzuq, Sami Khater and Izzat Rasheq; and spokesperson Ibrahim Ghosheh, who were on a visit to Iran. The move was swift and sudden. Indeed, in an interview published in the Beirut-based Al-Nahar a day after the crackdown, Ghosheh claimed that Jordan had "not asked any of Hamas leaders to leave the country."13 Hamas had suddenly become an 'illegal and non-Jordanian' organization whose presence would not be tolerated.

Initially, the detainees were charged with misdemeanors, such as affiliation with an illegal organization and possession of light arms. Subsequently they were charged with a host of much more serious charges, some punishable by death, including maintaining a military training camp, illegal fund raising, weapons storage, armed activities against Israel and the use of forged official stamps.14

On September 22, Mashaal and his colleagues were arrested at Amman airport when they returned from Tehran. Abu-Marzuq, who held a Yemeni passport, was quickly deported. As Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin, the other four activists posed a different challenge. In an unprecedented move, Mashaal, Khater, Rasheq and Ghosheh were given the option of either remaining incarcerated and being tried in the security court for membership in an illegal organization or leaving Jordan.

Initially, it appeared that the decision of Prime Minister Abdul Raouf Rawabda might lack the backing of the palace.15 However, King Abdullah not only endorsed the move, but categorically stated: "Jordan has made itself quiet clear. Hamas offices will be shut down and this is what will happen."16 In his view, it was not a political problem but "a criminal issue."17

Since Hamas was unwilling to either cease its activities or accept the exile of its leaders, a stalemate ensued. Even the protracted mediations by the Muslim Brotherhood proved futile and only led to internal schisms.18 The mediation also ruptured the Brotherhood's relations with the monarchy,19 as well as Hamas.20 After more than two months of intense negotiations, the Emir of Qatar offered to host the four Hamas leaders and they were deported to Doha on November 22.

The arrests and deportations were not well received among the bulk of Jordan's population which is of Palestinian descent. Domestic criticism of the deportations revolved around its legal and political implications. By deporting Jordanian citizens, the government was thought to have severely undermined the constitution, which explicitly prohibits expulsion of its citizens.21 The deportation of opposition figures whose views and activities were unacceptable or unpalatable to the regime was also seen as a setback to King Abdullah's commitments for democratization. Fears were expressed that the deportations established a dangerous precedent "for expelling Jordanians of Palestinian origin who are somehow affiliated with a Palestinian opposition faction."22

After the deportations, Hamas continued its campaign for the reversal of the Jordanian position. It resorted to demonstrations, protest rallies, media criticisms, legal challenges, third party mediation and direct appeals to the King. However, none of them influenced Jordan's resolve that it would not allow "Jordanian citizens to work for a non-Jordanian organization from Jordanian territory."23 The authorities also refused to accept Hamas claims that an agreement existed between Hamas and King Hussein which protected the group's "media and information activity" in Jordan.24

There were even veiled suggestions that Hamas posed threats to Jordan reminiscent of the PLO's threat to the Hashemite monarchy in September 1970. One Jordanian official was quoted as saying that "Hamas grew to such an extent that it infiltrated hard-liners among Islamists in Jordan and began controlling them, as well as some opposition groups, in a way that brings to mind the tragic events of 1970 Black September."25 Some Hamas leaders have also alluded to Jordan's "September complex."26

Both the decision and the timing of the crackdown have been attributed to external pressures, especially from the PA, as well as to the onset of final status negotiations. However as one Palestinian commentator remarked: "Irrespective of the analyses and how correct they are, Jordan would not have taken such a big step against the Hamas movement based only on external pressure if this step did not coincide with its political considerations and factors for its internal stability."27 Anti-Hamas Palestinians interpreted this as the end of Jordanian-Hamas honeymoon because the relations were conceived "during an estrangement between Jordan and the Palestinian leadership."28 The crackdown was inevitable because Hamas had "antagonized the PA, antagonized Israel and added militancy to the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan."29

Above all, the crackdown was seen in Jordan as part of Abdullah's attempts to put the onus of responsibility for the outcome of final status talks squarely on the PA. In the words of one former Jordanian negotiator: 'The final status is going to be full of compromises . . . Why would Jordan want be a part of that and carry the blame for whatever negative result may come of it?'30

Notes

  1 Sana Kamal, "Deal with Ghawsha," Middle East International, 13 July 2001.
  2 For an overview of Hamas, see Shual Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence and Coexistence, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).
  3 Al-Safir, (Beirut) 25 August 1994.
  4 Jordan Times, (Amman), 26 August 1999.
  5 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, (London), 25 April 1996.
  6 AFP, 8 September 1997. He was also briefly arrested in March 1996 for similar offences. Indeed, he was released just days before the Israeli assassination attempt against Mashaal.
  7 See Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 12 November 1998; Jordan Times, 28 July 1999; Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 13 July 1999; Al-Quds, (Jerusalem), 2 June 1998; Al-Quds, 19 May 1998; Al-Dustur, 7 December 1998; and Al-Quds, 8 November 1998.
  8 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 12 June 1998
  9 Al-Dustur (Amman), 7 November 1998. See also Prime Minister Abdul Salam al-Majali's interview with Al-Dustur, 2 June 1997; and Jordan Times, 8 September 1997.
  10 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 16 February 1999.
  11 Jordan Times, 19 September 1999.
  12 Jordan Times, 5 October 1999
  13 Al-Nahar (Beirut), 1 September 1999.
  14 Jordan Times, 21 October 1999.
  15 Sana Kamal, "Palace versus Premier?," Middle East International, 3 September 1999.
  16 Jordan Times, 7 October 1999.
  17 King Abdullah's interview with Madrid-based NBC, 22 October 1999.
  18 For instance, see Saad G. Hattar, "Hamas saga leaves strains within Muslim Brotherhood ranks," Jordan Times 12 December 1999.
  19 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 1 December 1999; and 10 September 1999.
  20 Ghosheh castigated the Brotherhood for its "inability to stand up against the government's crackdown" and for placing higher priority on Jordanian domestic concerns than the Islamic plan to liberate Palestine. See Jordan Times, 25 January 2000 and Al-Dustur, January 24, 2000.
  21 Until 1999, Jordan had resorted to this measure only once when it expelled the former head of the communist party, Fouad Nasser, to Syria in 1956. See Saad G. Hattar: "Hamas saga leaves strains within Muslim Brotherhood ranks," Jordan Times, 12 December 1999.
  22 Sana Kamal, "Hamas: Has Jordan gone too far?" Middle East International, 26 November 1999.
  23 Jordan Times, 3 January 2001.
  24 While some say it was a verbal agreement, others portrayed it as a formal agreement. Likewise, conflicting dates have been suggested. While some say 1991, others placed it at 1993. See Jordan Times, 4 September 1999 and 16 November 1999; Interview with Hamas representative Osama Abu Hamdan, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 29 October 1999 and Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 21 September 1999.
  25 AFP, 23 September 1999. See also Musa Keilani, "Timing, Reform and the Crackdown on Hamas," Jordan Times, 25 September 1999.
  26 For example, a Hamas representative in Teheran observed: "It seems that the September complex is still haunting Jordan. These measures were carried out in September and the previous time was also in September (referring to the civil war between the Palestinian resistance and the Jordanian Army in September 1970." Interview with Abu-Muhammad Mustafa, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 23 September 1999.
  27 Ahmad Harb, Al-Ayyam (Ramallah), 4 September 1999.
  28 Al-Ayyam, 1 September 1999. See also Abdullah Awwad: "Removing the Traditional Opposition; Palestinians Are Face to Face With the Final Solution," Al-Ayyam, 2 September 1999.
  29 A Palestinian official quoted in Jordan Times, 16 September 1999.
  30 Jordan Times, 19 September 1999. See also Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 1 September 1999.


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