Jordan urged to re-open channels with triumphant Hamas

 The Jordanian government appeared over the past few days under pressure to resume contacts with the hard-line Palestinian group Hamas following its sweeping victory in Wednesday\’s general elections.

The authorities received signals from leading politicians and columnists that it was high time for the Jordanian authorities to reverse a previous decision and allow back to the country six Hamas leaders who were deported in 1999, including the man who has since become the group\’s chief, Khalid Mishaal.

\’I believe the preliminary rules of diplomacy makes it imperative for the government to respect the choice of the Palestinian people and accord support to Hamas as their new representative,\’ Hamzeh Mansour, Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Sunday.

\’Such a move requires that the government allows Hamas leaders to return to Jordan after the polls proved they are the legitimate leaders of the Palestinian people,\’ he said.

Mishaal and five Hamas leaders, most of them carried Jordanian passports, were deported by the Jordanian authorities to the state of Qatar in 1999 under the pretext they carried out activities that ran \’counter to the country\’s law.\’

The move was then strongly criticised by the Islamic-led opposition as motivated by US and Israeli pressures.

Under the peace treaty which Jordan concluded with Israel in 1994, the Amman government pledged not to permit any anti-Israeli activity to be launched from Jordanian territory.

\’The government in the past used to say that it recognized only the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate government in the Palestinian areas. Now it is high time for Hamas to enjoy such Jordanian support,\’ Mansour said.

The IAF, which has 17 deputies in the 110-member House of Representatives and widely considered as the largest political party in the country, is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, which also appealed to the government to open a \’new chapter\’ with Hamas.

As a result of Wednesday\’s polls, Hamas clinched 76 seats in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in what Jordanian columnists described as a \’political earthquake\’ that would have far- reaching repercussions across the region and the world at large.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas\’ mainstream group, Fatah, moved to the back seat with 43 deputies after it enjoyed a majority in the PLC over the past nine years.

Apparently caught by surprise, the Jordanian government said it would \’respect the choice of the Palestinian people,\’ but stopped short of taking any further steps towards Hamas, which is virtually outlawed in the country.

\’The government is closely following up\’ the situation in the Palestinian territories, particularly the formation of a new government, official spokesman Nasser Judeh said.

In the meantime, King Abdullah moved to dissipate Israeli fears triggered by Hamas\’ win, telling Israel\’s acting prime minister Ehud Olmert in a telephone call \’the results of the Palestinian elections should not thwart the peace process.\’ However, the monarch stopped short of directly commenting on Hamas\’ landslide victory.

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee at Jordan\’s lower house of parliament, Mohammad Abu Hudaib, held out the possibility of the government changing its attitude towards Hamas after its resounding performance in the Palestinian elections.

\’Anything can happen in politics, and reconsidering previous attitudes cannot be excluded, given the new facts on the ground,\’ the pro-government lawmaker told dpa.

He said the deportation of Hamas leaders by Jordan in 1999 was \’in implementation of law rather than because of differences with them.\’

Abu Hudaib recalled how the late King Hussein mediated in 1997 an exchange of the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was then detained by Israel for two agents of the Israeli intelligence network, the Mossad.

The two Israeli men were captured by the Jordanian authorities after their abortive attempt to assassinate Mishaal in Amman, using toxic drugs.

Abu Hudaib said he believed the government should go ahead with pland to develop the political life in the country despite suggestions in the press that Hamas\’ victory could stir fears in Jordan of similar successes by the Moslem Brotherhood Movement and its political arm, the IAF.

\’Reforms have become a necessity and, therefore, have nothing to do with what happened in Palestine, because the situation here is different,\’ he added.

A prominent columnist suggested that Jordan\’s decision makers were \’concerned Hamas\’ performance could be utilized by the Islamic movement in the country to dominate the Parliament and other elected institutions.\’

In an article in the daily Alarab Alyawm, Fahd Kheetan also expected the government to \’slow down political reforms\’ and give priority in the coming stage to \’security considerations.\’

Kheetan alluded to new election and parties laws, which the government of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit promised to achieve before the next general elections scheduled for next year.

\’The outcome of the Palestinian elections make it imperative for the Jordanian government to accept dealing with Hamas and to its boycott of the group after it emerged as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,\’ he said.

Jordan is home to an estimated 1.5 million Palestinian refugees. Jordanians of Palestinian origin are believed to form about 60 per cent of the country\’s population.