Viewpoint: One eye on Hamas, the other on the Brotherhood

Hamas’ success in the Palestinian legislative elections last January was not a happy surprise for decision-makers in Jordan. They did not expect the Islamic movement in Palestine to attain a majority sufficient for the formation of its own government in the Palestinian Authority (PA).

If the initial and official reaction was cautious and confused, observers believe that Amman has good reasons to be worried about the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine reaching a leadership position.

One of these reasons is the relationship between Jordan and Hamas, which since the closure of Hamas’ offices in Amman and the expulsion of its leaders in 1999 has become problematic, with the efforts of Jordanian and Arab parties failing to narrow the gap between the two sides.

They are in total contradiction over the peace process: Jordan is leading the camp supporting this process, while Hamas has led the opposition since the process was launched in Madrid, developed at Oslo and evolved into the road map and its vision of a two-state solution.

Jordanian diplomacy fears that Hamas’ ascent to leadership in Palestine has weakened the chances of reviving a peace process that in any event has been in the intensive care unit for about six years. This could have drastic ramifications for Jordan’s security, stability and interests.

Jordanian political quarters do not hide their concern over the spread of unilateral tendencies on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the conflict. Jordanian officials argue that Israeli unilateralism has generated the Palestinian unilateral tendency embodied in the Hamas movement, and that the big loser from this exchange of unilateral moves is the peace process and the two-state vision.

From the perspective of Jordanian interests as defined by decision-makers in Amman, any solution for the Palestinian issue that does not end in the establishment of a viable Palestinian state would in the end affect Jordan’s interests and stability and open the door for developments that are detrimental to Jordan.

Jordan has demographic and political considerations that generate concern over the domestic effect of the Hamas victory: at least half of Jordan’s citizens are of Palestinian origin, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front party, are considered a major force with special influence in the refugee camps and urban quarters with a Palestinian majority.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan became more self-confident after Hamas won the elections. Some of its leaders have abandoned their long-standing focus on mere parliamentary participation and aspire to obtain a majority or form a government.

For example, the chief of the Islamic Action Front’s parliamentary bloc stated that his party will be qualified to form the government after getting a majority of seats in the coming elections. This has provoked a strong reaction by the government and by writers and journalists who usually express the official line.

As a result of these developments, some Jordanian political quarters have in recent months become concerned over the government’s slow progress in realizing parts of the political reform program that it promised to launch and encourage. Some parties and activists in the political reform and human rights fields fear that attempts to install a new elections law for next year will fail in light of lessons drawn from the Palestinian and Egyptian experiences.

Most recently, relations between Jordan and Hamas declined even further following the revelation by a government spokesman that a cell related to the movement was engaged in smuggling arms and explosives and storing them in Jordan, and had been reconnoitering key Jordanian installations and figures.

This happened only a few hours before the planned arrival of Dr. Mahmoud Al Zahar, PA foreign minister, on his first visit to Amman since assuming his duties. The affair caused shock and disbelief among a large sector of the Jordanian public and raised a controversy that still rages.

Those who suspect the veracity of the official report rely on the fact that Hamas, since its establishment, has not committed any armed action outside Palestine and Israel.

They argue that a movement that has been committed to a ceasefire with Israel for more than a year would hardly contemplate carrying out military acts against Jordanian figures and institutions, particularly at a time of intensifying isolation and blockade, and when the movement is concentrating on getting through the crisis in its relations with both the Arab and international communities.

After it was confirmed to many observers that the Jordanian security establishment did in fact arrest a cell working on behalf of Hamas, it was hypothesized that Hamas might have been infiltrated by the intelligence establishment in Damascus and Iran or that some of the movement’s cells were working on behalf of Shia or Salafi extremist Islamic groups.

As government quarters acknowledged the difficulty of convincing most of the public of the truth of the report, those still suspicious of its veracity speculated that its aim exceeded merely delaying the Zahar visit to Amman until further notice.

They postulated that the accusation that Hamas was targeting Jordanian national security constituted a message both for domestic and American consumption, with the United States, which is leading a broad pressure campaign to isolate Hamas, being thus informed that Jordan is distancing itself from the Islamic movement.

Against the backdrop of these open accusations toward Hamas, Jordan did not hesitate to declare that it would limit its political cooperation to that with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The same attitude was adopted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Aqaba summit between the two leaders a few days ago.

Both Jordan and Egypt clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with Hamas’ extremism regarding the peace process as well as with Israeli unilateralism. Both undertook to deal with the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president according to the road map and President Bush’s vision of two states for two peoples.

Oraib Al Rantawi is director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies, Amman. Acknowledgement to

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