Hamas and Jordan: Winds of Change, Uncertainty

By Ramzy Baroud

The official Jordanian media has described a recent meeting between King Abdullah of Jordan and exiled Hamas leader, Khalid Mesha’al, as if it were a routine exchange of ideas. But neither Petra, Jordan’s news agency, nor Hamas officials could hide the fact that the meeting had everything to do with the regional struggle in Syria.
 
The meeting in Jordan was the second since January. The January meeting happened nearly 13 years after Mesha’al and other Hamas leaders were expelled from the country for alleged “illicit and harmful” activities. The coded language had then signalled that the king was reaching the height of his dominance. Hamas — being a cause of friction with the US and Israel and also the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah — did not matter much to him then. But things have noticeably changed since then.
 
The transformation is so significant that it is no longer open for debate. The Associated Press, on June 28, reported on the meeting: “Jordan’s King has met with top Hamas leaders as part of an about-face effort to engage with Islamists, who have been gaining ground all over the Mideast.”
 
The Jordanian people also seem fed up with the rigid political system and long-standing corruption in their country. The sensitivities that often governed popular politics in Jordan — due to the fact that a large portion of Jordanians are of Palestinian descent — were hardly relevant. Cries for change this time arose from the heart of Jordanian society and Islamic parties were the most visible players in this social mobilisation.

Of course, Jordan’s opposition parties — Islamic, liberal and others — have been empowered by dramatic recent shifts of fortune for Egypt’s opposition. For Egypt, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, cemented with the inauguration of President Mohammad Mursi, is a significant outcome of the January 2011 revolution. Palestinians, on the other hand, had watched the struggle in trepidation. Some hoped that the Brotherhood would manage to snatch power from the army generals, while others hoped that the old regime of Hosni Mubarak would find an opening back to the throne.
 
Hamas mostly feared Field Marshal Mohammad Hussain Tantawi and his supreme military council. They saw him as a guardian of Mubarak’s policy aimed at isolating Gaza, thus limiting Hamas’ political outreach. But when Mursi urged for a free, independent and strong Egypt, hopes in Gaza were rekindled. The strongest and most unconditional statements of support for Egypt’s new president came from Gaza and Hamas’ Gaza Prime Minister, Esmail Haniyeh, was himself a leader of rallies supporting Mursi throughout his election bid and final struggle against Ahmad Shafiq.

“Hamas and the Palestinian people express their utmost happiness over the [election] results,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “We see the result as a victory for the Egyptian revolution and an expression of the Egyptian people’s will.”
 
The Islamic Jihad too welcomed Mursi’s presidency, although less animatedly. While some Ramallah-based Palestinian officials hailed Egypt’s democracy, the official response was less welcoming. “In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority and Fatah also congratulated Mursi on his election, saying they respect the choice of the Egyptian people,” reported Israel’s Jerusalem Post.
 
Considering the historical ties between Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is hoping that Mursi’s advent to power will pose a major challenge to Israel’s economic blockade and political siege, which the movement has struggled with since its election victory in 2006.
 
Yet, the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood does not simply signal an immediate ushering in of Hamas’ rise too. “Mursi has won elections, but he still has major internal challenges to deal with as he will be using the old tools,” a Palestinian analyst told the Ma’an news agency.
 
There is a struggle ahead in Egypt and the battle over political turfs is far from settled. The delay in Egypt is proving costly for the Hamas movement in Syria, as Hamas made the difficult choice of parting with the regime of Bashar Al Assad, following the bloodletting there. The decision came at a price. However, breaking up with a major benefactor like Syria did press Hamas to find an urgent alternative. But where to go when the West Bank is under occupation and politically dominated by Fatah, when Gaza is under siege and when Egypt is still in turmoil?
 
The sweetest of options, as an old Arab verse goes, is the most bitter.

Quickly, compromises had to be made and unity agreements with Fatah were accepted. Hamas’ rivals were not more fortunate. With the ousting of Mubarak, Fatah lost a major patron in the region. King Abdullah, another ally, was also growing wary of major political manoeuvres that did not take his country’s and the region’s changing political landscape into account.
 
The plot thickened with the killing of Kamal Ghanaja, a Hamas mid-level leader in Syria last month. It was difficult to identify the murderers. Was Israel taking advantage of the Syrian chaos? Were affiliates of the Syrian regime punishing Hamas? Or were anti-Syrian forces trying to pull Palestinians into another regional conflict?
 
Whatever the answer, it has become clear that Hamas has no future in Syria now.

“The King held a lunch banquet in honour of Hamas politburo chief and the accompanying delegation, that was attended by His Royal Highness Prince Ali Bin Al Hussain, Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh,” reported Petra of Mesha’al visit. It was an entirely different atmosphere to that of 1999, when Mesha’al and other Hamas leaders were abruptly forced out of the Kingdom and forced to seek foothold in some other Arab capital. It was only Damascus that agreed to give them a political platform — and the rest is history.
 
– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. (This article originally appeared in Gulf News – http://gulfnews.com)

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