Last Tuesday’s visit to Amman of the head of the Political Bureau of Hamas, Khalid Meshaal, and a number of the Islamic Resistance Movement’s senior leadership was completely different from the two previous occasions from many perspectives. The visit was the second in six months and the third since Hamas was expelled from Jordan in 1999.
Although the first was a family visit for humanitarian reasons when Mr. Meshaal attended his father’s funeral, it hinted at the stagnation in the relationship between Amman and Hamas. Meshaal, who only had permission to stay for a limited period at that time, did not even meet low level Jordanian officials.
The second visit was mediated by the State of Qatar, whose representative Hamad bin-Tamim al-Thani accompanied Meshaal to the Royal Palace. That visit showed Jordanian intent to rebuild good relations with Hamas but there was still a degree of political reserve. King Abdullah II, who had made the approach to Hamas, was shy of provoking his regional and Western allies. As such, although Meshaal met the Jordanian monarch he did not meet any government officials.
On the latest visit, however, Khalid Meshaal went to Jordan without any mediator and after his assistants had made the arrangements and paved the way for his stay in terms of protocol afforded to the representative of a state. The delegation was hosted with pomp and circumstance by the King in the Royal Palace, including a formal banquet. Official meetings were held behind closed doors; Meshaal and the other Hamas political bureau members had time to meet senior Jordanian officials such as the Prime Minister and other significant figures.
Important issues were on the agenda, including the role of Jordan in the Palestinian issue, which the King described the basis of tranquillity in the region; the Israeli concept of Jordan being the alternative country for Palestinians in the Diaspora; Palestinian reconciliation; and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, about which the King urged Meshaal to support the Palestinian Authority to move the process forward.
The delegation’s visit coincided with the death of Hamas military official Kamal Ghanaja in Syria. Putting the complications of his death to one side, Hamas was allowed to organise an official and well-attended funeral procession for him in Jordan, where he was buried as close to Palestine as possible.
Whilst in Jordan, Meshaal and the other members of the delegation met the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in the country and attended the convention of the movement’s Shura (Consultative) Council. The Hamas itinerary in Jordan got wide coverage in the official and mass media; Meshaal gave out very positive messages.
Why such a massive shift in Jordanian policy towards Hamas after its expulsion in 1999 and 13 years’ of alienation during which there were several incidents of high tension? Most notable of the latter came in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections in 2006 when Amman accused Hamas of having weapons caches in Jordan and refused to receive the Hamas Foreign Minister.
There are many reasons for the thaw in Amman-Hamas relations, the most obvious of which is the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in most of the Arab Spring countries. In Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt the Brotherhood plays a prominent role, while in Libya and Syria it could still make significant progress. In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood is at the centre of popular marches and protests seeking reform in the Kingdom’s political institutions.
This has given Hamas a higher profile and recognition as it is part of the Brotherhood movement. It suggests that it will soon be the most obvious Palestinian faction to deal with regarding the Palestinian issue. This is compounded by the fact that Fatah’s focus on the peace process has been ineffective and it has no meaningful grassroots support in the occupied Palestinian territories.
It is clearly no longer sensible to continue to deal with Hamas according to American and Western criteria which put Hamas on their “terrorist” blacklists. In the middle of such important regional developments, Hamas can no longer be ignored, especially as Western governments move towards opening official contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, with the Brotherhood at the helm in Egypt, Western governments have little choice on the matter.
Just as Amman appears to have recognised the new status of Hamas and wants to forge a better relationship with it as a goodwill gesture from the Royal Palace to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Resistance Movement could bridge the gap between the Kingdom and the new Islamic regimes in the region. This cannot be ignored by analysts.
In addition, the Royal Palace in Amman may be asking Meshaal to persuade the Brotherhood in Jordan not to boycott the parliamentary elections. However, Meshaal himself has suggested that any advice he gives would be purely political and not as someone with close relations to the movement.
The indications are that King Abdullah is also exploring Hamas’s vision for Palestine to judge where it stands in relation to the Israeli version, especially with regards to the “Jordan is the alternative Palestine” concept. This was clear from Meshaal’s repeated remarks to the media that Hamas completely refuses to accept such a notion and it is out of question for him or any other Hamas leader to interfere with Jordan’s internal affairs.
Nevertheless, many parties in Jordan are uneasy about Meshaal’s visit, and through his remarks he has demonstrated that he is aware of and understands this sensitivity. Hence, he kept sending reassuring messages to different groups about Hamas’s strategy. How far this rapprochement will go is anyone’s guess, but the signs are very positive, for Jordan and for Hamas.