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Hamas and Jordan are gradually getting closer, after a long estrangement

Ismail Haniyeh, senior political leader of Hamas, attends a rally at the anniversary march of the "Great March of Return" and "Palestinian Land Day" protests at Israel-Gaza border on March 30, 2019 [Motasem Dalloul / Middle East Monitor]
Ismail Haniyeh, senior political leader of Hamas, attends a rally at the anniversary march of the "Great March of Return" and "Palestinian Land Day" protests at Israel-Gaza border on March 30, 2019 [Motasem Dalloul / Middle East Monitor]

In recent weeks, Hamas has been receiving positive messages from Jordan in the form of praise for its stance on the US "deal of the century"; its refusal to establish an "alternative homeland" in the Hashemite Kingdom; and its support for Jordan's demands to keep its guardianship over Jerusalem. There have even been calls for the restoration of Jordan's relations with the Palestinian movement.

Unofficial contacts between Hamas and Jordan are witnessing a gradual and unmistakable growth in light of a series of measures and messages sent by the movement to the Kingdom. While the government in Amman has not responded like for like, it is clear that the Royal Palace may want to thaw the icy barrier between the two since the Hamas leadership was expelled from Jordan in 2000.

In late April, the former head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, announced that the movement was communicating with official parties in Jordan in order to confront the "deal of the century". He added that Jordan was being subjected to sanctions and a virtual siege to pressure the Kingdom to accept the deal. Meshaal also praised King Abdullah's position on the matter of Jerusalem.

This is perhaps the first time that Hamas has revealed its communication with Amman, despite the estrangement. Meshaal's words strengthen rumours of their private links reaching unprecedented levels.

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Ismail Haniyeh, Meshaal's successor as head of the Hamas political bureau said in early April that the movement stands by Jordan in standing up to US and Israeli pressure, which seeks to change the geopolitics of the region. Haniyeh explained during his visit to the Jordanian Field Hospital in Gaza that Hamas will not accept solutions to the Palestinian cause that come at the expense of Jordan and its sovereignty. Later in the month, the Hamas leader then delivered a rare recorded speech during the Muslim Brotherhood festival in Jordan in which he addressed the issue of Jerusalem and expressed the view that Jordan must remain the strategic depth for the Holy City. I attended a closed meeting organised by Haniyeh along with a number of other writers in Gaza in early April, during which he reiterated that Hamas supports the Jordanian demands to keep its guardianship over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Press sources have stated that Haniyeh and Meshaal's statements were received well by the Jordanian authorities, who responded positively. This was followed by the calls for the Kingdom to repair its relations with the movement and resolve their differences; Hamas, it is believed, could be a trump card that Jordan can use when facing US and Israeli policies, including the "deal of the century", the protection of Muslim sanctities in Jerusalem and the refusal to resettle Palestinian refugees.

Jordanian sources have revealed that the Kingdom refused a request from the General Secretariat of the Arab League in late March to ban Hamas and list it as a terrorist organisation. Amman insisted that it had no interest in such a measure, perhaps because it is aware that it was made in the context of the escalation by some regional states against the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, as well as the Saudi-UAE attack on Hamas.

The movement is not trying to disguise its wish to re-open its office in Jordan because it believes that it is the best place for it to be located, being a neighbour of Palestine with close ties between the Palestinian and Jordanian people. The option is preferred by Hamas, which does not mind Jordan playing a role in the efforts for reconciliation with Fatah, without wishing to suggest the withdrawal of Egypt from such a role.

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Hamas is interested in an Arab and Islamic depth that starts with neighbouring countries, beginning with Jordan. Their common interests intersect frequently in terms of security, stability and demographics, not least challenging the consequences of Israel's demands for Jordan to be an "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians.

Jordan, meanwhile, believes that its relations with Hamas in terms of mutual needs is not new for political, geographical and demographic reasons. The Kingdom remains concerned about the rights of the Palestinian people, the stability of the Palestinian domestic situation and remaining neutral in internal Palestinian conflicts.

The relations between Hamas and Jordan can thus be described at the moment as returning gradually to a degree of stability, neither tense nor fully normalised. Perhaps, in one sense, this depends on the relationship between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority; the latter does not want there to be any communication between Hamas and Amman as it wants to keep the movement isolated.

It is not the first time that relations between Hamas and Jordan have improved, but this time they coincide with a decline in the Kingdom's relationship with the PA, after Amman, for example, expressed concerns about secret channels for negotiations between Tel Aviv and Ramallah that Jordan did not know about. Amman believed that such channels may have made secret arrangements at Jordan's expense before the decline in relations between Ramallah and Tel Aviv.

READ: Palestine factions warn Israel is delaying implementation of ceasefire terms

Hence, there were sometimes secret objections lodged by Ramallah in Amman regarding a potential rapprochement with Hamas, despite assurances from the Royal Palace that it had no intention of replacing any of its allies. Jordan reassured the PA that there was nothing more than responses to the latest developments for tactical purposes only.

It is possible that the relationship between Hamas and Jordan has warmed up even more due to the positive interaction between the King and the Muslim Brotherhood and his announcement that he will not ban the movement as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have done. Such a dangerous scenario is not allowed for as it will aggravate the situation and bring about a more difficult phase during what is already a tense and sensitive time.

Hamas is well aware that Jordan's goal of improving relations does not stem from a desire to give the movement a new horizon in the region, as much as it is a domestic move that will help assimilate the influential Muslim Brotherhood into the Kingdom's political and civil society in pursuit of real reform. If the rapprochement with Hamas does indeed move forward, it could be considered a gesture of goodwill to the Brotherhood, whose influence on the street in Jordan is increasing.

A number of Hamas leaders have occasionally visited the Kingdom, either unannounced or for family purposes. Hence, an official visit by the Hamas leadership, which has not yet occurred, regardless of who takes part, will be a sign that the relationship is warming. Previous proposed visits have been postponed several times for various reasons amid silence from both Jordan and Hamas. Neither side wants to reveal the reasons for the indefinite delays, but there is hope that the Hamas leadership will arrive in Amman sooner rather than later.

Without going into too much detail about the historical developments, tensions and almost complete estrangement between Jordan and Hamas, it must be said that the movement was not the only one which benefited from its past relationship with the Kingdom. Jordan also benefitted, so it is not in its own best interests to lose all that it once achieved from the relationship.

Amman may view Hamas as an important ally in its battle against the Israeli proposal for an "alternative homeland" and normalising relations with the Islamic Resistance Movement in the occupied Palestinian territories. This may push Jordan keen to turn over a new page with Hamas and deal with it based on the logic of strategic interests, especially after the failed "peace process" and Israel's increased inflexibility. It should not overlook the fact that Hamas is a strong political force with major popular presence in the Palestinian territories which has established itself as a party of government in the Gaza Strip for over 12 years, despite international sanctions. Furthermore, there is a growing crisis within the Palestinian Authority and a decline in its strength and influence, both domestically and externally.

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A new opinion poll by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy suggests that Hamas has the greatest support in Jordan, receiving 57 per cent of the country's backing compared to the other Arab countries. This growing popularity among Jordanians may make King Abdullah interested in going along with its approach, because Hamas has never had a conflict with or in Jordan, nor has it interfered in its domestic affairs.

The Kingdom, however, may require clear messages from Hamas that it is not planning to us Jordanian territory as its main headquarters, nor to launch any armed attacks against Israel. Jordan almost certainly fears that such moves would harm its peace treaty with Israel and its special relations with the United States.

There are thus a number of possibilities for the future relationship between Jordan and Hamas: they could outline a strategic relationship in order to promote their interests; temporary understandings could be reached which constitute a low ceiling for the size and nature of their relationship; they could communicate on interests of mutual importance in order to establish joint dialogue; and they could avoid friction and confrontation. The growing Jordanian conviction that it is not in its interest to cut off all ties with Hamas and boycott the movement is due to the respect, support and popularity that the movement receives from the Jordanian people.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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