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Hamas is sending positive messages to normalise relations with Jordan 

June 16, 2020 at 10:15 am

Ismail Haniyeh press conference in Gaza, on 10 November 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

On 4 June, the head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, revealed three common factors between the resistance movement and Jordan to confront Israel’s annexation plan and America’s “deal of the century”. First up was the fact that the repercussions of the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 Naksa (setback) have affected Jordan as well as Palestine. Moreover, the strategic threats to the Palestinian issue are the same as those against Jordan, while the Kingdom and the Palestinians reject any concessions which damage their national rights.

Haniyeh made his comments during a webinar organised by the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. “The annexation plan threatens Jordan as well as Palestine,” he insisted, “which requires us to boost coordination with Jordan to take the necessary decisions to challenge it.”

The PA’s former Minister of Civil Affairs, Hassan Asfour, used an article on the Amad website on 9 June to attack Haniyeh’s speech: “I consider it a message to the Americans and the Israelis that Hamas is ready for partnership with them. And a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the new leadership will not go to Fatah, because Haniyeh has presented himself as a leader of the Palestinians, and not only the head of a movement.”

Such spiteful criticism aside, this is not the first time that Hamas has sent positive messages to Jordan over the past few months. This suggests a thaw in the relationship, which has been on hold since 1999, following Jordan’s decision to expel the Hamas leadership without any obvious reason. Moreover, last month, Hamas spokesman Hazim Qasim expressed the movement’s appreciation of the fact that King Abdullah II told Der Spiegel that the annexation plan might lead to a major clash with Israel.

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In December 2019, Haniyeh met prominent Jordanians, whose identity was not revealed, in Istanbul and assured them that Hamas is defending Jordan’s interests as well as its domestic and regional security. A few months earlier, the former Palestinian Prime Minister and other leaders of Hamas visited the Jordanian field hospital in the Gaza Strip, run by the Kingdom’s Royal Medical Services since 2009, and announced that the movement stands side by side with Jordan against external pressure.

Furthermore, Hamas has been consistent in refusing to accept Jordan as the “alternative homeland” and supporting the Kingdom’s custodianship of religious sites in Jerusalem.

The movement does not need mediators for rapprochement with Jordan, but the Palestinian Authority rejects any such scenario. It believes that Hamas rapprochement with any Arab country will damage its own interests, which is not true.

Haniyeh’s positive messages to Jordan are a continuation of what his predecessor Khaled Meshaal did when he led the political bureau. Meshaal had a clear wish to build solid relations with Jordan at every level. He met with King Abdullah in 2012, which strengthened bilateral relations.

Jordan's King Abdullah II looks on as he sits on a panel during the 2019 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, at the King Hussein Convention Centre at the Dead Sea, in Jordan on 6 April, 2019 [KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images]

Jordan’s King Abdullah II looks on as he sits on a panel during the 2019 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, at the King Hussein Convention Centre at the Dead Sea, in Jordan on 6 April, 2019 [KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images]

Today, the stances of Hamas and Jordan on the annexation plan and the “deal of the century” are converging, and there is hope of a possible Haniyeh visit to Jordan. However, the Kingdom faces three obstacles in the way of further rapprochement: the US designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation; Jordan’s concern about disturbing its relations with the PA; and regional polarisation. Despite the Kingdom’s conviction about the important and growing role that Hamas has in Palestinian politics, it is also worried about regional pressure from its neighbours which keep the movement at arm’s length. It must be said, though, that Jordan has not issued any official statement about the obstacles to rapprochement with Hamas. It is a sensitive issue and there is a degree of reluctance to pursue it too enthusiastically.

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Well-informed Jordanian sources told me that relations between Hamas and Jordan have developed recently. “On 9 June, Haniyeh sent an official letter to King Abdullah calling for an Arab-Islamic summit to support the unified Palestinian position that rejects the annexation plan and provides a safety net to protect the Palestinian national project. In the past couple of days, Haniyeh had telephone calls with high-ranking Jordanian officials to discuss the same issues.”

Shortly before Haniyeh’s webinar speech, a Jordanian judicial source revealed that the State Security Court had recently opened the trial of five Jordanians accused of planning suicide attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank. The plans were thwarted by Jordanian intelligence officials in February. The source added that one of the suspects visited Gaza in 2007, and was apparently training to make explosive vests.

Last week, the same Court sentenced four Jordanians to five years in prison for planning attacks against Israel. This prompted Hamas to issue a surprising statement affirming that the common enemy of Jordanians and Palestinians is the Israeli occupation.

Jordan’s relationship with Hamas is characterised by complicated links beyond the bilateral dimension. The Kingdom’s relationship with the US, for example, in part determines its links with Hamas; Jordan will not sacrifice its relations with America for rapprochement with the movement. Hence, the latter has to be seen as a tactical rather than a strategic approach.

Hence, we will not see the reopening of Hamas offices in the Kingdom. The trials of pro-Hamas Jordanians indicate some polarisation within the state towards its relationship with the movement, which is a concern.

Hamas understands Jordan’s importance to the Palestinian issue. Coupled with the movement’s wish to be close to Jordan’s Palestinian citizens this makes Hamas keen to open a new chapter and look forward to a new era of openness, despite all the obstacles in the way of full normalisation of relations. If the connection can be upgraded, then a Haniyeh visit to Amman will become a real possibility

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