Worried about political unrest at home, Jordan's King Abdullah is pressing Hamas and Fatah leaders to keep ethnic Palestinians out of the struggle underway in Jordan between the government and the opposition, sources in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordanian intelligence told The Media Line.
Abdullah's concerns are serious enough that he took his first trip in 11 years to the PA headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah two weeks ago to personally make an appeal to PA President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. He will relay the same message to Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Masha'al when the two meet for what would be the first time in eight years.
While the civil strife in Jordan has not shaken the government as it has in next-door Syria, the king has faced persistent demands for political reforms and was forced to dismiss his government in October. Last Friday, over a thousand Jordanians protested in Amman against corruption, demanding reforms. The tensions have been exacerbated by the rebellion in Syria, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq later this month and the kingdom's deep economic problems as well as the turmoil of the Arab Spring.
Palestinians play a key role in Jordan where by some estimates they make up as much as 70 percent of the population but are often regarded as less loyal to the royal family than the East Bankers, as Jordan's more veteran population in known. While East Bankers dominate the armed forces, the security services and ministries, most of the kingdom's business leadership is Palestinian.
A senior Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Media Line said the king sought help from Abbas in lobbying Palestinians in Jordan to stay away from the protests, which have been the strongest in the southern Me'an and Tafila governorates. Instability in Jordan would harm the Palestinian businesses, he warned.
The meeting with Masha'al has been subject to media speculation for weeks but has yet to actually occur. On Monday, the king's adviser for media affairs, Amjad Adaileh, told The Jordan Times that Mishaal's visit is still on and would take place within days or weeks.
When it happens, the king will tell Masha'al that Hamas and its followers in Jordan must refrain from joining protests against the government, according to Jordanian security sources who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity. Jordanian Islamists, led by the local Muslim Brotherhood, have been at the forefront of the opposition.
The king will also demand that Hamas, itself an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, separate the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch from the Jordanian branch.
The outreach to the Palestinians comes amid a period of flux for Palestinians. Abbas' Palestinian-statehood drive in the United Nations has stalled, but the campaign has put into jeopardy aid from the U.S. and caused Israel to delay transferring vital tax revenue to the PA. While Hamas is likely to benefit from the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party in Egyptian elections, the movement is worried that its headquarters in Damascus, where Masha'al is based, may be shut down if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is toppled.
The two movements have vowed to form a national unity government and stage elections next year, but they have been unable select a cabinet. Abdullah is opposed to any reconciliation, which might enable Hamas to strengthen its presence in the PA-controlled West Bank, next to Jordan and probably made that clear in his Ramallah meet.
"A Fatah-Hamas joint platform of action, which may put an end to any prospect of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, would be viewed with great concern in Amman," Oded Eran of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, said in a recent analysis.
"The absence of any negotiations may drift into violent friction between Israel and the Palestinians with dire consequences for all concerned, Jordan included. The fear in Jordan of another wave of Palestinians fleeing a third intifada, in addition to fears from Syrian and Iraqi refugees, must surely cause sleepless nights in Amman," Eran explained.
Nevertheless, as the Masha'al meeting suggests, Abdullah's relations with Hamas are growing warmer. There were reports, later denied, that Jordan offered Hamas to move its headquarters to Amman. Last month, Jordan's new prime minister, Awn Khasawneh, described the 1999 expulsion of Hamas leaders from Jordan as a "constitutional and political mistake."
Analysts say the rapprochement is worrying Abbas, who despite the unity talk remains a bitter rival of Hamas. But Palestinian political analyst Hani Al-Masri told The Media Line that the king assured the president that closer ties with Hamas would not come at the expense of the PA. At the same time he warned against Abbas from getting too close to Hamas either.
"King Abdullah II calmed Abbas and assured him that the Masha'al visit will not weaken or harm relations … [but] do not go far with Hamas reconciliation and do not formulate a national unity government with Hamas that could lead for more U.S. and Israeli sanctions against the PA," Al-Masri said.
Retired Maj.Gen. Jibril Rajoub and the former head of the PA's National Security Council told The Media Line that Abdullah does not have to worry about official Palestinian backing for his regime. "The stability of the Jordanian regime is the most important guarantee to stability of the Palestinians and their national security interest," he said.
Abbas has confirmed in recent declarations that the Jordan is only for the Jordanians and it's unacceptable under any circumstances to be an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.
But Al-Masri said Abdullah isn't likely to get much help from Abbas in keeping the lid on Palestinian protests, who he asserted has no significant influence on the Palestinians in Jordan, even those living in the refugee camps do not have Jordanian citizenship.
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