28 Oct. - 3 Nov. 1999
Issue No. 453
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Tough terms for Hamas rehabilitationBy Lola Keilani
Mounting Arab pressure has persuaded the Jordanian government to reverse its position on the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and to enter into dialogue with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have agreed to act as mediators in the dispute between the two sides. Arab appeals, which included a telephone call from the Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gaddafi to King Abdullah on 24 October, are said to have influenced the sudden turnaround of Jordanian Prime Minister Abdel-Ra'ouf Rawabdeh concerning his government's policies towards the group.
Jordanians are optimistic that the government and Hamas will now be able to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis in relations that have existed between the two sides following the Jordanian authorities' crackdown on the group's activities in the country and the arrest of 21 of its leaders. Hopes of a breakthrough have risen since a meeting was held between the Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel-Majeed Thneibat, who has agreed to act as mediator, and Prime Minister Rawabdeh.
Thneibat said on 24 October that he expected the crisis between Hamas and the government to end within a week, though he added that details of the discussions had been postponed until the formulation of a final solution to the crisis.
He said that the question of the Hamas representatives at the talks had been raised, but did not specify whether these would include the acting chief of the group's politburo Musa Abu Marzouq, who is currently in Syria, or the Hamas representative in Jordan, Mohamed Nazzal, who is currently in hiding. Following the 90-minute meeting with the premier, Thneibat declined to comment either on the exact contents of his discussion or on the proposal submitted to the government.
However according to an informed source the Jordanian government would be willing to drop all legal action against the group and all charges against its leaders if Hamas agreed to certain conditions. In return, the source said, Hamas would "not be allowed to conduct any political, information or media activities or even maintain a symbolic presence. Its leaders will no longer carry Hamas titles and will be normal Jordanian citizens without any official link to Hamas."
The case against Hamas is currently being considered by the Jordanian attorney general and has not yet been referred to a military court.
For his part, Thneibat commented that "we are negotiating with the government as one team because this is our country and we [want to spare it] any sign of unrest." On the other side, King Abdullah said on 22 October that his government was seeking a formula to settle the case "that would guarantee the rule of law, the maintenance of sovereignty and the protection of the security and stability of the country," adding that "if we are able to end the case through objective dialogue, then that will enable us to find an ideal framework."
However at the same time the king made it clear that previous arrangements under which Hamas had operated in the kingdom could not be maintained. "The case of Hamas' offices in Jordan had exceeded its limits, and various factors had become entangled in it, diverting it from its original framework," he said.
The government had earlier refused to meet with Brotherhood leaders to discuss the Hamas issue. However according to some reports the movement directly contacted Abdel-Karim Kabariti, chief of the Royal Court, and a message was then sent to King Abdullah asking him to intervene.
According to Ayman Majali, the Jordanian minister of information, preliminary meetings between the two sides had been positive but he too refused to discuss the 24 October meeting. "The two sides agreed to hold another round of talks in the near future to resolve the issue in a framework of sovereignty and law that will ensure the security and national interests of Jordan," he said.
Khaled Mish'al, chief of the Hamas politburo, and the group's spokesperson Ibrahim Ghousheh were arrested last month upon their arrival from Iran and detained in Jwedeh prison. Abu Marzouq was deported to Syria, and Hamas representative in Jordan Mohamed Nazzal is currently in hiding. Mish'al, Ghousheh and Nazzal face charges which could lead to the death penalty according to their lawyer Saleh Armouti.
Mish'al, Ghousheh and four other Hamas members among the 21 activists arrested in last August's crackdown on the group however abandoned their hunger strike last week. Mish'al wrote in a handwritten message from his cell that the hunger strike had been given up in appreciation of King Abdullah's pledge to resolve the issue upon his return to Jordan. At that time the king was on an official tour to the United States, England, and Spain.
Should the Hamas leadership in Damascus agree to Rawabdeh's conditions for an end to the crisis, King Abdullah will be relieved of one of the most intractable issues to face his regime. Observers say that the government's management of the crisis has, however, so far lacked the subtlety and finesse of the late King Hussein, who could perhaps have managed to persuade the Hamas leaders to close their offices and leave the country, while maintaining cordial relations with all concerned.
In addition, the political fallout of the issue will, according to analysts, exact a heavy toll on the future of the Islamist movement's relationship with the Hashemite Monarchy in Jordan, and a radicalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been a traditional ally of the crown, might be one immediate result of the current crisis.