Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
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Haunted by the Hamas four

Nine Jordanian MPs have signed a statement demanding a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Abdel-Raouf Rawabdeh's government over what they say is its mishandling of the Hamas issue and a recent decision to deport four Hamas leaders who hold Jordanian nationality to Qatar. According to the Jordanian parliament's regulations, one additional signature is needed for a vote of confidence to be held.

"The government has violated the constitution by its act of deportation," said MP Mahmoud Khrabsheh, head of the parliament's legal committee, pointing out that according to the country's constitution no Jordanian citizen may be deported.

"What the government did is an outright violation of citizens' rights, and I will call on MPs to withdraw confidence in the government," said MP Abdullah Akayleh.

The four Hamas leaders deported last week -- Khaled Misha'al, Ibrahim Ghouseh, Izzat Resheq and Sami Khater -- although originally Palestinian hold Jordanian passports. The Jordanian government claimed that the leaders chose to leave voluntarily, but the four described their departure as "compulsory deportation," their having been handcuffed and blindfolded before being escorted to the airport where a private Qatari jet was waiting for them.

Though Rawabdeh denies that his government's decision regarding Hamas was a result of trilateral pressure from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States, observers believe that the approval by the US Congress of $200 million to Jordan as part of a regional aid package, or "Wye donation", of $1,825 million is not a coincidence.

Political observers described Rawabdeh's handling of the situation as being like someone attempting to rectify one blunder by committing two. The crackdown on Hamas's offices in Jordan last August, on the pretext that the kingdom could no longer tolerate Jordanians belonging to non-Jordanian political parties, caused panic to many Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin who had been active in support of the Palestinian cause over the past 50 years. And Musa Zaid, a political observer, said that the government's subsequent decision to deport the Hamas leaders had caused a further crack in internal Palestinian-Jordanian unity, casting a shadow over King Abdullah's public statements in favour of political liberalisation in Jordan.

"Rawabdeh created another crack in the Jordanian-Palestinian facade by raising the spectre of Black September, when army tanks entered Palestinian refugee camps during the 1970 Palestinian-Jordanian civil war," Zaid added.

Palestinian opposition groups in Amman, which are very active against any normalisation with Israel and operate in universities and Palestinian camps, also felt uneasy at the move, fearing that they might soon face a similar fate to that suffered by Hamas. George Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), issued a statement condemning the Jordanian government for its expulsion of Hamas fighters and declaring the PFLP's solidarity with Hamas until the return of the movement's leaders to Amman.

Meanwhile, Hamas activists in Jordan consider that the deportation of their leaders marks the start of a new chapter in their political struggle, commenting that the deported leaders were not captives in Qatar, but were only guests there for a certain time before their departure back to Jordan.

Meanwhile, Misha'al, who is head of the Hamas Politburo and one of the deportees, has asked his lawyer to sue the Jordanian government and demand the four's right to return to Jordan.

According to a statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdul-Majeed Thneibat, whose previous mediation efforts failed to solve the dispute between the government and Hamas, the radical movement had already agreed to move its offices away from Jordan and to strip its leaders of any official title.

In an attempt to explain the Jordanian government's actions, Thneibat said that Rawabdeh "haunted by crises, falsifies the truth, and enjoys playing on words," referring to the Jordanian government's claim that the Hamas leaders had "decided to leave voluntarily" and had not been deported.

Observers have been left in little doubt that the deportation of the Hamas leaders has been a heavy blow to the movement's activities, especially to those on the West Bank, since the four had formed a conduit through which money had been funneled from the movement's sympathisers in the Gulf and from diaspora Palestinians.

However, many also say that just as Israel was forced by international public opinion to take back 415 Palestinians deported in December 1992 to Marj Al-Zuhour in southern Lebanon, so Jordan will be forced to accept the return of the four Hamas leaders in due course. It is this possibility that explains a statement issued recently by the Jordanian Minister of Information Ayman Majali, apparently leaving open the issue of the return of the four leaders to Jordan and saying only that it "has not been conclusively finalised".

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