Is Jordan trying to discredit Hamas?

The Islamist movement has a history of honourable resistance to the Israelis. It has never targeted Arabs

Gulf News

What happened in Jordan on May 11 should not have been a surprise for anybody familiar with the complex politics of the Middle East. Jordanian authorities arrested 20 members of Hamas in Jordan, accusing them of smuggling arms and ammunition into the Hashemite kingdom, to be used against Jordanian officials.

Adding spice to the showdown, three arrested Palestinians were interviewed on Jordan TV, declaring that they had been recruited by Hamas, through Syria, to carry out terrorist operations in Jordan. Clearly, the charade was intended to incriminate both the authorities in Ramallah and Damascus, and tarnish Hamas's image in the international community, and the Arab World.

Several logical points, however, prove that the story was fabricated and is very difficult to believe.

1) Coinciding with the high-drama on Jordan TV was news from Palestine, saying that arrested Palestinians in Israeli jails, including Marwan Al Barghouti from Fateh and Abdul Khaliq Nisheh from Hamas, had proposed confining the resistance to territories occupied by Israel in 1967, not 1948.

This was, in every sense, a breakthrough in the rhetoric of Hamas, which has been demanding, since its creation in the 1980s, the liberation of all Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1948. Never before had Hamas confined itself to 1967.

Sources in Palestine confirmed that Hamas was also going to accept the Saudi peace initiative of King Abdullah, announced at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002. This initiative, which was refused back then by both Hamas and former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, means collective Arab peace with Israel in exchange for a return of all territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

In a letter to the European Union, announced on May 12, Hamas said that it supports the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Naturally, this breakthrough was overshadowed by the Jordanian façade.

Distorted image

News of the "Hamas cell" in Jordan was the headline story on the front page of the mass circulation Arabic daily Al Hayat, while news of the Hamas initiative to restrict itself to the borders of 1967 was on page 4. The world, sadly, failed to see the pragmatic Hamas and only saw the Jordanian version of the movement.

2) On the same day, another indicator came out of Damascus, which was also overshadowed by news of the "Hamas cell" receiving training and funding from Damascus to conduct terrorism in Jordan. It was that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad had agreed, through Sudanese mediation, to receive Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, despite earlier refusal from Syria to welcome the Lebanese prime minister, due to his loud anti-Syrian rhetoric. Assad also indicated that he was willing to exchange embassies with Lebanon.

The other breakthrough from Syria was that it had stressed its recognition of Iraqi Kurdistan and commenced flights between Syria and Irbil. The Syrians have, to date, never fully accepted Kurdish autonomy in Northern Iraq, fearing that this would encourage Syrian Kurds to demand similar status, something that is refused by the Syrian public and government alike. Assad's goodwill initiative towards Kurdistan and Lebanon did not receive more than a passing mention in the Arab press.

3) The Jordanian action also overshadowed other problems crippling the Middle East mostly the result of American mismanagement. They include the failure of Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Jawad Al Malki to create a Cabinet on time, and the Turkish troop escalation on the Iraqi border to crush PKK insurgents launching attacks into Turkish territory.

Also, while the world was watching "confessions" on Jordan TV, Israel invaded Jenin in the West Bank with 40 tanks on May 11 (which also was covered on page 4, not 1, in Al Hayat), and arrested 24 Palestinians in Nablus, Bethlehem, and Ramallah.

There is a conviction in the Arab World that Hamas never targeted Arabs or non-Israelis since its creation in the 1980s. History speaks for itself and Hamas has a history of honourable resistance to the Israelis.

Today, it is desperate for regional allies (and so is Syria), making it sheer madness for Hamas to attempt terrorism in Jordan. The obvious answer question would be: what for? Hamas is currently desperate for funds. It has a country to run and wages to pay to the Palestinians. It is suffering from the refusal of banks to transfer funds donated to the Palestinians by Arab countries.

Hamas has never been hostile to Jordan. On the contrary, they never fail to show appreciation for King Hussain's saving of Khalid Mesha'al's life, back in 1997, when Israel tried to poison him in Amman and the Jordanians forced Tel Aviv to provide the antidote. They also never forget that Jordan secured the release of Ahmad Yassin from Israeli prisons. History is on the side of Hamas in its showdown with Jordan.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.