ANALYSIS / Jordan's king is torn between U.S.-Egypt and Syria-Hamas axes
Syria and Qatar are angry at king Abdullah, while Washington and Cairo are pleased.
"I swear in the name of Allah that I will not use that American merchandise, I will not bring it into the house and I will not permit the members of my family to use it."
That was the vow made in recent weeks by members of Jordan's committee against normalization with Israel. The burning of U.S.-made goods, a call for a boycott on companies that cooperate with Israel, and even a demand to sever Jordan's diplomatic relations with Israel are nothing new, but the burning of the Israeli flag by Jordanian MPs inside the parliament building - that has never happened before.
Even the demonstrations that flooded the streets of the capital Amman, and particularly the confrontation between thousands of demonstrators and the security forces in the Al-Rabia neighborhood are things Jordan has not seen for many years.
If we add to that the fact that Jordan has not yet allowed its ambassador to return to Tel Aviv and remember that the relationship between the Israeli embassy and Jordanian government institutions has been unofficially frozen, can we conclude that Jordan has changed direction?
In the past year Jordan has held contacts with Hamas representatives, mainly via its chief of intelligence, Gen. Mohammad Al Dhabi, the prime minister's brother. At the same time, relations between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have been damaged.
Jordanian commentators explained that King Abdullah suspected that a "conspiracy" was being hatched between the former chief of the Royal Hashemite Court, Bassem Awadallah, and Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian representative in the peace talks with Israel. The purpose of this suspected conspiracy was to turn Jordan into the Palestinians' alternative homeland.
Some people claim that even a document was written on the subject. A person close to the royal court told Haaretz that these accusations are "nonsense that is being cooked up by those who want to harm Jordan."
Nonsense or not, the king fired the head of his court and did not reject the meetings with Hamas members. That was supposed to be a clear message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and his people: Although they are distancing Jordan from the diplomatic negotiations, the kingdom knows very well how to conduct the political game inside Palestine.
And now, about three months after Awadallah's dismissal, the king has dismissed the man who laid the infrastructure for the renewed relationship with Hamas. Al Dhabi has been replaced by Mohammad Rakkad. Has the king now changed his mind and does he want to send Hamas a message that it does not have a Jordanian guarantee either?
The answer is complex and not based only on the Jordan-Hamas or Jordan-PA axes. One of the explanations is that the king wanted to create a "balance" in his court between Awadallah, considered the representative of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin, and Al Dhabi, considered the representative of Jordanians of Jordanian origin. Both were very close to the king, but when one "representative" is dismissed, the other should go as well.
But that is only part of the answer to the question of why Al Dhabi was dismissed. In the past year he was responsible for the warming of relations between Jordan and Syria, which became close to Qatar after the Qatari ruler's role in solving the crisis in Lebanon. Al Dhabi believed that the time had come for Jordan and Qatar to improve relations after almost a decade of tension.
The paradox is that Jordan's anger at Qatar was aroused in 1999, when Qatar agreed to serve as a refuge for the Hamas leaders expelled from Jordan. Now, however, it is Jordan that is pursuing contacts with Hamas. In 2006, Qatar voted for Ban Ki-moon as United Nations secretary general over the Jordanian candidate.
However, last November, a Jordanian delegation headed by the prime minister went to Qatar and signed an agreement on economic cooperation. The anger dissipated and Jordan believed that it had stabilized its relations with its neighbors. Relations with Egypt are close, those with Syria are warming up, and now Qatar has joined the circle of friendship.
And then came the war in Gaza and Jordan once again faces a problem. Should it back Abbas' PA? Should it harshly criticize Hamas, as did Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or should it condemn Israel and back the Hamas leadership? In other words, should it follow the Syrian-Qatari-Turkish route, or the Egyptian-Saudi one, alongside Israel and the United States?
Jordan twisted uncomfortably. The climax came before the Arab summit conference convened by the ruler of Qatar. Tremendous pressure was put on Jordan and the PA. The prime minister of Qatar said, for example, that Abbas had told him that if he appeared at the Doha conference "his throat would be slit from ear to ear." The Jordanian king also hesitated. He explained to the ruler of Qatar that "at this time he cannot appear at a conference that is seen as supporting Hamas, especially when Abu Mazen is not participating in it."
But the real explanation apparently lies in the heavy American pressure on the king. According to Jordanian sources, the king was ordered to decide whether he belongs to the "moderate" or "extremist" axis. The king opted for Sharm al-Sheikh over Doha, and the tension was apparent on his face at the Egyptian summit.
The Jordanian newspapers came out with a series of explanations and excuses for the king's decision, but the end result remains: Syria and Qatar are angry at the king, while Washington and Cairo are pleased. And Israel? The sight of the burned flag still stings, but the removal of the chief of Jordanian intelligence, who wanted to renew the connection between Jordan and Hamas, is soothing to some extent.