Increasingly “disobedient” Jordanian parliamentarians are challenging the Hashemite leadership’s firm relationship with Israel, in a not-so-subtle tug of war between King Abdullah and a disgruntled civil society.
Media and labor unions in the kingdom — Israel’s best ally in the Arab Middle East — already all formally boycott Israel. Now the political climate is becoming ever more hostile too.
The latest example stemmed from Israel’s 65th Independence Day celebrations.
Last week, Jordanian member of parliament Muhammad Asha Dawaimeh made the “mistake” of attending an independence event at the residence of President Shimon Peres.
When news of his presence broke, Dawaimeh, a member of the Islamic Center Party — a tiny political faction left of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front — admitted to receiving and accepting a formal invitation to the event from Israel’s foreign Ministry.
He subsequently assured a Jordanian website that he was working with Palestinian legislators on an appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court to allow worshipers unlimited access to the Temple Mount. He said he opposed normalization with Israel. Indeed, he expressed support for “the liberation of Palestinian from the river to the sea.” But to no avail.
On Monday, his Islamist Center Party unanimously decided to bar Dawaimeh from its ranks. “After reviewing the news … of MP Muhammad Asha’s visit to the Zionist entity, his attendance at the so-called independence day [celebrations] and his handshake with the criminal Peres whose hands are soiled with Palestinian blood, the Islamic Center Party has met … and unanimously decided to dismiss him. These actions contradict the principles and values of the party, which rejects all forms of normalization with the Zionist entity.”
‘This move is something I could not have imagined even three years ago,” David told The Times of Israel, referring to the parliamentary petition to release Daqamseh
For one MP, Muhammad Al-Qatatshe, this punishment was insufficient. He wants Dawaimeh removed from parliament altogether.
“He is a Zionist collaborator and should be dismissed from parliament and not allowed to attend any meeting,” Qatatsheh was quoted by Muslim Brotherhood news site As-Sabeel as saying.
Dawaimeh is not the first Jordanian official to find himself attacked for ostensibly pro-Israel connections or positions.
When Walid Obeidat accepted Abdullah’s appointment as Jordan’s new ambassador to Israel last October, he was ostracized by his entire clan, which marked the date with black banners and a public day of mourning. He attracted more criticism last week, when he dared to challenge parliamentary sentiment.
Earlier this month, 110 Jordanian parliament members signed a petition calling for the release of Ahmad Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier who gunned down seven Israeli schoolgirls on a field trip to the “Isle of Peace” border area of Naharayim in 1997.
Ambassador Obeidat, who assured the girls’ parents that the murderer will serve his prison term to its end, was criticized on April 18 by the head of Jordan’s trade union syndicate Mahmoud Abu-Ghanimah, who told establishment daily Ad-Dustour that it would have been better for Obeidat “to keep quiet.”
Jordanian parliamentarians often prefer to pander to popular sentiment rather than deal with issues of substance such as education or infrastructure, a young Palestinian-Jordanian who spent the 2010-2011 academic year studying at Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, told The Times of Israel.
“Criticizing Israel is not as laborious as scrutinizing a budget,” said the former student, who preferred to remain anonymous “for reasons of political conviction.” He added that he himself avoids discussing his year in Israel with people beyond his closest circle of friends, noting that most Jordanians “are reserved about the issue.”
Jordan has indeed drifted a long way from the day in March 1997 when King Hussein, Abdullah’s father, made a historic visit to Beit Shemesh to convey his condolences to the bereaved families of the slain schoolgirls, agreed Hebrew University Jordan expert Assaf David.
“This move is something I could not have imagined even three years ago,” David told The Times of Israel, referring to the parliamentary petition to release Daqamseh.
Even though parliament is not subordinate to government in matters pertaining to Israel, the opposition was traditionally cautious about criticizing Jordan’s relations with the Jewish state, David said. “This move indicates the parliament’s growing ‘disobedience’ on the Israeli issue,” he added.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which largely avoided referring to Israel during the first two years of the Arab Spring, has now resumed its traditional Israel bashing. David said this was more a domestic reaction to Jordan’s conservative backlash against the country’s Islamists — backed by the King — than about Jordan’s foreign relations with its western neighbor.
In an interview last month, Abdullah warned Israel it had to choose between “apartheid and democracy” and urged it to push for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. He also stressed, however, that his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “very strong. Our discussions have really improved,” and that despite his push for political reform in Jordan, “I don’t want a government to come in and say, ‘We repudiate the peace treaty with Israel.’ ”
In any event, with regards to strategic issues such as the threat emanating from Syria, Jordan’s ties with Israel remain as strong as ever, David said.
Earlier this week, French daily Le Figaro reported that Jordan has opened two air corridors for Israeli drones monitoring the situation in Syria. Jordan’s denial of the report, David claimed, was not very convincing. “There is much more here [on the drone issue] than meets the eye,” he said.