Jordan’s VIP treatment for Mashaal shows a King trying to placate the Islamists

Morsi’s victory in Egypt was ‘an earthquake’ for Hashemite monarch, who faces Muslim Brotherhood opposition of his own

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

King Abdullah’s meeting Thursday with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Amman, the second between the two in six months, indicates a subtle but dramatic policy shift by the royal palace towards the Islamic movement.

Mashaal came to Amman Thursday for the funeral of Hamas military leader Kamal Ranaja, who was assassinated in Damascus a day earlier. He was greeted by the Royal Court like a visiting dignitary, attending an official lunch with Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh.

For the first time, Mashaal — who had visited Amman just weeks ago — contacted the palace directly, without the intercession of Qatar or other Hamas-friendly Arab countries, the Jordanian lawyer Moussa Abdallat noted in Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Mashaal’s visit this week was markedly different than his low-key visit in January as part of a Qatari delegation, observers say.

It was King Abdullah who banished Mashaal from Amman along with the Hamas leadership in 1999, in one of his first moves as monarch. But today, the Muslim Brotherhood remains the King’s most formidable opposition.

‘Morsi’s victory was an earthquake for Jordan,’ says Assaf David, an expert on Jordan

The presidential victory of Mohammad Morsi in Egypt is the root cause of Jordan’s change of heart towards Hamas, Jordan analysts say. Following the Islamist takeover of Egypt, Jordan will no longer be able to treat its own Islamists as merely a security threat, Bassam Badareen wrote in Al-Quds Al-Arabi Friday.

“Morsi’s victory was an earthquake for Jordan,” says Assaf David, who researches Jordan’s politics at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “Jordan expected Shafiq to win, and probably even received messages from Egypt that he was going to.”

But the King is also under political pressure from domestic Islamists. Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood party Islamic Action Front are demanding that the King amend the elections law ratified Thursday by parliament, which they claim strengthens tribal identities at their expense. Rapprochement with Hamas serves as a symbolic placation of Islamist currents in Jordan, which are still threatening to boycott the upcoming elections.

For the first time, Mashaal — who had visited Amman just weeks ago — contacted the palace directly, without the intercession of Qatar or other Hamas-friendly Arab countries

“The new law is terrible,” David told The Times of Israel. “It is criticized across the board, from tribal circles to the Muslim Brotherhood. Many Arab states are politically moving forward and Jordan is moving backwards.”

In his meeting with Mashaal Thursday, the King stressed the importance of Palestinian reconciliation. He also spoke of the need to return to negotiations with Israel and establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, a principle which Hamas publicly rejects.

Hamas’ account of the meeting highlighted different themes, however. According to its official website, Mashaal stressed “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” and rejected the “alternative state” — the dreaded Jordanian notion that the Kingdom could some day become a Palestinian state through mass deportation of Palestinians by Israel.

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