Washington has played a strong card against Mahmoud Abbas' push for UN acceptance of a Palestinian state and his playing hard to get for resumed peace talks. After some arm-twisting, Jordan's King Abdullah agreed to let his main rival, the radical Hamas political leader, Khaled Meshaal, visit Amman. The Hamas leader arrived Wednesday, Sept. 29, for the second time since he and the entire Hamas leadership were expelled from the kingdom 12 years ago. He last visited Jordan in 2009 to attend his father's funeral.
Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Saket made it clear that the special entry permit covered only a limited stay. Some Jordanian sources explained it was granted on the grounds of his ailing mother's admission to hospital.
However, debkafile's Washington and intelligence sources report that the Hamas leader came to Amman for bigger fish: negotiations in the hope of permission to transfer the organization's political headquarters and staff from Damascus to Amman.
The Jordanian King is flatly opposed to this step – especially now – given the Palestinian terrorist leader's past history with the kingdom. He faces heavy US pressure, backed by Saudi Arabia, to relent. So far, he only agreed very reluctantly to Meshaal paying a short visit.
The Obama administration began pushing hard for the move when in the first half of September, the military rulers of Egypt decided to shut the door against Meshaal and his staff's relocation in Cairo. At first, they were amenable, hoping to use the transfer to get at Syrian President Bashar Assad and weaken Iran's westward drive into the Arab world. In the second half of August, they invited Meshaal to Cairo to discuss the transfer.
But in early September they changed their minds for three reasons:
1. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's earlier flirtation with Iran had gone sour and the generals decided it was not a good time to introduce a pro-Iranian Palestinian entity into Cairo's unstable political scene.
2. Hamas-Gaza had become a major thorn in their sides. Its armed militias and terrorists had poured out of the Gaza Strip to seize parts of northern Sinai and were taking delivery of burgeoning consignments of Libyan arms through Egypt and the peninsula. The last thing Egypt needed, they reckoned, was for Hamas to gain a second organized logistic headquarters in Cairo.
3. Like other Middle East rulers, the Supreme Military Council of Egypt recognizes that Assad is on the point of finally crushing the popular uprising against his rule. They are therefore wary of unnecessarily antagonizing him. Accepting the Hamas political bureau in Cairo would be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the Syrian ruler's chances of survival.
Washington's decision to arrange for the Hamas politburo to move to Amman was motivated most of all by the wish to put Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in his place by having Hamas breathe down his neck not just from the Gaza Strip but also from Amman, where he maintains a large residence.
Washington was guided by four further considerations:
– Khaled Meshaal's exit from Damascus would divest Assad of a key regional power lever as well as excluding him from a role on the Palestinian issue;
– His relocation in Amman would, it is hoped, eventually weaken Hamas' ties with Tehran and the Lebanese Hizballah;
– Washington decided to help Hamas to move house in its capacity as a branch of the transnational Muslim Brotherhood headquartered in Egypt, a movement whose interests the Obama administration opted to promote in the Arab Spring. At the same time, by refraining from pushing Assad out, the Obama administration paradoxically aided in the failure of the Syrian uprising and its Muslim Brotherhood spearhead.
– The US administration sought to discipline the Palestinian leader for going through with his application for UN membership in defiance of President Barack Obama's strong objections.
Abbas, his Palestinian Authority and the PLO have always treated Jordan and its capital Amman as their logistical hinterland and sanctuary. Abbas spends at least as much time in his Amman mansion as he does in Ramallah. Placing Hamas' political leader cheek to jowl with him in his second home would pose a potential challenge to Abbas' position as the sole internationally-acceptable spokesman for the Palestinian cause.
If after moving to Jordan, Hamas should one day moderate its extremist agenda, which calls for Israel's annihilation and refuses to relinquish terror, Washington and Riyadh would acquire a second Palestinian option for negotiations outside Ramallah and the PLO establishment – or so it is believed in some US circles.
For more than a decade, the Hashemite king has kept Khaled Meshaal at arm's length and physically distant from his following among the violent elements of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood leadership. His presence in Amman would strengthen those elements at a time when they are on the offensive.
But Abdullah found it hard to stand up to Saudi pressure which was accompanied by a guarantee that the oil kingdom's clandestine forces would stamp down on any Hamas subversion against the throne. He therefore relented – albeit only so far as letting Meshaal pay a short visit to the kingdom.