Despite the fluctuations in Jordan’s relationship with Hamas over the past thirty years, it did not reach a breaking point. In the past two decades, this relationship was dominated by security and social dimensions.
During the past few months, the Palestinian arena witnessed major changes, especially after the Sword of Jerusalem battle (dubbed by Israel Operation Guardian of the Walls); in which Hamas took the lead, while the popularity of the Palestinian Authority (PA) waned, and it lost much of its credibility after it disrupted the elections.
Concerning the prospects of developing the relations between Jordan and Hamas, the former has to make delicate balances between the higher interests of Jordan, the positions of the Jordanian people and political elites, its impact on the internal situation, the possible repercussions on the Arab, international and Israeli levels, and the PA’s position.
Among three possible scenarios, the most likely one is that there will be a limited partial development with some significant gains, that would make Jordan avoid some burdens that it does not want to carry at the current time.
Over the past decades, Jordan’s relationship with Hamas has gone through ups and downs, however, it only reached the breaking point for a short period; after the crisis of 1999, when Jordan arrested a number of Hamas leaders and deported them to Qatar. Otherwise, their communication channels remained limited, advancing at times and regressing at others, depending on local factors, fluctuations in the relationship with the Palestine issue, and the regional and international environment.
Recent months have witnessed many important changes in the Palestinian and regional landscape. In Jordan, calls have increased to reconsider the relationship with Hamas, while the latter has had a strong desire to develop its relations with Jordan; the closest to the Palestine issue and the one most affected by the repercussions of the conflict with Israel. This raises questions about the future of the bilateral relations and the impact of those changes on its relations with Hamas and other Palestinian parties.
First: The Course of Bilateral Relations
The official relationship between Hamas and Jordan began in the early 1990s, in the wake of the Gulf crisis, when one of Hamas’s leaders, Muhammad Nazzal, was named the movement’s representative in Amman. In 1992, Jordan allowed Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq and the rest of the political bureau to reside in Jordan and engage in media and political activities.
The decision of King Hussain of rapprochement with Hamas was affected by the strained relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), after the latter was proceeding with Israeli negotiations alone.
After signing the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty in Wadi ‘Araba in 1994, the relationship between Jordan and Hamas deteriorated, and the movement’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Ghusheh, was summoned by the authorities and was asked to moderate his media statements, especially with regard to the “self-immolation” operations that the movement was carrying out during that period. In 1995, matters escalated and the movement’s political bureau chief, Musa Abu Marzuq, was requested to leave Jordan, then in 1997, after two years of detention in the United States he was allowed to return.
In 1997, an important milestone in Jordan’s relationship with Hamas and with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government occurred. Khalid Mish‘al, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, survived Mossad’s assassination attempt in Jordan. However, this incident was a violation of the agreements and understandings with Jordan, and angered King Hussain. who secured the release of Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and a number of Palestinian and Jordanian detainees from Israeli prisons. In return, two Mossad members, who were detained in Amman for the failed assassination attempt were released. Eventually, Sheikh Yasin was received in Jordan before his return to Gaza Strip (GS).
The Jordan-Hamas relationship continued in a reasonable manner until the death of King Hussain in 1999, when the relationship began a new phase with Jordan’s new sovereign. Tension reached its climax when the movement’s headquarters in Amman was closed, the entire political bureau was arrested on charges of violating the regulations and instructions, then deported to Qatar. With that outcome, an important page was turned in the relationship between the two sides.
After that, Jordan’s relationship with Hamas was confined to a limited security level, and humanitarian and social visits. As in 2009, Khalid Mish‘al was allowed to visit Jordan to participate in his father’s funeral, and the King issued directives to dispatch the first military field hospital to GS, which has treated nearly 3 million patients and was administered by rotating cadres.
In 2012, at the times of the Arab Spring and with the mediation of Qatar, King ‘Abdullah II received the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad accompanied by Khalid Mish‘al, head of Hamas politburo. However, this meeting did not bring about any important breakthrough in the bilateral relationship, which returned to its limited security level, and humanitarian and social visits.
On 25/10/2017, during the tense relations between Jordan and Netanyahu’s government, King ‘Abdullah received a phone call from the head of Hamas political bureau, Isma‘il Haniyyah. However, this step was not followed by subsequent steps that would break the stalemate and restore the warm ties.
Second: Important Changes and Calls for Reassessment
Over the past months, decision-making circles in Jordan have witnessed important local, Palestinian and regional changes that would require a reassessment of relationship with Hamas and the overall Palestinian situation.
Locally, due to the distinguished performance of the Palestinian resistance in the Sword of Jerusalem battle/ Operation Guardian of the Walls (May 2021), the popular and political sympathy and support for Hamas in Jordan increased significantly. The leaders of the resistance and its spokespersons, such as Muhammad al-Daif and Abu ‘Ubaidah, turned into national symbols, who have drawn the attention of Jordanians, especially the youth, and were admired by them. The mass marches to the borders and the attempts by some young men to storm them, expressed the overwhelming support of the resistance and sympathy with the Palestinian people against the Israeli crimes. Jordan was one of the most interactive Arab countries with the Sword of Jerusalem battle. Hundreds of popular events were held, in various Jordanian cities, towns and villages from the far north to the far south.
Not only the public has strongly called for strengthening Jordan’s relationship with Hamas and the resistance, but also the political forces and tribes, and political and national figures, including many former officials who openly called for reconsidering the official relations with Hamas. They have also stressed the importance of establishing balanced relations with the various actors in the Palestinian arena, and that it must not be reduced to one party, whose popularity has significantly declined and whose representation of the Palestinian people is questioned, despite the fact that its political legitimacy is regionally and internationally recognized.
Then, on 27/8/2021, the funeral and mourning ceremonies of Ibrahim Ghusheh, former Hamas spokesperson and member of its political bureau, were held in Jordan. It was a significant and prominent event that confirmed the popular support for Hamas among the Jordanian public, and national and political elites. The ceremonies turned into a national event, similar to a political demonstration, which some saw as a referendum on the Jordanians’ support of the Palestinian resistance.
On the Palestinian level, on 29/4/2021, President Mahmud ‘Abbas issued a decision to indefinitely postpone the legislative and presidential elections and the completion of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections. This step was a strong blow to the efforts of ending the schism and achieving reconciliation. It returned matters back to the starting point, where tension, confusion and political blockage prevailed the Palestinian landscape.
At the same time, the Sword of Jerusalem battle on 10/5/2021 marked an important change in the Palestinian arena. It was widely supported by the Palestinian and Arab public and has dramatically shifted the influence and power of the main Palestinian political players, where scientific opinion polls found a dramatic surge in Palestinian support for Hamas and plummeting support for the PA and Fatah movement.
Perhaps the most important impact of the Sword of Jerusalem battle was in that it reassured that Hamas movement is the leader of the resistance project, the one who expresses the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and a de facto force that is difficult to bypass in any future political or security arrangements with the Palestinians. To many regional and international parties, the movement has become the most prominent party in the Palestinian equation, and the most important player in the calm and escalation equation. As a result, regional and international parties found themselves compelled to deal with Hamas and open channels of communication with it, directly or indirectly, overtly or behind the scenes. This is what actually happened with many important Western countries, and it was not only limited to some Arab countries that received the Hamas leadership with a warm welcome.
Regionally, in recent months, the region has witnessed repositioning and a détente in the political relations of many countries, whose relations were worse in the past. These countries found it important to re-evaluate their positions and political relations, and adopt new approaches in managing their regional relations, in order to serve their interests and help them to better deal with regional and international changes. For Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have each converged with Turkey and Qatar, and their estrangement and political rivalry was ended. Their relations are heading towards overcoming crises and building political and economic cooperation relations. Such a development paves the way for conducting reviews of the overall regional relations in the midst of a highly volatile political situation.
Third: Cautious Official Interaction with the Changes
The official approval of the participation of Isma‘il Haniyyah, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khalid Mish‘al, the movement’s leader abroad, and a number of its leading figures in the mourning ceremony has important political implications. Although the Jordanian officials were keen to limit the visit to its humanitarian and social dimension, and avoid holding any political meetings with the movement’s leadership. The possibility that the decision to allow Hamas leaders to visit Jordan was influenced by the political and popular mood in Jordan and the calculations of official decision makers is not excluded.
After the Sword of Jerusalem battle ended, Hamas expressed its strong desire to visit Jordan and communicate with its political leaders, however, this wish was not fulfilled in full and the communication was limited to a phone call between Haniyyah and the director of Jordanian intelligence.
Despite the importance of public opinion and its impact on the official position, the regional factor still has strong influence on the latter. On 2/9/2021, Jordan participated in the tripartite summit that was held in Cairo, bringing together the Jordanian king and the Egyptian and Palestinian presidents, while the Israeli prime minister was absent. The most important item on its agenda was to support the PA and prevent its collapse in light of the challenges it is facing.
Fourth: Possible Scenarios for Future Relations
The scenario of escalation and tension in the bilateral relations is currently out of question. Most probably, in the near and medium terms, there are three likely scenarios for the Hamas-Jordan relations:
First: Continuing the lukewarm relations that are confined to a limited security level, and humanitarian and social visits. It is the current scenario that has been observed for nearly two decades.
Second: Witnessing qualitative development in the relations by adding the political aspect, and building balanced relations with Hamas and the PA, without taking sides.
Third: Partial development of relations so as to achieve some gains, while avoiding prices that Jordan cannot pay at this stage.
Fifth: Determinants to Compare Scenarios
To compare between the three scenarios, the following determinants are expected in the next period to affect the future bilateral relations:
1. The official point of view of the higher Jordanian interests and how they are affected by approaching or moving away from Hamas.
2. The position of the Jordanian people, national figures and political forces vis-à-vis the official rapprochement with Hamas.
3. The expected impact of developing the relationship with Hamas on the status of the Islamic movement in Jordan and its relationship with the official side. For some local parties that have reservations about developing relations with Hamas, promote that opening up to the latter would strengthen the Islamic movement and its popularity, and this is considered a threat to their interests and a threat to the political system.
4. The sensitivities of the relation with the PA, and the desire to maintain coordination with it, away from tension. For the PA is highly sensitive to rapprochement with Hamas, which has emerged as a strong competitor to it in the Palestinian arena, especially after the repercussions of the Sword of Jerusalem battle.
5. The possible repercussions of the rapprochement with Hamas on Jordan’s relationship with Israel.
6. The Egyptian desire to monopolize the management of the Palestinian dossier, and its sensitivity to having Jordan or any other party access to Palestinian dossiers.
7. The negative attitudes of some Gulf countries towards political Islam movements, among them Hamas.
8. The position of the US administration and European countries toward Jordan’s development of relations with Hamas, for the US has designated it a “terrorist movement.”
Based on the potential impact of the above determinants on Jordan’s options regarding its future relations with Hamas, the following can be expected:
1. Officials will take into account many of Jordan’s significant interests when managing future relations with Hamas. The pro-peace process officials may stand in the way of developing these relations, but at the same time, they have fears of Israeli plans to solve the Palestine issue at the expense of Jordan, thus pushing towards developing these relations. The Jordanian security calculations and the desire to control the borders and prevent the use of Jordanian lands for any military actions against Israel, clearly affects the options of Jordan and has always been a priority in the considerations of managing the relationship with the various Palestinian factions.
2. The broad Jordanian public support for Hamas will affect the choices of officials towards various Palestinian sides. The Jordanian brotherly relations and the close connection with the Palestinian people affects the public’s view of Hamas. The Jordanian political elite have strong conviction that the Palestinian resistance led by Hamas has become the first line of defense against Israeli ambitions and conspiracies that are considered an existential threat to their country.
3. Officials still fear the undesirable repercussions of developing relations with Hamas on the popularity of the Islamic movement in Jordan and on the stand of the latter toward the official side. However, the history of the Jordan-Hamas relations has proven that while being in Jordan, Hamas was keen to avoid interfering in local affairs. Moreover, even after its departure from Jordan, its declared position has encouraged the Islamic movement to take a positive stand towards the official side. In some milestones, the latter used Hamas to convince the Islamic movement of the necessity to participate in the parliamentary elections. In their speeches during Ibrahim Ghusheh’s funeral, Isma‘il Haniyyah and Khalid Mish‘al were keen to send important reassurances to the official side that received the attention of the Jordanian media.
4. Concerning the relationship with the PA, Jordan realizes that important power shifts have taken place in the Palestinian landscape, which should be taken into account and requires modifications in the official position on communicating with Hamas. At the same time, Jordan is keen that this would not affect the political partnership with the PA; as an official party that adopts the same political options regarding the peace process.
As an indication of a possible adjustment to Jordan’s position on communicating with Hamas, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said during a joint press conference in Amman with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in May 2021 that our contacts with our brothers in Palestine continue, and there has been contact between the Kingdom and Hamas over the past weeks. He added that we treat the Palestinian people as our brothers and we approach matters based on our firm position that we recognize the State of Palestine. We deal with the Palestinian leadership and we deal with all our brothers in Palestine within the framework of normal relations. Accordingly, our communication continues with everyone, and our main goal is to serve Palestine and support our Palestinian brothers.
5. The relationship with Israel will negatively affect the future of Jordan’s relationship with Hamas, in light of the improvement of Jordanian-Israeli relations in recent months, after the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu, who caused strained relations with Jordan over the past years. Israel opposes the development of the relationship between Jordan and Hamas and wants to limit the management of Arab relations with it to the Egyptian side.
6. The negative impact of the Egyptian position on Jordan’s options concerning its relationship with Hamas is likely to continue. Egypt is keen to continue monopolizing influence in the Palestinian arena and at the same time, it seeks to limit its relationship with Hamas to the security dimension.
7. Gulf wise, Jordan’s position on Hamas will be affected by the developments of its relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. For Jordanian diplomacy takes into account the considerations and political options of those countries, and avoids clashing in regional files, including the relationship with Hamas. On 8/8/2021, Saudi courts issued long prison sentences against many members of Hamas and those close to it.
8. Until now, it is not clear yet what position the US administration and European governments will have regarding Jordan’s openness to the relationship with Hamas, but it is likely that the position will depend on the extent to which it will affect the calm in the Palestinian arena. For maintaining calm and avoiding escalation or a new confrontation between the Palestinians and the Israelis have become a priority for the US administration. Furthermore, the US and some European parties have expressed interest after the Sword of Jerusalem battle in opening direct or indirect channels of communication with Hamas.
Seventh: Most Probable Scenario
In light of the above, and despite the important changes that occurred on the Palestinian and regional scene, it is likely that Jordan will not go far in developing its relationship with Hamas, due to the obstacles it still takes into account. This weakens the chances of making qualitative leap in their relations.
However, Jordan has realized that it has suffered losses from reducing its political relationship to one Palestinian party. For on the one hand, it has contradicted the popular position in favor of opening up to Hamas, and on the other hand, the lukewarm relations with the movement has made Jordan miss the opportunity to enhance its regional role and the possibility of playing an influential political role during the Sword of Jerusalem battle. Noting that Egypt and Qatar had a strong role during the battle, which reflected positively on their relations with Joe Biden’s administration… All of this pushes towards a positive review of the relationship with Hamas.
It seems that the third scenario, i.e., the partial development of relations with Hamas, is most likely, in the near future. For it would achieve some significant gains, while at the same time, it would make Jordan avoid prices it cannot pay at the current stage. It constitutes a half-step forward that meets some of the demands of the Jordanian street and its political and tribal elites, at the same time, it would be an opportunity to strengthen Jordan’s regional presence, and it would help it avoid the embarrassment with the PA, Israel and some Arab and international parties.
Based on the above, we recommend the following:
1. The necessity of Jordan to be open to the various actors and influencers in the Palestinian scene, stand at the same distance from the factions of national action, develop its political relations with Hamas, and invest in relations with all Palestinian parties to enhance Jordan’s role and active presence in the region, and serve national interests and the interests of the Palestinian people.
2. Strengthening the cooperation between Jordan, which handles the affairs of holy sites, and various Palestinian political and popular forces, in order to protect Jerusalem and the holy sites and confront the continuous Israeli violations of al-Aqsa Mosque.
3. Investing in the good relations that Jordan enjoys with the parties of the Palestinian national action, in order to end the schism, achieve reconciliation and put the Palestinian political house in order, in a manner that expresses the free will of the Palestinian people.
4. The coordination of efforts between the national forces in Jordan and Palestine to confront the Israeli plans that target the Palestinian land and the rights of the Palestinian people, defend Jordan against Israeli ambitions and thwart the conspiracies of transfer, naturalization and the project of alternative homeland.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. ‘Atef al-Joulani for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based.