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memri
June 10, 2015 No.
1166

Rising Tensions Between Jordan, Palestinian Authority

By: B. Shanee*

Two recent events aggravated the existing political disputes and tensions between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA). On May 22, 2015 worshippers disrupted a Friday sermon delivered at Al-Aqsa mosque by Jordanian chief qadi Ahmad Hulail, who was visiting the mosque at the head of a high-level Jordanian delegation. Also in late May, the Arab media reported that Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian Football Association, who holds dual Palestinian and Jordanian citizenship, refused to back the Jordanian candidate for the presidency of FIFA, King 'Abdallah's half-brother Prince 'Ali Bin Al-Hussein.

These two incidents sparked furious reactions from the Jordanian public and leadership against the PA and its senior officials. It was claimed that the incidents were deliberate political measures aimed at harming the Kingdom of Jordan, and that the PA had forgotten Jordan's generous support of the Palestinian cause and was betraying Jordan. Calls were made in the Jordanian media and official circles, as well as on social media, to settle accounts with the Palestinian leadership and reassess Jordan-PA relations. PA officials, headed by Mahmoud 'Abbas, paid a special visit to Jordan in attempt to appease the Jordanians.

It should be noted that Jordan-PA relations have been strained for some months due to the submission of a Palestinian draft resolution to the UN Security Council in December 2014 to set a date for ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state - a move that Jordan claimed was carried out without proper coordination with it.[1]

This report will review the circumstances behind the current tension, and the responses in Jordan and the PA to the events that sparked it.


Jordanian Prince 'Ali Bin Al-Hussein (left) and Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas (image: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 2, 2015)  

Anger In Jordan Over Disruption Of Jordanian Qadi's Sermon At Al-Aqsa Mosque

On Friday, May 22, 2015, Jordanian Chief Qadi Ahmed Hulail visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the head of a Jordanian delegation and delivered a sermon there. During his sermon, worshipers at the mosque created a disturbance to protest the delegation's visit, chanting slogans such as "with spirit and blood we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa". The incident sparked angry responses from the Jordanian public against the PA, which, for its part, accused elements such as Hizb Al-Tahrir and Hamas of responsibility for the disturbance.[2]

Jordanian MP 'Ali Salem Al-Fadel demanded to take firm measures in response to the incident and "punish the infidels" who caused it. He accused that those who had attacked the qadi "forgot the noble actions of the Jordanians and the Hashemites [i.e., the Jordanian royal family] for the sake of Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause as a whole." [3] Criticism and anger towards the Palestinians and the PA were also expressed in the Jordanian media, which claimed that this incident reflected Palestinian contempt for the Jordanian kingdom. For example, Jordanian writer Anis Al-Khasawneh wrote in the online daily Raialyoum.com that the incident "was not a personal insult to Hulail but a disgraceful and serious affair that to some extent reflected [the climate] in the political arena and in Jordanian-Palestinian relations." He added: "On the Friday before the one on which Hulail was attacked, the head of the Turkish Department of Religious Affairs, Muhammad Gormaz, delivered the Friday sermon [at Al-Aqsa] and was received with acclaim by the local worshippers. This requires us to provide a political context for what happened with Hulail and the Jordanian delegation... namely, that Palestinians in the West Bank are displeased with and unsupportive of Jordan's position on Jerusalem..."[4]

Jordanian anger at the PA was also expressed by chants of praise for Israel during a May 23, 2015 football match in the city of Irbid the day after the Al-Aqsa incident. Fans chanted: "With spirit and blood we will redeem you, Israel!" - a play on the slogan "with spirit and blood we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa," which were chanted during Qadi Hulail's sermon.[5]

In response to the pro-Israel chants, Hilmi Al-Asmar, a columnist for the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour, attacked both the group that protested the visit by the Jordanian Qadi and the Irbid football fans: "Those who chant [slogans in favor of] a 'Jewish' Jerusalem, and those who disrupt [the sermon] of the [Jordanian] preacher in Jerusalem both deviate from the straight path... Regarding the latter group [who disrupted the sermon] at the Al-Aqsa Mosque... we will not forgive it for its actions under any circumstances."[6]

Fury In Jordan Over Reports That Jibril Rajoub Did Not Support Jordanian Prince's Bid For FIFA Presidency

As said, tension between Jordan and the PA escalated further following reports on May 29, 2015 that the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, had supported Joseph (Sepp) Blatter in the election for FIFA president instead of his Jordanian opponent, Prince 'Ali bin Hussein - the half-brother of King 'Abdallah. The reports quoted Rajoub as saying: "If the prince wins, I will have a heart attack,"[7] and included the picture of him celebrating with Blatter (see below).[8]


Image: Mobashernews.net, May 30, 2015 

These reports sparked widespread outrage in Jordan, both on social media and in official circles.[9] Especially prominent were the withering responses by Jordanian MPs. MP Muhammad Al-Zahrawi claimed that Rajoub was an embarrassment and a disgrace to Palestine and its people.[10] In a press release, MP Rudaina Al-'Ati also described Rajoub's position as "a disgrace" and said, "We should not accept any explanation from Rajoub or from the PA, which also appears to have avoided supporting Prince 'Ali. I therefore demand to ban Rajoub from entering Jordan."[11] MP Amjad Al-Maslamani also said that Rajoub was persona non grata and joined in calls to bar him from entering the country.[12] MP Hind Al-Fayez called Rajoub's actions treasonous, and said they placed him in a position hostile to the entire Arab world. She demanded that his Jordanian citizenship be used to bring him to justice in Jordan.[13] The head of the Jerusalem Association in Jordan, Hassan Abu Dalu, issued a communique stating that "Rajoub's actions harmed Palestine and are a black mark against him."[14]

The outrage at Rajoub's vote did lead to official Jordanian moves against him. When he requested to return to the West Bank via Jordan, he was informed in writing that his presence in Jordan was unwelcome. He was eventually permitted to enter under restrictive conditions, being required to travel directly from the 'Amman airport to the King Hussein border crossing.[15]

During the Jordanian parliament's session on June 3, 2015, three MPs called on Interior Minister Salameh Hammad to apply to Rajoub Jordan's 2012 decision on severing the connection with the West Bank and to revoke his Jordanian citizenship.[16] According to the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Jordan has begun the process of revoking his Jordanian citizenship and his passport and replacing it with a temporary travel permit.[17] An interior ministry official even submitted a query to the head of the Civil Status and Passport Department regarding Rajoub's citizenship in order to initiate the process of revoking it.[18]

Jordanian lawyer Yahya Al-Harout submitted a request to the general prosecutor in Amman to file a criminal complaint against Rajoub for harming national unity and proper relations among Jordanians.[19]


The query submitted by the interior ministry official regarding Rajoub's citizenship (image: Almustaqbal-a.com, June 2, 2015)

It should be mentioned that Rajoub's vote in the FIFA elections is unknown. According to Arab media, he admitted to voting for Blatter, saying: "My position on the elections for FIFA president is clear, and I have officially stated on several occasions that we support Joseph Blatter." He allegedly said further: "No sane person would find it reasonable that I am being blamed for [causing] Prince 'Ali's failure in the elections with my single vote, given that the gap between the candidates was 60 votes, not one."[20] However, Rajoub claimed that he had voted for Prince 'Ali and that the statement released under his name was fake and had been distributed by associates of his political rival Muhammad Dahlan: "There is a fake press release claiming that I supported Blatter... I voted for Prince 'Ali because I am an Arab... When Blatter came to Palestine on the eve of the elections and asked me to electioneer [for him], and asked me who I planned to vote for, I told him: I am an Arab, and he said: Message received."[21] 

'Abbas Attempts Reconciliation: Jordanians And Palestinians Are One People In Two Countries

In an attempt to ease the tensions surrounding the FIFA elections, Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas travelled to Jordan and visited the residence of Prince 'Ali, accompanied by Palestinian officials including intelligence chief General Majed Faraj.

After meeting with 'Ali, 'Abbas said: "This is a friendly meeting between Jordan and Palestine, which will continue to be as they have been: one people in two countries. Nothing will cloud [the relations] between them and we will remain brothers, no matter what. Jordan - from the king to the princes, officials, and people - will stand by us unconditionally forever... The bond will remain as it was and will last forever, until [Palestine] is liberated with the sponsorship of His Royal Highness and Jordan." Prince 'Ali said: Praise God, relations have remained the same. They (The Palestinians) are brothers..." Additionally, the Palestinian government issued a communique stating that it opposed "any attempt to tarnish the pure ties between Palestine and Jordan," and demanded to stand as one against "any attempt to damage the unwavering trust and the historic bond between the two leaderships and brethren peoples."[22] 

Jordanian Press: Tensions Between The Countries Persist

It should be mentioned that this tension joins the already-existing strain in the relations between official Jordanian and Palestinian circles in recent months; this, due to the Palestinian proposal to the UN Security Council in December 2014 to set a deadline for ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state, which Jordan claimed was made without proper coordination with it.

On May 10, 2015, prominent PA official Saeb Erekat met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in an attempt to ease the tensions, while addressing Jordan's role in managing the Palestinian issue and the peace process.[23] However, according to a May 23, 2015 report, Jordanian Prime Minister 'Abdallah Ensour expressed fear that his country would be blindsided by news that Israel and the Palestinians were negotiating in secret.[24]

The Qadi Hulail and Jibril Rajoub incidents sparked a new wave of criticism against the PA and rekindled the Palestinian-Jordanian tensions. Fahed Al-Khitan wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad: "The Al-Aqsa incident has once again cast a shadow of doubt on Jordanian-PA relations Experts on Jerusalem, and the bodies in charge of supervising the holy places [in Jerusalem] have investigated [this] incident in detail. However, the incident provided an opportunity to shed light on the state of the official ties between Jordan and the PA, which have been stagnating for six months, and continue to stagnate.

"Abu Mazen ['Abbas] attended the [May 2015] World Economic Forum that was held on the [Jordanian] shore of the Dead Sea, but in an unusual [development], we did not see a summit [between 'Abbas and Jordanian King 'Abdallah] during the conference, like the meetings he held with other leaders in attendance. Abu Mazen indeed attended [the forum], but as far as the Jordanians were concerned, it was as if he was not there at all, since even Prime Minister Dr. 'Abdallah Ensour did not meet with him, nor did Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. This [hiatus in the relations] is not new, for a meeting between the two sides was [last] held in 2013. This has caused many analysts and writers - myself included - to ponder and try to understand the cause of the dry spell [in the relations] between the two sides...

"Everything written on this topic is the truth, but not the whole truth. There is a hidden point of contention, or even several [points of contention], beyond those related to the PA's demand to recognize Palestine that was submitted to the Security Council last year, or the repeated [rumors] that Jordan rebuked Mahmoud [ÔÇÿAbbas] over remarks he allegedly made about Jordan. In 'Amman, as in Ramallah, people constantly wonder about the hidden reason behind this chill in the relations, but neither side is providing sufficiently convincing answers. When we ask officials about it, we receive polite diplomatic answers that are neither sufficient nor convincing. The embarrassment and confusion felt by those who follow this topic increased following the statement allegedly made by [Jordanian] Prime Minister Dr. 'Abdallah Ensour at the [World] Economic Forum, [namely] that he fears [the possibility] of a Palestinian-Israeli agreement in the style of the famous Oslo Accords.

"This statement was politically unjustified, and considering the extreme right-wing [Israeli] government, no one is expecting any solution of any kind to the Palestinian problem. Therefore, Ensour's statements were a clear indication of the depth of the crisis of distrust between Jordan and the PA. This is a rare and unprecedented situation in relations that have always been marked by trust and friendship. Jordanian diplomacy is governed by strict protocols, which make it hard to get a [Jordanian] official to speak explicitly on the true reasons for the schism. But the truly curious thing is the position of the Palestinian side, which is [generally] looser in this regard, but is equally silent [on this matter]. There was no expression of a loss of friendship made [by either side], aside from Abu Mazen's stony expression during the opening session of the economic forum."[25] 

Editorials: Relations Between Jordan, Palestinian Leadership Should Be Reexamined

Samih Ma'aytah, the former editor of the official Jordanian daily Al-Rai, also saw Rajoub's FIFA vote as a political act that rendered the PA untrustworthy. He wrote: "[The PA] is unworthy of our trust, either in football, or politics or in any other field... Rajoub was irresponsible, for what he did [expressed] a political position that represents the entire PA. [The PA] should apologize to its people and to every Jordanian and Arab. [But] even if there is an apology, they must not be trusted."

He continued: "The Palestinian Football Association's stand against Jordan in the FIFA elections... is a problem not for Jibril Rajoub... but rather for the PA, for its president Mahmoud 'Abbas, and for the elements represented by Rajoub... We cannot treat the Palestinian Football Association's hostility to Jordan and to the Prince as a position [related] to football or as a personal [opinion] of Rajoub's; rather, it is a political decision..."[26]

In another editorial, chief editor of the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour, Muhammad Hassan Al-Tal, harshly condemned Rajoub's vote and asked to reexamine Jordanian-PA relations in its wake. He claimed that Rajoub had "blatantly ignored all the symbols of the alliance between Jordan and Palestine and the joint interests and joint future, all for his personal interest and [because of his] mental illness." He added: "It is a disgrace that he represents Palestine with all its history, its struggle and the jihad of its sons and holy martyrs. A man like that in a prominent international institution [is a disgrace].

"However, the more important question is whether Jibril's position is really distinct from that of his political leadership. If his position [reflects theirs as well], then we in Jordan should reexamine our relations with the PA - but not with the Palestinian people, which is [a part] of us and we are [a part] of it...

"If he acted on his own, that is even worse, since we [face] an authority that presumes to rule the Palestinians and work diligently for their benefit, when in fact it can't even control one of its minor functionaries..."[27]

Journalist Safwat Haddadin published a scathing article calling to revoke the Jordanian citizenship of PA officials: "The PA hid behind one of its own in order to fling poison at Jordan... Like all countries of the world, [we believe that] those who do not respect Jordanian citizenship are unworthy of holding it. It is time for state institutions to review the rights granted to that group [the PA leadership] and take back what belongs to Jordan... The state should reexamine its relations with the PA. This requires it to immediately review the list of privileges and rights granted to PA [officials]."[28]  

* B. Shanee is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes: 

[1] This tension was manifested in the diminished frequency of 'Abbas' meetings with senior Jordanian officials since the vote on the resolution. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), May 4, 2015; Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 25, 2015.

[2] Raialyoumcom., May 22, 2015. In a press statement issued by Palestinian Hizb Al-Tahrir on the day of the sermon,  the organization attacked clerics who conduct visits to "occupied Jerusalem" that are coordinated with and approved by the Israeli authorities, saying that this  is a form of normalization with the occupation. Pal-tahrir.info, May 22, 2015.  Nevertheless, the organization denied that its members had attacked the Jordanian delegation, explaining that the incident occurred after one of the qadi's bodyguards beat up an elderly worshiper, sparking outrage among the sermon attendants. Alquds.co.uk, May 25, 2015. The Jordanian branch of the organization likewise denied any connection with the incident. Raialyoum.com, May 27, 2015. It should be noted that the spokesman of Fatah in Jerusalem, Raafat Alayan, said that Hizb Al-Tahrir members had desecrated Al-Aqsa and hurt the Qadi in response to incitement by Hamas. The latter movement opposes official visits to Jerusalem on the grounds that they constitute normalization. Qadi Hulail himself rejected these accusations against Hamas. Alquds.co.uk, May 24, 2015; palinfo.com, May 26, 2015.

[3] Samanews.com, May 24, 2015.

[4] Raialyoum.com, May 27, 2015. The article was also published on the pro-Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood website Albosala.com, May 27, 2015.

[5] Al-mustaqbal-a.com, May 23, 2015.

[6] Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 24, 2015.

[7] Ammonnews.net, May 29, 2015.

[8] Alwatanvoice.com, May 30, 2015.

[9] Zamanalwsl.net, May 30, 2015.

[10] Ammonnews.net, May 30, 2015.

[11] Ammonnews.net, May 30, 2015.

[12] Gerasanews.com, June 1, 2015.

[13] Alresalah.ps, May 31, 2015.

[14] Ammonnews.net, May 30, 2015.

[15] Almustaqbal-a.com, June 2, 2015.

[16] Amman1.net, June 3, 2015.

[17] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 2, 2015.

[18] Al-Hayat (London), June 2, 2015.

[19] Paltoday.ps, June 1, 2015.

[20] Al-Bayader.org, May 30, 2015.

[21] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), June 3, 2015.

[22] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 2, 2015.

[23] Raialyoum.com, May 12, 2015.

[24] Alwatanvoice.com, May 23, 2015.

[25] Al-Ghad (Jordan), June 8, 2015.

[26] Ammonnews.net, May 30, 2015.

[27] Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 31, 2015.

[28] Ammonnews.net, May 31, 2015.