Turmoil surrounds Aqaba meeting
|Saturday, April 29,2006 00:00|
|By United Press International, (UPI)|
It was a warm, clear and sunny day in the Jordanian Red Sea resort of Aqaba Saturday as King Abdullah II hosted talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the monarch`s beach-front palace. But the political and security backdrop of these summit talks was hardly as luminous as the setting on this beautiful day.
The meeting in southern Jordan came amid growing turmoil and terrorism in the region and as Arab leaders` anxieties over the fate of their regimes continue to grow.
It came five days after a triple attack in the Egyptian tourist resort of Dahab in the Sinai killed about 30 people and injured at least 70 others and a few days after a failed attack by two suicide bombers targeting international peacekeepers and police in the Sinai Peninsula. The deadly attacks in Dahab were the third in the Sinai in less than two years.
Last November, an al-Qaida triple suicide attack targeting hotels the Jordanian capital, Amman, left 60 civilians dead and 100 others wounded.
In August last year, a triple Katyusha rocket attack in Aqaba City targeted but missed an American warship docked in the Gulf, landing instead on a military depot that killed a Jordanian soldier and injured another. A second rocket landed outside a local military hospital and a third fell in the nearby Israeli resort town of Eilat, but no one was hurt. This attack was also claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
But al-Qaida is not the only thorn in the side of Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to have signed unpopular peace treaties with Israel. A new one has emerged with the rise of the Palestinian Islamic Hamas movement to power in the Palestinian territories.
Speaking to journalists after the Abdullah-Mubarak talks, the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers, Abdul Ilah Khatib and Ahmad Abul Ghait respectively, did not hide their intention to isolate the Hamas government.
They stressed their sole recognition of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as head of the Palestinian Authority, saying they will deal with him to find ways to provide economic support to the Palestinians and that the PA was the authorized Palestinian party to negotiate with Israel.
Abbas arrives in Amman later Saturday and is due to hold talks with King Abdullah on Monday.
Pretending as if it does not exist, the top diplomats ditched specific questions regarding the Hamas government and how their countries intend to deal with it. Ignoring the Hamas issue, analysts say, is an indication that King Abdullah and President Mubarak may have sealed an agreement not to recognize the Hamas government.
Initially, Jordan and Egypt welcomed the election of Hamas in the January elections, which took away power from Abbas` Fatah faction, as the democratic choice of the people.
But when Hamas, the acronym for the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, failed to form a coalition government and created a Hamas-dominated Cabinet, the Jordanian and Egyptian governments shifted more clearly towards the U.S.-led Western pressure on the Palestinians.
The United States and European Union froze all their aid to the Palestinian Hamas government as leverage to push it to meet their conditions to recognize the state of Israel, renounce violence and endorse the agreements reached with Israel.
While Arab countries refused to openly submit to withholding assistance to the Palestinians, Arab, regional and international banks are not releasing millions of dollars of aid from oil-rich Arab Gulf countries to the Palestinians to avoid U.S. sanctions since Washington sees Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Further isolating Hamas, Jordan and Egypt recently snubbed Palestinian Foreign Minister and prominent Hamas figure Mahmoud Zahar who was touring the region to gather political and financial support.
The Jordanian government cancelled a scheduled visit for Zahar to Amman after it accused Hamas leaders in Damascus of smuggling weapons and rockets into the kingdom and allegedly seeking to target Jordanian officials. Hamas categorically denied the charges, saying they acknowledge that Jordan and Egypt are the only two gateways for the West Bank and Gaza Strip and would never undermine their security.
Jordan`s Foreign Minister Khatib insisted Saturday the confiscation of the weapons did not and will not affect the kingdom`s strong relations with the PA and deep links with the Palestinian people.
But the Jordanian weapons allegations, whether true or not, virtually feeds into the Western description of Hamas as a terrorist group, rather than a legitimate resistance organization as Jordan and the rest of the Arabs officially view it.
In the meantime, Jordanian officials privately say, Amman and Cairo are trying to push the Hamas government to sanction the peace initiative adopted at the Beirut Arab summit in 2002 that offered Israel peace and normal relations in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it occupied in 1967.
Arab analysts predicted that should Hamas make that leap by accepting the Arab initiative - which would be a de facto recognition of the Jewish state and endorsement for a peaceful settlement - it will likely disprove Jordan and Egypt`s theory that such a move would eliminate Israeli pretexts it has been using to avoid resuming the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.
They say the new Israeli government being formed, led by Kadima Party leader Ehud Olmert, seems adamant on following through with a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and to annex the main Jewish settlements; unilaterally determining the borders dividing Israel and Palestine without negotiations and dropping all the national Palestinian rights according to U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Amman and Cairo`s attempts to neutralize Hamas, however, is not just related to their peace with Israel and the generous financial and political U.S. ’rewards’ they received for welcoming the Jewish state.
Analysts say the Jordanian and Egyptian regimes are terrified of the effect of Hamas` rise to power - despite its struggle to survive amid internal, regional and international strain - on the Islamic movements in their own countries.
A Hamas government successfully ruling the Palestinian territories could further empower the mainstream Islamic movements in Egypt and Jordan, where the influential Muslim Brotherhood poses the largest and most-organized opposition force that could ultimately weaken their regimes.
But if these two Arab governments push Hamas harder towards isolation and failure, they risk being exposed at home and by the rest of the Arabs as contributing to the further deterioration of conditions in the Palestinian territories and appear as enemies to a democratically-elected government.
That`s why they view their attempt to find ways not to starve the Palestinians by maintaining a strong alliance with Abbas, while simultaneously ostracizing the Hamas government, is the balance that will keep them from falling off this tightrope.