Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nice try, but it won't work

It is widely recognized that the base of the Islamist movement in Jordan is strongly rooted with Jordanians with Palestinian origins. Thus, much of the defense of Hamas last year when the arms smuggling case broke came from this perspective. Many people, even who don’t identify with the Islamists, viewed Hamas as a legitimate resistance organization that had not been tainted with Arab or Palestinian blood. Recent events in Gaza changed this myth for most.

So, in an interesting turn of events, the head of Hamas, Khaled Mish’al has met with Nahid Hattar. In their meeting, Mish’al told Hattar what he wanted to hear: Hamas loves Jordan, and is grateful for King Hussein saving his life; Hamas can become a gateway for Jordanian influence in Palestine; the peace process is at dead end and the liquidation of the Palestinian cause is a grave threat to Jordan; and hardships imposed by Israel on the Palestinians will lead to mass displacement from the occupied territories towards Jordan. He also admitted involvement in the smuggling of weapons to Jordan, but said that they were only destined to be transported to the West Bank (yeah, right).

Hattar, like many East Bank Jordanians, worries about changing the character of the state in a way that decreases the influence of traditional power structures that purport to defend East Bank Jordanian interests. So, playing on this, Misha’al told him that he is totally against the calls for increasing Palestinian Jordanian political representation, as Adnan Abu Odeh continues to do.

Now, Mish’al continues to hold a Jordanian passport. Moreover, Hamas and Jordanian Islamists still call the 1988 disengagement unconstitutional, and demand its revocation. So, basically, Mish’al has sold off his Palestinian Jordanian constituency, with all their demands, in favor of trying to appease and woo East Bankers for their support. I suppose this started with Hamas’ demand to break organizational links with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. However, the depth of cynicism and political opportunism has never been more on display. Machiavelli would be proud.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Damage control

The bellicose rhetoric that accompanied with yesterday’s disastrous dealing with the residents of South Shuneh changed to a more conciliatory tone today. In an attempt to explain the government’s position, the prime minister resorted to trying and confuse the issue. He held a meeting with the heads of the major daily newspapers, and later an unnamed source told the press that the campaign included not only South Shuneh, but other areas including Lubban (the tribal area of the minister of interior, Eid Fayez), the Kfarrat area (in the north, on the Yarmouk River), South Shuneh, Azraq and other areas in the eastern desert.

The unnamed source talked about forcing people to pay their water and electricity bills, and about a scam to forge land deeds to sell land illegally. Don’t ask me what the forgery case has to do with anything, because I don’t know. As for collecting water and electricity bills, I think that Jordan is the only country in the world where bulldozers are used to punish people who don’t pay. Gulp. I’d better make sure that I’ve paid mine. The statement talks about outlaws in the area, as if the destruction of farms is related to capturing gangs.

It is true that some large tribal land owners use large amounts of water and electricity, and use thugs to intimidate the bill collectors so they don’t pay. If the government can get them to pay, well, good for them. However, the statement dishonestly implies that this is the issue in South Shuneh.

In South Shuneh the issues are unlawful use of land and the drilling of wells without license. The government statement claims that of 470 wells, 85 have been retroactively licensed. Attention was pointed to one relatively large farm (300 dunums) and ignored the fact that most of the farms destroyed were small lots. The government now says that they want to “alleviate the hardship of 45 families that may have been harmed”. How nice, destroy their livelihoods and then give them handouts. The damage has been done, and no number of press statments will change anything.

In principle, the law should be enforced. Mixing the case of the wealthy landlords with that of the poor farmers who had their lived bulldozed before the government realized the implications (if they care) is disingenuous. A more humane approach should have been used and a legal settlement should have been sought. This should not have happened in Jordan.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Double standards, arrogance, stupidity and meanness

A battle between residents of South Shuneh in the Jordan Valley and security forces was barely averted yesterday. The government had destroyed farms, homes and infrastructure that were illegally built on government land. The Minister of Interior is insisting that the rule of law needs to be upheld. Presumably, he doesn't mind blood being shed to do it.

After failing in their “anti-corruption” drive, the government started looking for villains in poor people trying to get by, as they seem unwilling or unable to get to the real crooks ripping off the country. Now, I have a number of problems with this. Nowhere have I read that there were any judicial proceedings were conducted before destroying the livelihoods of hundreds or thousands of families. Also, the alleged transgressions on government land took place over many years, and have taken on a de facto status. Insisting on reversing these transgressions should be gradual and with a more compassionate approach. These people are not thieves. They are farmers who are trying to make a living. If the government is so insistent on its property rights, it would have not allowed these transgressions to take place to begin with.

Nahid Hattar points out that had a foreign investor wanted to build a farm in this land, he would have been greeted with open arms. I would add that as part of the peace treaty, the government found a way to keep Israeli farmers (who also took the land illegally) on Jordanian land through a 99 year lease. If Israeli farmers can be accommodated, surely Jordanian farmers should be afforded similar concessions.

UPDATE: Ammon News is now reporting that one person was killed and four police were wounded in the latest clash.