The Ongoing PA-Hamas Rivalry
On December 18, 2018, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas met with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Amman. According to our sources in Ramallah, the main reason for the meeting was a request from Abbas to the Jordanian king to help him with his efforts to prevent Hamas from solidifying its separation from the West Bank and to reinforce Abbas’ position that Ramallah is the only address for both Gaza and the West Bank.
These sources claim King Abdullah listened to Abbas and supported his position. However, the king asked the PA chairman not to rush to take further steps against Hamas.
Abbas felt a need to coordinate this issue with Jordan after Egypt drifted toward Hamas and took steps to establish Hamas as the main address for Gaza. On this issue, Egypt’s policy was closer to that of Qatar and Israel rather than that of Ramallah.
Both Jordan and the PA Face Domestic Protests
But this is only one of a number of complex issues faced by both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Perhaps the most important of these issues is the growing unrest in Amman and Ramallah caused by economic pressures. Just prior to the recent Hamas terror operations in the Ramallah district, an increasing number of protests were held in the center of Ramallah against the new PA social security legislation. The same phenomenon is also apparent in Amman, where demonstrations are now taking place on a daily basis. Until recently, such action was mostly confined to the Bedouin periphery.
While they can’t help each other very much in practical terms, Abbas and King Abdullah can at least brainstorm together on ways to meet these challenges.
Abdullah Kept Abbas Waiting for Three Days in Amman
At the same time, Mahmoud Abbas was in the Jordanian capital for three days before he received an invitation to meet with King Abdullah, which may indicate that not everything is smooth between the two leaders.
This did not go unnoticed in east Jerusalem. According to sources there, Jordan does not like the aggressive course of action that Mahmoud Abbas has taken against Israel in Jerusalem. Here, King Abdullah is more concerned that the aggressive stance of the new Fatah leadership is also directed against Jordan’s interests, and the old Jordanian establishment has been put under pressure by the extra fervor of the new Fatah activists.
According to Ramallah sources, Abbas spent time in Amman to align his strategy with Palestinian National Council (PNC) speaker Salim Zanoun about convening a new session of the PNC in Ramallah after the originally scheduled session was delayed. This delay was caused by the unwillingness of other “organizations” to participate in decisions to issue further punitive resolutions against Hamas. Yet while they refrained from attending the PNC meeting in Ramallah, in Gaza these organizations solidified their relations with Hamas.
Jordan and the PLO share several joint interests that require their mutual cooperation. Abbas told Zanoun that Jordan needs to remain in a stable situation because the stability of the East Bank contributes to stability on the West Bank, and vice versa.
Is Saudi Arabia Seeking a Presence at Al-Aqsa Mosque?
Another important point of shared concern is the improving relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia that may eventually lead to Israel allowing Saudi Arabia a presence at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
I do not believe that Saudi Arabia is interested in getting involved, but some time ago, a Waqf employee expressed concern about this to me. The Waqf truly believes that Saudi Arabia is going to have a presence in Jerusalem, and they want to coordinate on how to meet this challenge, whether it is true or not.
Another looming issue for both is U.S. President Trump’s policy toward Palestinian refugees. If Palestinian refugees lose their refugee status at the United Nations, the PLO’s raison d’être will disappear. At the same time, the danger of compelling Jordan to absorb the refugees, granting them full citizenship, will tip the demographic balance in that country against the interests of the Bedouin.
Although the situation in Gaza was the ostensible reason for Mahmoud Abbas’ request to meet with King Abdullah, the agenda for their meeting included other crucial issues that deeply affect both of them.