By Winsome Packer, Staff Advisor
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mediterranean Partner, Jordan, hosted a U.S. House of Representatives staff delegation to Jordan, during June 30-July 8, 2007, on which the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was represented. The visit aimed to enhance understanding within the U.S. Congress of Jordan's role in promoting peace and security in the Middle East region, including the government’s efforts to combat terrorism, advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; promote security and political reconciliation in Iraq; and institute democratic and economic reforms internally. CSCE Chairman, Alcee L. Hastings currently serves as the Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, and strongly supports staff engagement with Jordanian leaders to further these efforts.
The OSCE and CSCE have long recognized that security concerns in the Mediterranean region bear upon European security and have considered the applicability of a Helsinki model for the region in various meetings and conferences. While recent years have seen a setback in Western efforts to advance peace and democratic values in the Middle East region as a whole, Jordan, which became an OSCE Mediterranean Partner in 1998, continues to make strides in both areas, through the government’s commitment to achieving security and prosperity for its people.
Addressing the congressional staff delegation, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, David Hale outlined U.S. priorities in Jordan: (1) resolving the situation in Iraq; (2) furthering efforts toward a two state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians; (3) addressing the Iranian threat; and (4) supporting the Jordanian reform agenda (political, social, and economic). Highlighting Jordan’s role as one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East region, the Ambassador noted that Jordan collaborates with the United States in pursuing a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; working toward stability, security, and the integration on Sunni leaders in the Iraqi government; and combating terrorism.
Ambassador Hale offered that that the U.S. is committed to a two state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians. He said that King Abdullah is concerned about the crumbling of the peace process, but Jordanians feel that the peace process bodes favorably for them because of their historical role and location.
Ambassador Hale underscored Jordan’s security concerns and the country’s efforts to improve border security. He explained that the security concerns stem from the influx of Iraqi refugees, foreign labor, and other elements crossing into Jordan, adding that while Jordan has benefited economically from redevelopment and security initiatives in Iraq, the refugee situation has added to education, health care, and housing demands and increased security concerns. The Ambassador further elaborated that within the region, there is greater concern regarding security threats on the Israeli-Syrian border, and that the U.S. is providing border security assistance to Jordan in the form of funding, training and technology. Ambassador Hale also expressed concern regarding the Iranian threat to regional security. He noted that while the division of Iraq is not a foregone conclusion, there is broad concern that Iran would be the winner in such a scenario.
Peace and Security Concerns: Jordanian Perspectives
The Israeli-Palestinian issue and the situation in Iraq dominated the staff delegation’s meetings with members of the Jordanian Parliament and other leaders in the government. During official meetings, Jordanian leaders emphasized to the visiting staff delegation that peace and security in the region hinges foremost, upon a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. was repeatedly criticized for not exercising adequate leadership and effort to help bring a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict.
Broad concerns were expressed by members of the Jordanian government that the U.S. is not listening to the advice offered by regional leaders in addressing problems in the Middle East. Jordanian Prime Minister, Dr. Marouf Bakhit, pointed out that while Jordan shares with the U.S. the goal of a stable and secure Middle East, the U.S. does not give adequate weight to advice from leaders in the region. Dr. Bakhit said that the Palestinian-Israeli issue is the central security concern in the Middle East and the major source of problems between the U.S. and countries in the region. He observed that the U.S. resorted to military tools in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and has remained fixated on military tools, rather than a mixture of political and economic instruments, as they had expected. He continued that there is concern that an anti-Western feeling due to the unjust treatment of the Palestinians is growing, and that there is a perception that the West (U.S.) maintains a double standard where Israel is concerned. He said that this issue has never been addressed and it is fueling resentment.
Prime Minister Bakhit told the staff delegation that he was concerned that Iran is the strongest player in Iraq and about the influence of Iranian proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, on regional stability. Dr. Bakhit added that the Islamist parties have 17 out of the 110 seats in the Jordanian Parliament and expressed his optimism that this was due to their “moderate behavior” and participation in the political process. The Prime Minister spoke favorably of the upcoming municipal elections (occurred on 7/31, but the Islamists parties boycotted the elections).
The Prime Minister expressed satisfaction with Jordanian-Israeli relations since the signing of the peace agreement between the two countries. He added that the major issue between Jordan and Israel was the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which lies at the heart of the broader Middle East issues. He further said that Israelis and Arabs should both be blamed for not pushing forward by adopting the Arab Initiative, which in his view, would have addressed collective security concerns. Dr. Bakhit said that the Arabs did not adequately market/explain the initiative to the Israeli public. He contended that the U.S. is circumventing the issue by talking about democratization and while “everybody is pushing Abu Masem (President Abbas), everybody is letting him down.” The Prime Minister concluded that perhaps the present situation suits Israel best because the Palestinians are weaker.
Members of the Jordanian Senate and House of Representatives added their criticism of the U.S. for not adequately considering advice from Middle East leaders. Several senators, including Senator Leila Sharaf, said that the approaches adopted by the U.S. came from external viewpoints, and that the policies being implemented to address regional problems are not appropriate. As a result, issues such as Iraq and Palestinian conflict for example, are becoming more complicated. Senator Sharaf warned that if the Palestinian problem was not tackled in the appropriate manner and with urgency, the U.S. would see a greater crisis in the region.
Concerns were also expressed regarding the Palestinian leadership and the security situation in the West Bank. Senator Sharaf stated that President Abbas will have to demonstrate that the moderates are right; that lip service to this effect will not suffice; and that those promising aid to the Palestinian Authority must act soon. She warned that President Abbas will have to deliver real results. It was further stated that support for President Abbas would likely increase as he returns to the Peace Process.
Criticism was directed at Israel for not releasing all of the Palestinian Authority funds that the Israeli Government is holding and for imprisoning more than 11,000 Palestinians. Concern was also raised regarding the security situation in the West Bank (which they reported, is also a worry to the Israelis). It was also pointed out that Jordan offered a Palestinian security force that they trained to address this concern five years ago, and that the Israelis promised to consider the matter, but failed to act on it. One Senator stated in strong terms that “the Palestinians are the only people who are still under occupation.” He said that “incursions by an occupying country creates instability,” and has led to a rise in fundamentalism. He reiterated that addressing the Palestinian crisis was the most pressing priority and that a failure to do so is hampering U.S. relations with people in Jordan and the region. He further argued that the money being spent fighting terrorism would be better used for investing in the country. In his view, this would be tackling the reasons that terrorism exists, rather than focusing on its symptoms. Stating that the image of the U.S. is steadily deteriorating, he urged that the U.S. reexamine its foreign policy and support the Arab Peace Initiative.
The strongest criticism of the U.S. pertained to the situation in Iraq. Members of the Jordanian House and Senate criticized the U.S. for dismantling the Iraqi army and other security infrastructure as well as government institutions. The House Speaker pointed out that anyone that wanted a job under Saddam Hussein’s regime had to be a member of the Baath Party (but was not necessarily a Hussein supporter). He stressed that the U.S. alone could not bring security to Iraq and that the Iraqis themselves have to do so, but that the current Iraqi government resisted rehiring those that were let go, who could help to improve security. The Speaker said that the U.S. is in a very bad position in Iraq; the conflict has become bigger than Iraq; and the instability in the region is affecting commerce as well as the social and political dynamics. He characterized the Iraqi government as weak, noting that Iraq’s military is incapable of defeating the armed militias. In fact, he said, some of the Iraqi forces are militia members themselves.
Concerns about adverse Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon were also raised. In decrying the many mistakes made by the U.S. in Iraq, including treating the Sunnis as though they were the legitimate leaders, the House Speaker observed that Iran has a very strong influence in Iraq. He argued that the Shias’ underdog status benefited Iran and that the U.S. actions, in this regard, fulfilled the Iranian government’s desire to be a major player in the region. The Speaker advised that the U.S. schedule a withdrawal of its forces as part of a package, including aid to military and other security forces, as well as reconciliation efforts that include all factions. He expressed confidence that a willingness for conciliation exists among Iraqis. He also cautioned that the U.S. withdrawal will bring added dangers as killings increase, Turkey becomes involved, and Iran increases its involvement. On Lebanon, the Speaker expressed concern regarding the ongoing conflict among the various factions. He said that external forces were preventing the Lebanese from reaching agreement.
The issues of the approximately one million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and the related economic burden on the Jordanian government were also raised. One speaker stated that while some of the refugees had resources to invest, they do not pay taxes in Jordan. The level of U.S. financial support to Jordan was called insufficient, in comparison to that provided to Israel and Egypt. It was argued that Jordan needs support for its armed forces and police as well as in efforts to combat arms and drug trafficking, economic development, and water projects.
The leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) in the Parliament argued that the Iraq situation illuminated the lies of the U.S. government regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. He maintained that the U.S. invaded Iraq for oil and for Israel, and criticized the result of U.S. actions in Iraq: one million Iraqis killed; U.S. division of Iraq; and the sectarian violence. He said that the U.S. must set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq. The IAF leader contended that the instability in Iraq is affecting Jordan and its economy, including trade with Lebanon.
Noting, “We don’t hate Americans,” the head of the IAF followed that “we hate Zionists.” He charged that U.S. government is biased in favor of the Israelis; the U.S. supports Israeli aggression; and that the U.S. policies and lack of compassion for the Palestinians creates hatred toward Americans. He stated that “people don’t accept Israelis in the region, although regimes deal with them.” He further criticized the U.S. for calling for democracy, then refusing to accept the results of the Palestinian elections. He said “the U.S. wants democracy according to its own terms, not according to the will of the people.” He argued that these actions undermine the United States’ image in the region
The staff delegation also met with Prince Feisal, who addressed Jordanian homeland security concerns, and Queen Rania, who noted that the human aspect of the Palestinian issue must be given attention. Prince Feisal observed that today’s concept of homeland security is more comprehensive, incorporating regional cooperation in combating terrorism and the trafficking of weapons into Jordan. He praised Jordan’s cooperation with the U.S. in intelligence sharing, noting that there is greater reliance on technology and information sharing. He added that Jordan has been targeted by Al Qaeda inside and outside of Iraq “because of differences in opinion.” He stated that extremist elements, such as Hamas continue to attempt to push weapons and people into Jordan while working to create allies inside the country. Queen Rania offered that while she understood that Hamas is not an entity with which people want to work, the reality is that a significant percentage of the Palestinian people are living under their control and under the poverty threshold. She added that Fatah will have to demonstrate the ability to deliver and get rid of corrupt elements. The queen said that that the radicals are using the Palestinian situation to spread their message and that all of the radical forces in the region are linked. Noting that today, the U.S. is viewed as a super power in decline, she advised that the U.S. exercise care in how it views the world and how it employs its power.