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Political climate in Jordan boiling

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What is going on in Jordan? For some time, the political climate in the kingdom has been boiling.

In the last six months, King Abdullah has been forced to change his government three times, but demonstrations against the monarch continue. Luckily for him, there is no immediate danger of his overthrow.

The reasons for the constant tension in the kingdom are abundant: unemployment, high cost of living, a rise in the power of the Islamists and the struggle between the Bedouins and the Palestinians, who constitute a majority in the country.

But the real, unspoken reason is the most important one: A demand that Jordan move to a system of government similar to that of Great Britain, where the government is answerable to the parliament and not to the monarch. Should Abdullah yield to such a demand, he would lose real power.

This demand is raised by the Islamists and the Palestinians, and less so by the Bedouins, who remain the strongest supporters of the king.

As expected, the peace with Israel is also among the subjects demonstrators in Jordan raise on every occasion.

The fact that Fayez Taraouneh, the incumbent prime minister, negotiated and signed the peace treaty with Israel is only adding to the tension.

Taraouneh's wife is a Palestinian from Jaffa, but this does not diminish the opposition to his government.

In an effort to reduce tension, King Abdullah tried to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. With U.S. blessings, King Abdullah invited delegates from Israel and the West Bank to discuss peace. He had hoped for high-level representation, but both sides sent low-level delegates with no real mandate to tackle the tough issues of peace. The effort failed.

The ball is now back in the hands of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It appears both sides understand there can be no real progress before the U.S. presidential elections in November.

The chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, had wanted to initiate an independent move at the UN, where the General Assembly could recognize the Palestinian Authority as a "non-member state."

Following a long telephone conversation with U.S President Barack Obama, however, Abbas agreed to "freeze" the move until after the presidential elections.

In an effort to keep some kind of peace activity, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to resume their peace talks.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, meanwhile, was scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence. At the last minute, however, Fayyad did not show up and sent instead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who handed Netanyahu a personal letter from Mahmoud Abbas.

The letter repeated all the known Palestinians demands and was not seen as a "breakthrough." Netanyahu promised an early reply.

In the meantime, Netanyahu's father died and his answer was delayed. As a goodwill gesture, both Abbas and Fayyad wrote to Netanyahu and expressed their regrets. This gesture was well-received in Jerusalem.

On Saturday, Netanyahu sent his reply to Abbas. Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said Netanyahu's reply did not meet the Palestinian expectations.

The Israeli reply did not address the core issues of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Jerusalem issue and the release of prisoners.

Netanyahu called for the resumption of the negotiations "without preconditions."

The formation of a new national unity government in Israel last week has opened new hope for progress in the peace process. In a surprise move, and with the active mediation of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, both Netanyahu and the new leader of Kadima party, Shaoul Mofaz, formed the broadest national unity government in Israel's history.

It comprises 27 Likud members and 28 Kadima members. Together with the other coalition partners, the new government enjoys the support of 94 out of 120 Knesset members.

In its 64 years of existence, Israel has never had such a broad-based government, which could neutralize the power of the religious parties, and Israel Beitenu, who commands the Russian vote.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to seize on this development. In congratulating Netanyahu for his achievement, Clinton argued that henceforth Netanyahu has total freedom of action and is no longer vulnerable to political extortion. She urged Netanyahu to use his unparalleled majority to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace immediately after the November presidential elections.

Thus, Israel is gearing itself for a "hot fall."


Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free

Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2012 A11

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.


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