6 March 2011
Mudar Zahran is a Palestinian Jordanian who fled Jordan and currently resides in England. A former political insider, he is very critical of the Hashemite regime in Jordan both vis-à-vis its treatment of its majority Palestinian population and in its belligerent attitude towards Israel. He is convinced that the Hashemites are an impediment to a resolution of the Palestinian issue and hence to regional security.
Zahran’s English articles have been published by the Hudson Institute and the Jerusalem Post.
The following interview reveals a picture of Jordan unknown to most outsiders. Equally important, the ideas and suggestions of Zahran provide some hope for the future of the troubled region.
YM: To most outsiders Jordan is considered somewhat modern and pro-western. Is this assessment true?
MZ: Not at all, Jordan is a dictatorship whose rulers have always posed as modernizers while they are indeed dictators. Jordan is not a peace-loving regime either.
King Hussein engaged in all wars against Israel and only gave up when he knew he could not beat Israel at war. Today his son exhibits serious hostility against Israel and shows strong closeness towards Hamas. For some reason all this goes under the media radar screen….not sure why.
YM: When you say “dictatorship” do you mean like Iraq under Saddam Hussein or Syria during the time of Hafez al-Assad?
MZ: Yes, only with a much lower level of brutality. While those two used killing and imprisonment whenever they could, the Hashemites kill and imprison only when they need to. Meanwhile the king is a sole ruler. You can go to jail for three years for merely criticizing the state or the king and the parliament is a joke. One man rules, only this man speaks good English and appears on daily television shows.
YM: Is there freedom of expression in either the media or in the academic world?
MZ: Not at all. For example, according to Human Rights Watch (in Arabic) a Jordanian professor faced a court martial for asking her students to remove the king’s photo from the classroom while Reporters Without Borders has labeled Jordan as a country without real freedom.
However it’s more complex. For example most Bedouins can criticize anything as long as they do not directly bad-mouth the king while a Palestinian would think twice before asking a policeman for directions. So just like in Syria a small minority is ruling an oppressed majority. In this case the majority Palestinians do not have any form of freedom and would not even dare go to the police station to file a report if harassed or abused by a Jordanian.
YM: Is there a difference between the father, King Hussein, and his son, King Abdullah? Was the father more liberal and open than the son?
MZ: The father was way more tolerant than the son and he never bothered the Palestinian population. The son however is totally different. Unlike his father, he has developed a strong lobby in Washington D.C. which allows him to get away with a lot. He is very anti-Israel and constantly speaks against Israel in the government controlled media and he is playing with the basic rights of his Palestinian citizens.
YM: Is his anti-Israel behavior any different than other Arab rulers? Even in Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, there was/is much anti-Semitism. Thus for an Arab ruler to be anti-Israel or perhaps anti-Semitic does not seem so strange.
MZ: Anti-Semitism is the scapegoat for Arab dictators; everything that goes wrong in their countries is a “Zionist plot”. Yet in the case of Jordan, the King has been de-naturalizing his Palestinian majority, taking away passports and citizenship from the Palestinians and ordering them to “go home to Palestine”. The king’s old guards, who hate Israel, claim this is a method to “turn the demographic bomb on Israel”. At the same time Jordan uses this demographic threat as a way to request more aid money in the name of “hosting” the Palestinians. In other words Jordan thinks it can blackmail both Israel and the US by playing with the Palestinians who comprise the vast majority of the Jordanian population. This is unacceptable and this is political terrorism.
Also the King does a good job demonizing Israel. He called it a state like North Korea in the New York Times and he went to the UN, amid the Palestinian Israeli talks six months ago, and openly said that unless Israel stops settlements “there will be war”. This of course puts the pressure on Abbas since if he caves in on the settlement demand he will look like a traitor. Jordan has a done a great deal in complicating the peace process and it has always played one card, the demographic card.
YM: What would you suggest vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian issue? What should Jordan do?
MZ: Why is there a Palestinian issue now? Why do most Palestinians who live in Jordan have to feel like refugees and actually be asked to go back “home”? Jordan has been excluding its Palestinian majority from jobs, government positions and even from joining the police force and now practices serious apartheid policies against them in education, medical treatment, etc. The results are the Palestinians are constantly feeling as outsiders in their country thus bringing up the so-called right of return issue, which just complicates the peace process as it is not feasible or legally acceptable. Jordan has been blackmailing everyone with the right of return threat and even in 1993, according to Yacub Beri’s book (in Arabic) My Mission as an Intelligence Officer, demanded 40 billion dollars in exchange for “hosting” the Palestinians.
Furthermore, Jordan should stop its ties and communications with Hamas. A senior Jordanian official, a military field marshal, went into Gaza just six weeks ago and met with Haniyeh. What does this say? Even more, the Jordanian king held talks with Hamas in 2008. This was orchestrated by his intelligence chief Muhammad Dahabi. When Muhammad Dahabi retired, he was quoted in a Lebanese newspaper as saying “Arab countries should revive resistance against Israel, and support Hamas and Hezbollah”. This man was the chief coordinator for counter-terrorism efforts with US and Israel…what does this tell you?
YM: So you’re saying that the King is encouraging Palestinian Jordanians to leave Jordan and move to the other side of the Jordan River in order to “flood” Israel. Do I understand correctly?
MZ: Yes. Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Nayef al-Qadi defended an official policy of stripping Jordanians of Palestinian heritage of their citizenship, a policy that has resulted in the denaturalization of more than 2,700 so far according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch. In an interview with a London-based Arabic newspaper, Qadi said that “Jordan should be thanked for standing up against Israeli ambitions of clearing the Palestinian land of its people” which he described as “the secret Israeli aim to impose a solution of Palestinian refugees at the expense of Jordan.”
YM: So where exactly is “Palestine”? Is it west of the Jordan River or is Jordan also Palestine?
MZ: What we should apply here is the law. The international law under the League of Nations identified Palestine as the area between the Mediterranean and the desert of Iraq. Maps say so and that is where all things started with international law. Jews were promised all of this under international law, and then the Arabs were given two thirds of it. Then the Hashemites occupied the land and changed its name and now they are claiming the Palestinians who moved there from Israel are not Jordanians. Let me put it this way. Peace can never be achieved without democratizing Jordan where the Palestinians can have full rights and their own government. Unless that happens there shall always be issues like the so called right of return. Now what is not Palestinian in Jordan? Amman is more Palestinian than Ramallah. The only un-Palestinian thing in Jordan is the king and his family, a group of 50 people.
YM: Let’s assume tomorrow you or someone like you is running Jordan. What would you suggest regarding the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria?
MZ: Jordanians are overtaxed to finance the king’s lavish style. Thus the minute he leaves Jordan, the country will be better off economically which will enable Jordanians to enjoy a thriving economy. Presently the king of Jordan spends 40 percent of the budget on the army for an unknown reason. Once that changes and Jordan is reduced to an army of machine guns and humvees the economy will light up and then the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be given the chance to move to Jordan if they wish. Last year alone thirty thousand Palestinians moved to Jordan even though the Jordanian government does not allow them to do so.
YM: Truth is the region would probably have more stability if Israel had sovereignty from the Sea to the River and Jordan was to become Palestine. No?
MZ: I cannot comment on that yet I can tell you this much. A democratized Jordan where the Palestinian majority gets their rights and where money is spent on economy rather than a big army and where the Jordan River is a good fence – good fences make good neighbors – that alone can establish peace in the Middle East.
Also, some argue that a Palestinian state in Jordan or democracy in Jordan would bring Palestinians to power that would fight Israel. My answer is look at the group trained by General Dayton. That was clear proof that there are Palestinians willing to seriously fight terrorism. There is also evidence on the ground of Palestinians in power willing to promote cooperation with Israel. The old theory that the Palestinians, if empowered in Jordan, will just fight Israel…that theory is outdated. Also, what is safer, a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria or in Jordan?
YM: I agree that a Palestinian state in Jordan is safer. However, remember that in the 2006 elections the Palestinians voted in Hamas. Who is to say that something similar wouldn’t happen if there were democratic elections in Jordan?
MZ: At this point the Palestinians in Jordan are not yet seeking full democracy since they are not necessarily ready or able to choose democracy. What the Palestinians in Jordan need is to take part in education, business, economy, army, government jobs and simply not to be harassed all the time. Make them feel at home and establish a state run by the right type of Palestinians who value peace.
Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, they would not come to power if free elections were held in Jordan today. That is a myth, a sort of scare tactic, which the Hashemites have been promoting. Also, the Palestinians voted for Hamas, even Christian Palestinians did, in order to get rid of the PA which is a corrupt regime that is impoverishing them. The Palestinians in Jordan will enjoy a great economy that revolves around peace and is joined by the hip to Israel. Thus they will think twice before they vote for the Islamists.
YM: It sounds good but how can this happen? Is it feasible? Do people support what you’re saying?
MZ: Yes. I have been receiving unbelievable support from Palestinians, people stopping my dad in the streets of Amman, telling him your son is a hero and I also have a group of intellectuals around me working against the Hashemites.
Regarding implementation, it’s simple. Unlike Egypt, Libya or even Tunisia, all the US has to do is press the “Stop Aid/Support button” and Abdullah will be gone. In other words once the Americans say, “Abdullah you’re a dictator, we are not funding you or supporting you any more”, he will be gone within a few days. Only reason he is in power is that he is supported by the US
YM: You mentioned support of some academics. As I’m sure you know a lot of the academic world is very anti-Israel. This being the case, who actually supports you?
MZ: Some Palestinian intellectuals and academics subscribe to my doctrine of Palestinians having full rights in Jordan. Also, a large amount of Palestinians have exhibited serious support even when I wrote articles for the Jerusalem Post. That should tell you that they are more concerned with Jordan than with Israel, believe it or not.
Nonetheless, I have paid my own academic price for being pro-Israel, trust me.
YM: What about Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)? What do they say about your ideas?
MZ: Okay, a surprise for you. The MB is the closest political faction to the Hashemites. The Hashemites use them as a scarecrow and in return they have gained serious political positions and government. Whenever someone mentions Palestinian rights in Jordan the Hashemites answer is “it will bring the MB into power”, even-though they are already in bed with the MB and support the MB. It is like keeping a dog and petting it and whenever someone comes to your house you warn them that there is a scary dog who might bite them. This dog is the MB.
YM: Perhaps the king is just afraid of the Islamists and therefore has given them influence.
MZ: Not at all. He has been supporting them since day one and the late king Hussein was their best friend. He gave them ministerial jobs, government jobs and allowed them to speak freely against Israel and the US. The doctrine of the MB is: Our enemy is Israel and not the Hashemites and we as Muslims should follow the Jordanian king since he is a Muslim ruler. This doctrine has served the Hashemites for sixty years. No wonder most MB leaders are Jordanian Bedouins…not Palestinians.
YM: Once again, are your ideas feasible or can they be implemented?
MZ: You bet. The Palestinians hate the Hashemites. The Palestinians like their stay in Jordan, even Jerusalemites are moving to Jordan according to Jordanian government statistics last year. And the King depends on US support. Remove that support and then he is gone and then the Palestinians can take over through an elected government where anyone inciting terrorism (i.e.; MB) is excluded. Then…..all is done. The King is one man; the Palestinians are the majority.
The Palestinians in Jordan are very fragile and need Israel. They even depend on Israel for water. Thus should the Palestinians establish a state they would not dare attack Israel. The Israelis have nothing to fear and everything to gain.
YM: What about the thorny issue of the Palestinian refugees? As I’m sure you know there are two definitions of ‘refugees’. One for the whole world according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and one for the Palestinians according to the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). According to UNRWA criteria for defining a refugee, the amount of Palestinian refugees is so much higher than the number according to the UNHCR. This is a very important issue because it involves a lot of people. This is well-known in the Jewish world but I’m not sure if this difference is known in the Arab world.
MZ: World Jewry and Israel have been over thinking and over analyzing this from a legal point of view. It’s really simple. Ask people in Jordan, would they ever want to move to another place? The answer is for sure “no”. And serious proof is available for this, including the fact that half a million Palestinians in Jordan with the right to move and live in Israel (holders of yellow cards) would not move there (and now the Jordanian government is harassing them for that!). Now just for a starter, give those people a place they can call home and the rest follows. Also, compensations could be employed just like those paid by the UN to Palestinians who left Kuwait. Solutions are very simple.
YM: So should Palestinians be given citizenship where they are (be it in Jordan or Lebanon or Syria) or are all these people expected to return to Palestine (be it in Jordan or in Judea and Samaria)?
MZ: They are expected to return to their homeland, once that is established, in Jordan. Just as Germans want to be where the greatest concentration of Germans are, or Americans where the majority of American are, so too with the Palestinians. However, when Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria try to move to Jordan, the Jordanian government does not allow them.
YM: Is it only the Jordanian government or are other Arab governments as well keeping the Palestinians as refugees in order to maintain the problem and preserve anti-Israel sentiment? It seems like this could have been taken care of a long time ago, like all the other refugee problems in the world, but the Arab governments want to preserve the problem. Any thoughts?
MZ: All Arabs do this. Jordan, however, is the key to the solution. In other words, it does not matter that Saudi Arabia which has less than 5000 Palestinians refugees does this. What matters is Jordan. Also Jordan is poor and therefore wants to magnify the problem to milk international donors for money.
YM: Interesting. I always looked at the problem on a regional level but what you’re saying makes sense. Jordan is the key.
MZ: You bet. We are all being held hostage so one family, made up of six members – a husband and a wife and four kids – can spend a million dollars per days. It’s not right.
Also, the old myth that a Palestinian state in Jordan will mean 600 kilometers of war is simply not true. Besides cutting out 40 percent of the budget for the army, any new government must cut down military expenditure and sell our weapons cache that includes state of the art f-16s (which are just one step lower than what Israel has). We only need humvees and machine guns. If Monaco has no army, why should we? If the Rich Qataris have no serious armed force, why should we?
YM: Once again, it sounds good but the question is whether or not it can be implemented. Let’s assume for a moment that it can. What would happen if at the same time another Palestinian state was declared in Judea and Samaria? What would the implications be for Jordan?
MZ: Who ever will democratize Jordan must understand that that area would be the only good place for a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority is already clinically dead with no authority, no finances, no power and no legitimacy….the game is over.
YM: What about yourself. Do you consider yourself a dissident or political refugee?
MZ: I am a Palestinian who fled his country because of the Hashemites. I have been granted asylum here yet I will not give up the fight for my people.
YM: Can you return to Jordan or are you banned from doing so? Would it be dangerous?
MZ: I would get killed. I was a political insider with full access to the Palace until I fled.
YM: Thank you Mudar for your time and honesty. I hope that things turn out well for the whole region.