Opposition Parties Fight Jordan's Links With Israel
A BANNED RALLY
WHEN Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres visited Jordan last week, the government did its best to make him feel welcome.
But on a walking tour of a middle-class Amman neighborhood, most Jordanians refused to shake hands with Mr. Peres. When he asked a Jordanian if he would like to visit Israel, the man replied: ''I would like to visit Palestine.''
With the exception of friendly meetings between leaders of Jordan and Israel, there are few signs of normal relations between the two countries.
While the government tries to cement its Oct. 26 peace deal with Israel, Jordan's opposition groups are campaigning to prevent that from happening.
Jordanian political analysts and some officials fear that the current strife could trigger a confrontation with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamic fundamentalist group. This could lead the country into a spiral of violence similar to the conflicts the governments of Egypt and Algeria are facing with Islamists.
The tension reached a peak last week when the government banned an April 27 conference organized by 11 political parties opposed to normalization of relations with Israel.
The parties, which include a coalition of Islamists, leftists, and Pan-Arabists, say they are going ahead with their plan and they are suing the Amman governor who was responsible for banning the rally.
''The opposition in this country is mature. It is not seeking a confrontation,'' says Hamzeh Mansour, spokesman for the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood political arm that controls 18 of the 80 parliament seats. ''We hope that the government reassesses its position ... meanwhile we will continue to express our views legally.''
But as the parties were deliberating on how to proceed, Jordanian officials were taking steps to strengthen relations with Israel.
Crown Prince Hassan announced last week that Jordan and Israel were about to establish a joint authority to oversee the development of the Jordan Valley, the land that straddles the borders of Israel and Jordan.
Government officials say that ventures with Israel are crucial to prosperity and stability in the region.
The opposition argues that Jordan should pursue joint ventures with other Arab states.
The Jordanian-Israeli treaty was enacted as a law, replacing older laws that banned relations with Israel.
''By turning the treaty into a law, the government is trying to impose a compulsory normalization on the Jordanian people,'' charges Tayseer al-Zabri, leader of the leftist Jordanian People's Democratic Party.
Opposition parties and professional associations are challenging the new laws by calling on Jordanians to avoid dealing with Israelis.
Professional associations have reiterated the boycott on Israeli goods that they called after the treaty was enacted and warned members who violate its regulations that they will be fired.
Artists, singers, and writers are prohibited by their professional associations from engaging in any joint performances or conferences with Israeli counterparts.
So far, only one Jordanian band, Mirage, has performed in Israel, and mostly for Arab audiences. The writers' society is considering the dismissal of a columnist for contributing commen- taries to Israeli television.
And the Jordanian media have not interviewed the new Israeli ambassador to Jordan, who arrived on April 6.
Government officials deny that they are trying to force the people into normal relations with Israel. When asked recently about opposition to relations with Israel, King Hussein responded, ''How could there be peace without normalization?''
But he added that Jordanians, as individuals, are free in their decisions on the issue.
The opposition argues that there should not be normalization prior to an Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories that it occupied after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and until it recognizes the Palestinian peoples' right to self-determination.
Behind the campaign against normalization also lies the fear of potential Israeli domination of the Jordanian economy and decades of mutual distrust that even officials concede will not be erased overnight.
So far, there have been no attacks against Israeli tourists. But the government was alarmed in February when a French diplomat and his wife were shot and injured by two Islamist zealots.
According to several accounts, they were mistaken as Israeli tourists in the ancient city of Petra. The Muslim Brotherhood declared that it had nothing to do with the attack, but the government arrested scores of activists across the country.
Most were released. But Muslim Brotherhood officials have charged that they were detained, interrogated, and tortured by the Jordanian intelligence.
''Most of the interrogation was not about the attack but about the detainees' affiliations ... this is clear intimidation,'' Mr. Mansour says.