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JORDAN: Attitudes, sentiment shift away from U.S.

January 14, 2009 | 12:26 pm

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The change came about six months ago.

Suddenly, the Jordanian government wasn't as hostile as it used to be toward the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Middle East's original Islamic fundamentalist group.

Then-intelligence chief Mohammad Dahabi met with the Action Front's parliamentary delegation. Members of the group were removed from official blacklists, said Zaki Bani Ershid, secretary general of the party.

Jordanian diplomats began reaching out to countries such as Syria and Qatar, rivals of U.S. allies in the region, as described in a story about Jordanian policy during the Gaza offensive in today's Los Angeles Times.

Ershid  speculates that Jordan's government was shifting course after feeling betrayed by the U.S., watching the collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process and perceiving that Washington was willing to toss its friends under the bus.

Jordanian big shots were perturbed by what they saw as the U.S. betrayal of its allies. They watched Russia overwhelm staunchly pro-American Georgia and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah overpower the U.S.-backed March 14 coalition in Lebanon without Washington taking any decisive action. Jordan feared they also would be betrayed.

Jordanians widely believe that, true or not, Israel plans eventually to annex huge swaths of the West Bank and push the bulk of Palestinians under occupation into Egypt and Jordan, upsetting Jordan's delicate balance between East Bank tribesmen and their descendants and Jordanians of Palestinian descent. It's the called  "Jordan solution" or the "three-state solution."

"The government wanted to re-establish relations with groups that oppose the Jordan solution," Ershid said.

Ershid, long a government critic, finds it awkward to be aligned with moderates and pro-government officials in his opposition to U.S. and Israeli policy. He laughs when told he sounds a lot less scathing in his criticism of Israel's conduct in its war against Hamas than some much more moderate figures.

He spoke of creating a new "middle" in Jordanian politics that was further away from U.S. positions.

"We want Jordan to become much more forceful in opposing Israel," he said, suggesting Amman boot the Israeli ambassador from Jordan to send a message.

"It's not up to Jordan to open up a battle with Israel," Ershid said in an interview. "But to open a position that pressures Israel? To quote [President-elect] Barack Obama, 'Yes, we can.'"

-- Borzou Daragahi in Amman

Photo: Zaki Bani Ershid, secretary general of Jordan's Islamic Action Front, spoke in an interview Monday. Credit: Borzou Daragahi / Los Angeles Times

P.S. Get news from Iran, Gaza, Israel and the rest of the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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