Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is in Jordan on his first official visit since he was forced to leave in 1999 for what authorities called “illicit and harmful” activities.
The trip on Sunday by Meshaal, who was accompanied by Qatar’s crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is seen as a rapprochement between the Jordanian monarchy and the Palestinian Islamist movement.
Jordan’s King Abdullah held talks with Meshaal, who is usually based in Damascus, and his five-member delegation of top Hamas officials including deputy chairman Mousa Abu Marzouk. Sheikh Tamim attended the talks as a mediator.
Meshaal, who has Jordanian nationality, was born in then Jordan-administered West Bank in 1956 and lived there with his family until they were forced to flee when Israel occupied the territory in 1967.
Relations between Hamas and Jordan have been strained since 1999, when the authorities expelled Meshaal and three other Hamas members during a crackdown on the group amid charges that it harmed Jordanian security and stability.
The crackdown upset many Jordanians of Palestinian origin, a majority of the population, who saw it as a dangerous precedent in a country where many native Jordanians oppose a larger political role for Palestinians.
A senior Jordanian official called Meshaal’s trip on Sunday a “protocol visit”, the AFP news agency reported. However, Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, who are ideologically close to Hamas, is portraying Meshaal’s visit as “historic”.
“The meeting today (Sunday) is historic. Qatari mediation is supporting the palace’s efforts to reformulate Jordan-Hamas relations in line with national interests,” Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood said on its website.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Meshaal said he hoped “other chapters in a strong relationship” with Jordan would follow.
“Hamas is concerned about the security of Jordan and its stability and we respect this,” he said.
Meshaal also responded to calls from some in Israel for the establishment of a Palestinian homeland in Jordan as a substitute for the Palestinian refugees’ right to return.
“The Hamas movement categorically rejects all alternative homeland projects in Jordan and we insist on restoring all our rights fully so that Palestine is Palestine and Jordan is Jordan,” Meshaal said.
Speaking from Amman, Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El Shamayleh said the visit could be to help improve relations between the government and Jordan’s Islamists, who have been one of the groups staging protests calling for reform since January 2011.
“King Abdullah has realised the important role Islamists groups are playing in [the Arab] revolutions and since he has faced protests at home here in Jordan he has decided to reach out to Hamas,” our correspondent said.
She said the meeting is also an attempt to mend relations with Qatar, which has strained relations with Jordan in recent years.
Meshaal survived a 1997 assassination attempt in Amman by two agents by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad who tried to poison him outside his office.