US reopens old extradition dispute with Jordan

Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi is on the FBI's list of "most wanted terrorists" for her role in a suicide bombing at a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria.
Thursday 18/06/2020
Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi during an interview in her home in the Jordanian capital of Amman. (AP)
Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi during an interview in her home in the Jordanian capital of Amman. (AP)

LONDON - The administration of US President Donald Trump  is considering withholding aid to one of its closest Arab partners, Jordan, in a bid to secure the extradition of a woman convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including two US citizens.

Congress members and US State Department officials recently reiterated a call for Jordan to extradite the woman and threatened to suspend assistance to Amman, including aid that was approved as part of the 2020 budget.

Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi is on the FBI's list of "most wanted terrorists" for her role in a suicide bombing at a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria. It was one of the deadliest attacks during the second Palestinian Intifada.

Tamimi, a Hamas activist, was arrested by Israel weeks after the bombing and sentenced to 16 life terms for choosing the target and guiding the bombers there.

She has lived freely in Jordan since Israel released her in a 2011 prisoner swap with Hamas. Jordanian authorities have rebuffed US requests to turn her over, basing their decision on a ruling by the Jordanian Supreme Court in 2017 that disallowed the extradition because a 1995 extradition treaty cited by Washington has not been ratified, and Tamimi was previously tried in Israel.

The United States has sent mixed messages on the issue to Jordan, with a threat coming in written answers submitted by the administration's nominee to be the next US ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to questions posed by Senator Ted Cruz.

“The United States has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi's extradition," Wooster wrote.

Asked specifically if aid to Jordan would be part of that leverage, Wooster replied: "If confirmed, I would explore all options to bring Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi to justice, secure her extradition, and address the broader issues associated with the extradition treaty."

In the past few days, information leaked about the US’s intention to send aid to Amman early next month in order to help the kingdom deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Talk of freezing or halting such aid could bewilder Amman.

The US has long been a significant provider of aid to Jordan. In early 2018, the Trump administration signed a five-year, $6.4 billion aid agreement with Jordan that increased the annual amount of aid by $275m to $1.3 billion.

American aid is of utmost importance to Jordan in light of its difficult economic and financial situation that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington’s conflicting statements have already raised concerns in Jordan. Local media raised concerns and questions as to why Washington raised the issue of Tamimi after nearly three years of silence.

Many in Jordanian media linked the US move to Jordan’s efforts to thwart Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley.

Western analysts say Jordan is unlikely to have an impact on US and Israeli plans in light of its close security, political and economic relations with the two countries.

They also believe that Jordan’s campaign is directed more towards the Jordanian interior than Israel, as Amman is concerned that the Israeli annexation might lead to an explosive situation at home, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live.

Therefore, they say Amman wants to send a message to the public that it has done everything it can to prevent the Israeli move.

Washington's peace plan foresees an eventual creation of a Palestinian state but disregards key Palestinian demands, such as a capital in East Jerusalem, which Jordan also views as fundamental.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Wednesday that "the whole region stands at a critical crossroads: Either a just peace by way of the two-state solution or a long and painful struggle that will result from the annexation move."

Earlier in May, Safadi said there would be catastrophic consequences of any annexation of Palestinian lands on regional security and stability, in a phone call with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov.

“Israel's implementation of the annexation decision will kill all chances of achieving a comprehensive peace,” Safadi said, calling on the international community to “to move quickly and effectively to prevent the annexation and revive prospects for achieving a just peace acceptable to all peoples and adopted by all Arab countries as a strategic option."

Jordanian King Abdullah II also held at least five briefings with senior members of Congress from both parties in an attempt to recruit them to the anti-annexation cause.

In his first round of briefings on Tuesday, King Abdullah “warned that any unilateral Israeli measure to annex lands in the West Bank is unacceptable and undermines the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the region.”

Late in May, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he intends to push ahead with plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in a move that could end the possibility of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu said Israel had a “historic opportunity” to redraw the Middle East map that could not be missed and told Israeli media he will begin on July 1.