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Cablegate: Return of Prisoners From Israel Welcomed; Terms Of

VZCZCXRO7003
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHAM #2955/01 1901527
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 091527Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9473
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 002955

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KISL IS JO
SUBJECT: RETURN OF PRISONERS FROM ISRAEL WELCOMED; TERMS OF
DEAL USED AS POLITICAL FOOTBALL

REF: A. AMMAN 2668
B. AMMAN 2613
C. 05 AMMAN 3126

1. (SBU) Summary and comment: Jordanians broadly welcomed
the transfer from Israel of four Jordanian prisoners who had
been serving life sentences there. Nonetheless, the GOJ
faces some criticism for agreeing to their continued
confinement, and for a lack of progress on the cases of some
thirty other Jordanians held in Israeli prisons and
twenty-five more Jordanian citizens considered "missing" in
Israel. With municipal elections imminent, both the
government and opposition are trying to make the most out of
the issue. End Summary and comment.

2. (U) On July 5, Israel transferred to Jordan four
prisoners - Sultan Ajlouni, Khaled Abu Ghalioun, Salem Abu
Ghalioun, and Ameen Sanea - who received life sentences in
1990 for killing two Israeli soldiers after infiltrating into
the West Bank and ambushing an Israeli patrol. Prime
Minister Bakhit said to reporters at a press conference
following the arrival of the prisoners that the transfer was
achieved after extensive diplomatic efforts, and that "there
were two options, either accept the transfer of the prisoners
and detain them...or to leave them in Israeli jails for
life." Foreign Minister Khatib told reporters that the deal
"was the best that could be achieved given legal
complications."

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EDITORIAL SNIPING
------------------

3. (SBU) The GOJ's somewhat defensive tone is the result of
critics arguing that the government failed in its
negotiations, as the prisoners will have to serve time
(reportedly for "at least" 18 months, but described by PM
Bakhit as "no more than" 18 months) in Jordanian prisons.
Nabil Ghishan, columnist for the independent opposition
Arabic daily Al Arab al-Yawm questioned the motives of the
GOJ in accepting the transfer, observing that the four will
remain imprisoned despite the "heroic" acts they undertook
against Israeli forces. Columnist Samih Maaitah of the
independent Arabic daily Al-Ghad argued that the deal is
"booby-trapped" and does not benefit the prisoners.

4. (U) Countering the critical commentary, Al-Ghad's
Editor-in-Chief Ayman Safadi argued that despite the
confinement in Jordan, the transfer is an "achievement," and
"no sane and reasonable person can argue that imprisonment in
Jordan is a thousand times better than a life sentence in an
Israeli prison." Safadi added that the "GOJ has done its
utmost and the result is the best that could be achieved in
light of Israeli rigidness." Columnist Nusuh al Majali of
Al-Rai, an independent Arabic daily considered close to the
government, warned against insinuations about the GOJ, and
added that skeptics "hold on to unrealizable demands because
they are not in positions of authority where they would have
to translate their slogans into action...(P)eople are smart
and can differentiate between justified logical criticism and
political stances that aim to score points and play on
emotions."

IAF, TRADE UNIONS CONDEMN PRISONER DEAL
---------------------------------------

5. (U) In this election year (municipal polling takes place
on July 31, with parliamentary elections later in the fall),
Jordan's largest political party, the Islamic Action Front
(IAF), quickly staked out a critical position, strongly
condemning the GOJ for approving the deal. IAF Deputy
Secretary General Rahil Gharaibeh said "it is illogical for

SIPDIS
the GOJ to be involved in the implementation of a verdict
issued by Zionist courts," and that "the imprisonment of the
four men in Jordan contradicts logic as they did not commit
any crime under Jordanian law." Jordan's Islamist-dominated
trade unions called the four prisoners "heroes who fought the
Zionist entity" and urged the GOJ to release them. The IAF
also urged the GOJ to step up efforts to ensure the release
of approximately 30 Jordanians held in Israeli prisons and to
obtain information on 25 Jordanians missing in Israel. NOTE:
The GOJ periodically raises with the GOI the matter of its
prisoners in Israeli jails. According to press reports,
approximate ly 30 Jordanians are imprisoned in Israel on
charges ranging from security and political offenses to
criminal transgressions or expired visas. END NOTE.

COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) The GOJ and Islamist oppositionists are both using
the prisoner transfer as they seek to bolster their public

AMMAN 00002955 002 OF 002


opinion ratings. The GOJ claims a diplomatic victory in
securing the release of four of its citizens, while the IAF -
bent on discrediting the government - asserts that the deal
harms Jordan's sovereignty and insults Jordanians because the
prisoners are "heroes who defended the country." The IAF's
campaign may also stem from recent public opinion hits it has
taken as a result of its association by many Jordanians with
Hamas. Pro-government editorials and other opposition
parties have recently taken the IAF to task for failing to
condemn the Hamas takeover in Gaza (reftels), and it appears
the IAF is striking back. However, even limited progress on
the issue of Jordanian prisoners in Israel -- a hardy
perennial with which the IAF and the syndicates beat up on
the GoJ - is a big step towards tamping down its propaganda
value to the opposition.
Rubinstein

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