‘Justice’ or ‘Stability’ at Stake as US Sanctions Loom Against Jordan
Pressure from Washington gives families hope for Al-Tamimi extradition but regional security remains an obstacle to justice
The United States government has sought to bring Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a terrorist in Israel, back to the US to face trial unsuccessfully for over three years. While legislation passed in Congress last December that would impose sanctions on Amman later this year for failing to comply with its 1995 extradition treaty, the prospect of a destabilized Jordan, which has served as a stumbling block to justice in the past, continues to be an issue today.
Al-Tamimi is responsible for the murder of 15 people in the bombing of a Sbarro pizza restaurant in central Jerusalem on August 9, 2001, that killed two Americans. After being imprisoned in Israel, she was released to Jordan as part of a 2011 deal that freed Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held by Hamas since 2006.
The US Foreign Relations Committee will convene virtually on June 17 with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in a meeting expected to focus on Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. However, some members of the committee want to focus on an issue that they feel is more pressing to US interests: the extradition of Al-Tamimi.
The meeting falls on the backdrop of an April 30 letter to Jordanian Ambassador to the US Dina Kawar by Congressman W. Gregory Steube from Florida’s 17th congressional district and six other lawmakers regarding Al-Tamimi. In the correspondence, the congressmen expressed concern over Jordan’s failure to abide by the 1995 extradition treaty made between the late King Hussein and former US President Bill Clinton. They also reminded Amman of the 2020 US appropriations bill, which has a provision that would impose sanctions against the kingdom if it failed to send Al-Tamimi to the US to face justice.
“As lawmakers ourselves, seeing Jordan provide a confessed bomber with legal impunity while rebuffing an arrest warrant and extradition request from its most significant ally and friend, the United States, amounts to a deeply troubling scenario,” they write. “The potential seriousness of these sanctions provisions reflect [sic] the deep concern of the Congress, the Administration and the American people. We believe it is of the highest importance to US/Jordan relations that an outcome is found that honors Jordanian law while ensuring this unrepentant terrorist and murderer of innocent Americans is brought to US justice. Extraditing Tamimi within the framework of a long-standing, effective treaty is a powerful statement that Jordan will not tolerate terrorism nor its promotion.”
Less than a week after the US announced Al-Tamimi’s indictment on conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against US citizens in 2017, Jordan’s highest court held that she did not have to face trial in the US because Jordan failed to ratify the treaty.
Both countries view the larger picture as more important than doing justice and bringing her to court
“Ms. Al-Tamimi, while an unsavory character who has shown no remorse for her heinous crimes, is neither technically a fugitive nor under Jordan’s legal jurisdiction,” Taylor Luck, an Amman-based journalist and analyst, told The Media Line.
“Jordan is a country that strictly plays by the rules in its foreign policy and makes all its decisions and statements according to international laws and treaties, to the very letter,” he said. “Jordan’s response to the US on this case, although it has not been made public, is certainly rooted in its legal responsibilities and the limits of its jurisdiction.”
The US, however, holds that the 1995 treaty is still binding.
Jordan’s failure to extradite Al-Tamimi has angered relatives of those killed in the blast 19 years ago, given that Jordan had extradited those wanted in the US previously.
“In [Jordan’s] decision not to extradite my daughter’s killer in March 2017 … no one asked any questions, not then and not since, about [their ratification process] and if fugitives had been sent before and if so, why not in this case,” Arnold Roth, whose 15-year-old daughter died in the bombing, told The Media Line.
Luck explained the Jordanian position:
“The Israeli government chose to favor Mr. Shalit’s safe release and return over enduring justice for the Roth family, not Jordan. Jordan did not request the release of Ms. Al-Tamimi,” he said.
Roth hopes that the economic sanctions set to begin in December of this year will be enough to compel Jordan to comply by its 25-year-old treaty, as Jordan receives the third-highest amount of US foreign aid.
“One of its most funded beneficiaries, Jordan has been egregiously sticking its finger in the American eye on this embarrassing question of a murderer of Jewish children,” he said.
However, Luck counters that annexation is of more concern to the Jordanians than loss of financial assistance.
“In the grand scheme of things, Jordan is much more concerned about the annexation of West Bank territory than Ms. Al-Tamimi and even the $1.4 billion in annual US aid,” he said. “The annexation of West Bank territory, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and the death of the two-state solution are seen as a national security threat and would make Jordan the de facto party responsible for millions of Palestinians and upset its own demographic balance at home.”
“Whether Al-Tamimi is extradited or not will depend on how it best suits Jordan’s response over the Netanyahu government’s annexation postering,” he added.
However, Professor Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, contends that both the US and Israel are very much concerned how a loss of aid would impact Jordan and the greater Middle East, leading to failed attempts to extradite Al-Tamimi in the past and possibly the future.
“I don’t think Israel is interested in weakening Jordan. It seems to be that we do help the Jordanians withstand American pressure on this issue by working quietly in Congress behind the scenes,” Inbar told The Media Line. “She’s a murderer and she sat in an Israeli jail but we simply are worried about Jordan, that without money, it will collapse or it will have economic difficulties and we are interested in having a stable regime in Jordan.”
“We will never say it openly but I think this is what is at stake,” he added.
A stable Jordan is also a major concern for the US.
“You have to distinguish between the legal and political processes and I’m sure the US doesn’t put its full weight behind its legal position, because they want a stable Jordan,” Inbar said.
“Both countries view the larger picture as more important than doing justice and bringing her to court,” Inbar added.
Charles Bybelezer contributed to this report.