A welcome dissolution of Jordan's parliament

The decision to dissolve the parliament at mid-mandate, made by King Abdullah II of Jordan, was no surprise to the Jordanians, wrote Saleh al Qallab in the London-based daily Asharq al Awsat.

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The decision to dissolve the parliament at mid-mandate, made by King Abdullah II of Jordan, was no surprise to the Jordanians, wrote Saleh al Qallab in an opinion article in the London-based daily Asharq al Awsat.   Despite the flow of predictions that preceded it, the move was actually expected by the Jordanians who welcomed the king's decision with satisfaction, after a rather disappointing parliamentary experience over the past two years. The performance of the dissolved parliament was judged mediocre, both on the legislative and the check-and-balance levels, in a fast-growing country that has made tremendous progress in the legislative arena during the last 10 years.

The parliament has shown an obvious incapacity to follow the pace set by a king who has managed to combine the wisdom of a patriarch with the dynamism of youth. As soon as the decision was announced, the embassies of major countries launched a battery of contacts with sources to investigate its dimensions and motives, trying to link it with the latest developments on the Palestinian front and the standoff of the Middle East peace process.    The reality, however, is that issue is purely internal: to enhance the performance of the legislative body and make it run at the speed of the process of reform and change initiated by the king back in 1999, on his accession to power.

The US president Barack Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan does not seem to please his allies, let alone his opponents, and those who kept silent will express their anger when the time comes, wrote Sobhi Zaitar in the Saudi Arabian daily Al Watan.

The Afghan president Hamid Karzai probably tops the list of those angered by the US president. The "era of blank cheques is over", Mr Obama told him, with an obvious allusion made to the former president George W Bush's administration.   President Obama also angered his own Democratic party, as the presidential electoral campaign he led was built on bringing home the troops. And now the same Democrats are forced to advocate that more troops be sent to Afghanistan.

They will have to face a Republican party which has nothing to lose if the blame is put on the president for setting a date for the troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. If he commits to them, two dates will totally redeem President Obama: the beginning of troops withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011 and the complete pullout from Iraq at the end of the same year. The two dates remain, however, intimately related to the internal situation in both countries and the capacity of their leaders to manage their national issues apart from personal interests.

When the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, unveiled his plan to temporarily freeze settlements in the West Bank for 10 months, few Palestinian officials reacted the following day and rejected the manoeuvre, wrote Husam Kanafani in an opinion column in the new Lebanese daily Al Akhbar.    Since then, the Palestinian Authority has observed a total silence and the Palestinian officials who were used to making daily statements to dozens of media organisations have abstained from saying a single word on the authority's position about the Israeli decision to freeze settlements.

This dubious silence might just mean that the time has come for President Mahmoud Abbas to climb down from the tree of conditions. The circumstances have changed and the Israeli decision will certainly be followed by a wave of international pressure, mainly American, on the Palestinian Authority. This was announced by the US secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during her last tour of the Middle East, when she described the Israeli move as "unprecedented".     The Palestinian silence seems then to be part of the wait-and-see policy that precedes the US special envoy's tour of region, as George Mitchell is expected in the Middle East in the coming few days in a new attempt to revive the peace process.

A few days ago, the Swiss federation surprised the world with a referendum on a ban on mosques' minarets that, unexpectedly, was adopted by a majority, wrote Ibrahim Daibes in the London-based Palestinian daily Al Quds.

The ban concerns only the construction of new minarets, not mosques as a whole, nor does it affect the freedom of belief or worship, but it provoked a huge wave of condemnation from both Muslim and Christian organisations.    However, beyond the result of the referendum per se, it is worth taking a deep look into the motivations that led a majority of Swiss to stand against a symbol of the Islamic religion. The question is whether this Islamophobic trend in the West is justified or not.

Can a similar referendum on the ban of a Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu symbol be organised? The answer is definitely no. The underlying reason is extremism in all its forms, whether in Europe or in the Arab and Islamic world itself.    The referendum is yet another prelude to a deep rupture in the relationship between Muslims in the West and their host countries and a signal that it is time for a comprehensive dialogue and a common fight against all forms of fanaticism, in favour of more co-operation, tolerance and understanding.

* Digest compiled by Mohamed Naji mnaji@thenational.ae