On a clear day at this time of year, the suburbs of Amman are visible from any tall building in Jerusalem. Pink and rosy, they loom on the far horizon in the dry mountain air across the deep hollow of the Dead Sea. Both cities are perched on high plateaus over 2,600 feet above sea level and the distance between them, as the crow—perhaps one should say the hawk—flies, is little more than forty miles. The journey from one to the other takes only an hour and a half—that is, if you’re lucky enough to have the right permits and are traveling in a UN car.
It so happened that a few hours before I set out from Jerusalem for Amman a few weeks ago, a Jewish fanatic had butchered twenty-nine or more Palestinians in a Hebron mosque, caused the death of at least thirty others, and wounded hundreds. In doing so, he had derailed the ongoing peace talks and damaged, perhaps irreparably, the slow course of reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis that was started last year in Oslo and on the White House lawn. The process by which demonized enemies were becoming legitimate adversaries haggling over details of a historical compromise was reversed. The event showed once again how the sinister passion of one man could affect Arab-Israeli affairs. Both sides were bracing themselves for the “counter-massacre,” which was widely held to be inevitable.
Even as we were leaving Jerusalem, wild riots were erupting in the occupied territories. Clouds of tear gas were rising over the rooftops of the Old City. As we drove down toward the Jordan Valley, the barren scenery, with its frozen undulating desert, seemed to reflect the bleak state of politics. When we reached the border at midday the parched ground was either black or white, as in the mind of a fanatic, no muted colors in between.
Barbed wire fences criss-crossed the large expanse of dead soil at the border. Every ten yards or so little red triangles on both sides of the narrow road warned you to beware of mines. Unusually large Israeli flags flew over grim watchtowers and bunkers. The Jordanians don’t recognize this as a border and fly none of their own flags. The actual crossing point is a Bailey bridge, its freshly painted iron bars covered with wooden planks that shake and rattle underfoot. The Israelis still call it by its old name, Allenby Bridge, after the British field marshal who conquered Palestine in 1917. The Jordanians call it, after their king, Hussein Bridge. Cars are not allowed to cross. My luggage was carried only to the middle of the bridge and there it was picked up by a Jordanian porter, who carried it to another UN car waiting on the other side. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the Glienicke Bridge at Berlin, where spies were exchanged during the cold war.
I had half expected the bridge to be closed, as it often is at times of unrest. Instead, we were seen through without much ado. Traffic across the border, scarce as it was, was said to be normal. The controls were quick and perfunctory. The dry, flat scenery on the Jordanian side was a mirror image of the Israeli. Off in the wasteland stood a few grizzled trees ashen from the dust. Jordanian soldiers in green camouflage jackets waved us through several roadblocks and open gates. Wild ravines ran down from the near mountaintops. There was a turn-off and the steep road started climbing through the dust and gravel. The barren coast and bitter waters of the Dead Sea were visible behind us through the haze.
The fertile higher ground is reached much more quickly here than on the other side. As the road climbed in twists and turns, the soil darkened and turned green. We entered a modern super-highway and drove past orchards and pine forests and reached the high mountain plateau. Little villages, reminiscent of those in the West Bank, were set in similar hard-to-till stony fields producing olives, barley, and figs; there were vines and small flocks of sheep. Then, barely half an hour after crossing the river, we reached the brand new outer suburbs of Amman, full of imported tinted glass and Italian marble walls amid other signs of conspicuous affluence: two-or three-car garages, stylish shops, and tall TV antennas shaped like miniature Eiffel towers.
Amman takes its name from the biblical Ammon, a tribe very much in disfavor with the author of Deuteronomy (23:6). He cites God ordering Moses, “Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.” There is considerable prosperity in Amman today and, by and large, more peacefulness and civilized political stability than just about anywhere else in the region. From little more than a village populated by 15,000 or 20,000 settled Bedouins and Circassians before the Second World War, Amman has since grown to a city of two million, most of them Palestinian. The dominant Western veneer is at odds with the usual image of a Middle Eastern capital. Except in the oldest part, built around a magnificent second century Roman amphitheater, Amman is surprisingly modern and has none of the dust, congestion, squalor, or noise of other Arab capitals. It is certainly neater than any city you might see in Israel. The feel of the place is a blend of England and the Near East. Cyprus, with its minarets next to Olde English Pubs, used to be like that when it was a colony forty years ago. The thirtyeighth anniversary of the “Arabization of the Jordanian Armed Forces” (i.e., the expulsion of the British general who ran them) was celebrated in Amman while I was there, but the ghosts of Glubb Pasha and Alec Kirkbride, both chums of T.E. Lawrence, and the other Brits who virtually ran the place till 1955 still hover.
The modern city is built in stone, as in Jerusalem; the basic town plan was probably prepared by the same people. The best limestone for building purposes was imported from Hebron in the Occupied West Bank. As in Jerusalem the sunlit mountain air has an extraordinary quality, luminous and clear. The industrial quarters are located on the eastern edge, and the predominant western winds drive the pollution into the desert. There are very few trees and relatively few gardens, the result, apparently, of a growing water shortage. In a city built on fifteen or sixteen continuous hills or jebels—among them Jebel Amman, Jebel Hussein, and Al Qusour, a hill taken up almost in its entirety by the royal compound—the streets and sidewalks are wide and well-kept, and seem to be scrubbed clean daily. The new suburbs appear to be dreary because of the sameness of the solidly built family houses. Mail is delivered to post office boxes there since most of the streets have no name and if they do few people know them.
Well-maintained cars cruise on the broad avenues from one traffic circle to the next. Public monuments display inscriptions in beautiful script hailing Industry, or God, King, Country, in that order. The avenues drop into deep ravines before they rise to climb another hill under a soaring overpass or go under it in a tiled tunnel. They are lined with handsome apartment buildings, covered in bright limestone as in Jerusalem, but better maintained, and tall glass-and-concrete office blocks. Many international and Arab banks and corporations opened branch offices here after the destruction of Beirut in civil war. The universities and hospitals in Jordan are said to be the best in the Arab Middle East today.
The look of Amman and the economic achievements of modern Jordan seem surprising in view of the scant resources of a country with little natural wealth which has been crippled over the years by war and civil strife and the influx of hundreds of thousands of destitute Palestinian refugees. Only 6 percent of the land can be cultivated. For years the country was glibly dismissed as a mere extension of the desert, a backdrop to a Lawrence of Arabia movie, a post-colonial kingdom whose days were numbered. A comparison of conditions in Jordan with conditions in the West Bank, which until 1967 was under Jordanian rule, is illuminating. A professor at Amman University recalled for me that for a good meal or a man’s suit or a book one would have driven to East Jerusalem before 1967—“Amman at that time offered so little.” It is a reflection on the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank that in almost every respect—urban culture, transport, sanitation, town planning, social institutions, cultural amenities, medical services, and education—the West Bank today lags at least twenty-five years behind Jordan. “We are ahead of them in the physical quality of our lives,” the professor says. “They are ahead of us in their dedication to democracy.”
Jordan’s elections last year to a multiparty parliament were generally judged by local and foreign observers as free and fair. But Jordan remains an authoritarian state, a patriarchal system in which parliament is regularly scolded by the king. “There is a constitution,” a Jordanian political scientist told me. “But the king can change it by making two telephone calls, if he wishes.” His power, which in the past depended on an army of loyal Bedouin soldiers, an efficient bureaucracy, and a well-organized mukhabarat or secret police, has been considerably augmented in recent years by the widespread support of a population that appreciates the stability and relative freedom he offers them. “Republicanism is a dirty word today in the Arab world, seeing what abolishing monarchies has brought about in Egypt, Libya, or even in Iran,” an Amman intellectual told me. “Not even the Islamicists here favor a Republic.”
The widespread façade of smartness and prosperity obscures continuing economic difficulties. What Jordanian experts call a “crisis”—a crisis particularly in employment and in the balance of payments—began in the mid-Eighties and reached a high point during the Gulf War. When Jordan refused to condemn Iraq, Saudi-Arabia suspended trade and aid, and the country’s profitable business transporting goods to and from Iraq was cut off by allied sanctions. The war also caused the sudden influx of 300,000 Palestinians expelled from Kuwait and 120,000 Iraqi refugees as well. Jordan was the only place that would take them in. But the Gulf War also turned out to be a kind of blessing, causing a large number of gifted and energetic people to return to Jordan (many of whom had built houses for themselves in Amman before the war) and the reinvestment of their capital at home. The projected growth rate this year is 6 percent. Last year it was 9 percent and it was eleven percent in 1992. The returning Palestinians also brought in some 50,000 cars, causing the first serious traffic jams in Amman’s history.
I spent a week in Jordan, mostly in Amman, speaking with politicians and university people. Most were astonished to meet an Israeli and in retrospect there seems an advantage in my having arrived during a time of palpable political tension, just after the Hebron massacre. Before the massacre I might have encountered polite pleasantries in a country long committed to peace and to maintaining extensive, if clandestine, political relations with Israel, perhaps even including exchanges of intelligence. Two or three people would not see me (though none said so explicitly); everyone else, in and out of the government and in the royal palace (including several prominent Jordanians of Palestinian origin), welcomed the chance to talk with an Israeli. Everyone I spoke to said they hoped that the Israeli government would now finally clamp down hard on religious and right-wing fanatics. Nearly all of them added that the loathsome massacre was one more reason why the peace talks must not be abandoned, and why, on the contrary, all sides must redouble their efforts to reconcile Palestinians and Israelis. “You are squeezing Arafat too hard because you know he has no alternative,” one of the king’s ministers told me. “It’s a great mistake. You did that to the late King Abdallah [in 1950] and you know what happened to him!” Abdallah was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist.
Here and there in the downtown district I saw pictures of the “liberator” Saddam Hussein. On Jordanian tourist maps Israel is still a blank, like the undiscovered lands populated by dragons on medieval maps. On the other hand, both Israeli television channels were on view in the rooms of the Intercontinental Hotel, Amman’s best, though it is hard to imagine who among the guests at that hotel, mostly Gulf Arabs, might be interested in the news in Hebrew. Several people I spoke to said: “We must finally make peace,” and at least two prominent figures in the king’s public administration criticized the king for going so slow on peace with Israel. “Sometimes he plays it too safe,” one said. Practically all the Jordanians I talked to said they would like to visit Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, which is two hours away by car; and they seemed excited at the prospect that they would soon be able to visit both cities.
Almost two thirds of the population of Amman is said to be of more or less recent Palestinian origin. One Palestinian academic in Amman, a former Fatah militant, said of the Hebron massacre: “A loathsome crime! But Jordanians ought to be the last to sound off self-righteously about the killings in Hebron—they themselves massacred thousands of Palestinians in 1970.” This was a minority view. There were mass demonstrations in Amman for three days in a row protesting the massacre, speaker after speaker denouncing Arafat and calling for his downfall. A mixed crowd of Palestinians and Jordanians (including hundreds of veiled women from a refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman) shouted, “No to peace, Yes to holy war,” and “Arafat, your day of judgment is coming.” They were led by Islamic fundamentalists and “leftist” politicians and union leaders, who attacked Arafat and his strategy of making peace with Israel, and demanded that all Arab parties, including Jordan and the PLO, withdraw from the peace talks. One of the demonstrations seemed about to become violent and was dispersed by helicopters dropping tear-gas canisters from the air. This was shown only on foreign, not on Jordanian, television.
The tension in the city continued during the entire week. Riot police remained on guard at strategic points. At the offices in Amman of Hamas, the terrorist Islamic Resistance Movement, a spokesman named Nazzal each day exhorted all Arab governments to renounce the peace process and “join hands to liberate Palestine through armed struggle.” After a German tourist and an English tourist were stabbed in downtown Amman several Western embassies called upon their nationals to avoid going out during the next few days.
King Hussein’s first public reaction to the massacre was restrained. He announced that he was donating 100,000 Jordanian dinars ($160,000) to the families of the victims, and visited the clubhouse of a Palestinian charitable organization to present his condolences. (“How shrewd of the king,” said one of his advisers, “mark you, the emphasis was on their tragedy, not Jordan’s.”) In a speech to members of parliament, some of whom had called on him to withdraw from the peace negotiations with Israel, the king admonished them saying, “It is not our right to discuss these things.” It was Jordan’s role to exert “positive influences” on events and “control passions through reason.” There were advantages in withdrawing from the talks, the king said, but there were also disadvantages. He did not say what he would do, but whatever decision he took would be “in cooperation and coordination with our brethren in the Arab world.” A remarkable article next morning in the semi-official Jordan Times by Rami G. Khouri, a wellknown columnist, added a note of optimism rare in the Arab press:
In historical terms the Hebron mosque pogrom will probably turn out to be the decisive turning point that finally pushed Palestinians and Israelis, along with the other concerned Middle Eastern players, to resolve the Arab Israeli conflict through peaceful diplomacy…. The most appropriate response that we can offer to the legacy of Baruch Goldstein and the militant Zionism he personified is to refuse to play by his rules…[and to have] a negotiated disengagement and a peace accord that allows the Palestinians to exercise their national rights in their own land.
On the following day, Jordan joined its “Arab brethren,” as the king promised, and suspended the peace negotiations with Israel taking place in Washington. The negotiations were bogged down anyway because Jordan was waiting for Syria to make a first move and Syria was waiting for Israeli concessions on the Golan Heights and for progress in Israeli Palestinian talks. Those talks were themselves stalled because Israel was taking advantage of the weakness of the Palestinians and trying to squeeze every possible concession from them, while the Palestinians were unwilling to return to a policy of resistance and at the same time unable to accept the Israeli terms. “Jordan will never be the first to make peace,” one of Hussein’s ministers told me. “It cannot. His majesty must be cautious. It’s been the secret of his survival for forty years at the head of the most stable regime in the Middle East. Jordan’s position—for strategic as well as for demographic reasons—is too vulnerable.”
The king, who assumed power in 1953, has been so long in office he often seems older than he is. He was fiftyeight last November. He was treated last year for cancer of the urethra and I heard from allegedly knowledgeable sources differing estimates of how long he may have to live. Some said three years, some said fifteen or more. Israelis tend to speak of him condescendingly (“the little king”), but without rancor; they watch on Jordanian TV his elaborate and frequent public appearances in fanciful black uniforms braided with gold-and-red silk.
During the early Sixties, Hussein realized, however reluctantly, that Israel was here to stay and that sooner or later the Arab states would have to make peace with it. He was the first Arab leader to do so. His relations with the PLO have never been smooth. The PLO tried to bring him down in 1970 and has vilified him for years. I heard people in Amman say that the king despises Yasser Arafat, and yet for many years, in the soft, dignified, calm tone that marks all his public utterances, he has employed his considerable prestige to muster international support for the Palestinians’ cause, and to show sympathy for their tragedy. In 1972 he tried to satisfy both Israel and the Palestinians by proposing a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation in peace with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied West Bank (with a special status for the Old City of Jerusalem). Both Israel and the PLO rejected the offer.
No other Arab leader has had so many clandestine meetings with Israeli leaders. The first meeting with an Israeli emissary was held in 1963 at the house of his Jewish dentist in London, not far from the Israeli ambassador’s residence in northwest London; the most recent took place with foreign minister Shimon Peres in Amman on November 3, 1993, and is said to have lasted nine hours and to have resulted in a joint memorandum that is still a well-kept secret. It is thought to contain a list of possible joint economic projects that could be undertaken after a peace treaty is concluded between Israel and Jordan, e.g. water desalination, shared electric grids, ports, and airports at Akaba and Elath, agriculture in the Jordan Valley, etc.
During the intervening thirty years there were at least two dozen meetings with Israelis, mainly Labor political leaders, including Abba Eban, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and others. Some meetings were held in remote spots along the Israeli-Jordanian frontier; others aboard motor launches in Red Sea waters off the coast of Akaba or Elath. The king is a licensed pilot. On one occasion he flew his helicopter to Tel Aviv, where Rabin escorted him one night on a ride along Dizengoff Road, where, in Abba Eban’s phrase, “our Mediterranean culture is expressed in all its turbulent, strident, neon-lit brashness, but also in the patent civility and deep rooted peacefulness of the passing crowds.” At these meetings the king and the Israelis he talked with exchanged daggers, pistols, Galil submachine guns, and other martial gifts while they discussed the possibilities for peace.
They could never agree on the terms. The king was ready to make peace if Israel withdrew from all occupied West Bank territory, including East Jerusalem (with a special regime in the Old City). Israel insisted on considerable border rectifications and refused all compromise on Jerusalem. In the absence of an agreement on peace, the two sides continued to meet regularly. They shared a common concern about Palestinian and Syrian aspirations. A kind of strategic alliance emerged on this basis, reflecting Freud’s view that it is easy to create bonds of love between two persons as long as they have a third one they can hate. Israeli leaders were fascinated by Hussein’s charm and his humor. (At one of their meetings in the mid-Seventies Rabin complained about a military agreement the king had just signed with President Assad of Syria. Hussein replied: “Not everyone I go to bed with I marry.”) Naphtali Lavie, Dayan’s press secretary during the Yom Kippur War, claims in his recent memoires that ten days before the outbreak of the 1967 war Hussein visited Golda Meir in Tel Aviv and warned her of an impending Syrian-Egyptian attack, but Israel’s highest military officers, including Dayan, remained unimpressed by the warning.
Abba Eban has written that Hussein, not Sadat, was the first Arab leader to have a realistic perception of Israel. At a time when Dayan persisted in his bleak view that the Arab-Israeli conflict was inherently irreconcilable, at least within the foreseeable future, Hussein gave Israeli moderates a feeling that it was not. He kept telling the Israelis he talked to that they could have peace or territories, but not both. At the same time, according to Eban, he “seemed embarrassed by a feeling that we Israelis were expecting too much of him in proposing that he should take the burden of the first breakthrough to an Arab Israeli settlement.” Hence, he always gave Israeli leaders “maximum courtesy and minimal commitment.” In recent years Hussein has often complained that the history of the Arab Israel conflict is a “history of missed opportunities.”
A prominent Jordanian former minister (of Palestinian origin) outlined to me three such missed opportunities between Israel and Jordan. The first was the rejection by Israel and the PLO of Hussein’s 1972 offer to establish a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in return for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Arab–Israel conflict, he said, might thus have been peacefully resolved twenty years ago if that offer had been accepted—there were no fundamentalists then and hardly any militant Israeli settlers. Another missed opportunity, he added, resulted from “the king’s own mistake—a terrible mistake, I am sure he is aware of it now—his refusal in 1978 to join the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.” The Israelis still had not permitted many settlements then and there were only a handful of Islamic fundamentalists. The third missed opportunity, according to the same man, was in 1987, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir vetoed an agreement worked out between Foreign Minister Peres and King Hussein at a secret meeting in London. That agreement stipulated that an international conference be held to establish a demilitarized semi-independent Palestinian entity on the West Bank closely linked to Jordan.
After that failure, Jordan officially renounced its claims to the West Bank (except for the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem) and withdrew from the field in favor of the PLO. I often thought of these and other missed opportunities while I met with Jordanian politicians in Amman, or traveled (with some envy) through the tranquil Jordanian countryside, encountering almost everywhere I went what seemed an orderly, civilized way of life, stable government, and a sophisticated political elite. Time and again the melancholy thought recurred to me that, on several occasions, an agreement had perhaps been possible that could have saved many lives and may ultimately have been more satisfactory and reliable than anything one might achieve today—but these opportunities were missed through shortsightedness if not downright folly.
The king’s reluctance since 1987 to step forward openly has often been deplored by Israeli leaders and Western statesmen, some of whom go on in the same breath to say that his caution is probably justified. Jordan is far less powerful than Egypt or Syria and Iraq; nor is it as rich as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Its continued existence depends to a large degree on the good will of the other Arab countries and of its two million Palestinian citizens. Their loyalty is by no means certain.
Israelis sometimes complain of the king’s “hypocrisy”—his public support of Palestinian independence while he well knows that Israel will do everything to prevent it. Jordanian officials, of course, dismiss this. They insist that Jordan must steer a middle course—between Arabs and Israelis and among the Arabs themselves, as during the Gulf War. Their complaint is that Israel and the United States refuse to understand the constraints that limit Jordan’s freedom of action, constraints that they themselves find frustrating. Soon after Rabin’s spectacular handshake with Arafat last September in Washington, a high Jordanian official asked. Henry Siegman of the American Jewish Congress, who was visiting Amman: “Whatever possessed Rabin to deal with Yasser Arafat?” “You did,” Siegman responded. “For years you have been telling the Israelis that Jordan would not speak for the Palestinians. Israel must deal with the PLO. You left them no alternative.”
Some of the king’s advisers have urged him in recent months to adopt a “Jordan first” policy: forget the Palestinians, they’ve only caused us trouble, and concentrate only on strengthening Jordan. (Those who hold this view are sometimes referred to in Amman drawing rooms as “the Jordanian Likud.”) The king has probably given these Jordan Firsters a certain amount of encouragement, perhaps as a buffer against Jordan’s Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom are Palestinians. According to several prominent Palestinian Jordanians I talked to, fewer Palestinians hold top government positions now than ever before. One, who still holds high office, told me: “I am beginning to feel like a secondclass citizen.”
The king is said to live in constant fear that the United States or Israel might take him for granted. This was obvious in the days following the Israeli-Palestinian accord. He was furious that he had not been consulted on an issue of immediate concern to Jordan. He was worried that the delicate balance achieved in recent years between the royal house and Palestinian Jordanians was in jeopardy. In the near panic of the first few hours, the Jordanian authorities stopped all traffic on the bridges from the occupied territories into Jordan. The king told an interviewer that he was so worried he had not slept all night. The official press warned that “supreme national interests” of Jordan were in jeopardy.
Jordan was concerned that, as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian accord, tens, or maybe hundreds, of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza might migrate to Jordan. These initial concerns appear to have since been allayed, or at least lessened, by the Israelis, although the exact nature of the assurances or reassurances offered the king by Rabin, Peres, and Arafat during their recent meetings and exchanges remains secret. The king has asked the Palestinians publicly to eliminate the word “confederation” from their rhetoric. The Israelis have promised the king that everything possible will be done to prevent the projected Palestinian entity on the West Bank from subverting the Jordanian state. The bridges on the Jordan will remain under Israeli control, at least through the interim period. Peres, indefatigably optimistic, returned from his last not-so-secret meeting with the king in Amman in November with a pronouncement that a peace treaty with Jordan was ready. “The only thing that’s missing is a pen.” Then, nothing happened. The Jordanians even delayed holding a conference of international investors—an idea promoted also by President Clinton—to discuss joint Israeli Jordanian development projects.
In the Oslo accord the final status of the autonomous Palestinian region in the West Bank and Gaza was left open, subject to future negotiations. Rabin and Peres have not, or not yet, given up hope that Jordan will have an important part in any long-term solution. This is still called “the Jordanian Option,” a phrase that Abba Eban once described as a most unhappy semantic device since it obscures the limitations of the Jordanians when they come under pressure from the Palestinians and supporters of their nationalist cause. “It also overestimates the stature of Amman within the Arab regional complex,” said Eban.
And yet, in Jerusalem, the “option” is still alive. Rabin and Peres continue to announce their opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Prominent Labor politicians, the press and, of course, spokesmen for the opposition claim that these are convenient Machiavellian lies; but Rabin and Peres may well be telling the truth. There is reason to believe that Peres wants a fully independent Palestinian state established only in the Gaza Strip (on the model of Singapore). His preferred long-term solution for the West Bank is that it be granted limited autonomy and overseen jointly by the Gaza-Palestine state, Jordan, and Israel. Peres seems to have concluded that for reasons of domestic Israeli politics, most of the 120,000 Israelis on the West Bank can no longer be removed. As for Jerusalem, he contemplates a series of Muslim and Christian enclaves whose legal status will be modeled on that of the Vatican. Proposals in this spirit have been offered to Hussein in the hope that he would endorse them. From all I could gather in Amman there is little likelihood that he will.
One morning in Amman an officer of the royal guard came to take me to an interview with the king’s younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan Bin Talal. The royal compound occupies almost an entire hilltop, the only one in treeless Amman that is wooded and overlooks the downtown district and the Roman amphitheater. Hassan is Hussein’s appointed successor and close adviser. He lives on the palace grounds with his Pakistani wife and four children in the elegant villa once occupied by the British resident. His office, next to the king’s, in the diwan—the court administration building—is patrolled by fierce-looking Circassian guards wearing black uniforms out of Boris Godunov and carrying silver-trimmed daggers.
The prince is an easy-going man. A certain informality prevails in his office: a sign printed in English in the waiting room requests employees to refer to the prince as the “employer,” not as “fathead” or “gumshoe.” On the walls of his study are photographs of his family, leather-bound volumes of the Koran, and a large painting of the mosques on the temple platform of Jerusalem.
Unlike the king, who has married four times, Hassan is said to be a family man, and an intellectual of wide and varied interests. (He is also a skier, a polo and squash player, and he has a black belt in karate.) Like his brother, he is short in stature; he has a large head, and his deep booming voice and loud laughter make him seem bigger than he is. He talks with machine-gun-like rapidity in a clipped British accent with a touch of wry, self-effacing wit, on the lookout for paradoxes and ironies, and with a weakness, occasionally, for campus-speak. He is the author of several scholarly books, including a polemic aimed at disproving the legitimacy of Israel’s historic and legal claim to Jerusalem and another on the inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination—with or without links to Jordan.
The Hebron massacre was a very, very serious setback, he told me, for it highlighted once again the great danger that the political might be subsumed, as he put it, by the religious. Jordan had merely suspended the peace talks with Israel, he stressed, not quit them.* But it was too soon to say “how far off track” the massacre would take the peace process. “I honestly don’t know any more what that term—peace process—means.” Originally he had hoped that 1994 would be “the threshold for peace.” Even before the Hebron massacre he was no longer sure. Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon had their separate agendas. Israel was not tackling the concerns of all of them “with the kind of comprehensiveness we would like to see.”
Moreover, the “nonvoting chairman” (i.e., the United States) was really little more than “a mailbox…impulsive here and there but with no toughness.” He did not want to score points, the crown prince said, but there was more to making peace than the flip remarks of the sort Shimon Peres had been making in recent months (e.g., only a pen is missing to sign a peace treaty). Much more was missing, the crown prince insisted. “After twenty-six months of direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan all we were able to achieve in practical terms was an agreement on pest control in the Jordan Valley…. This we could have achieved in the Mixed Armistice Commission even before Madrid.” At the same time, Israel has rejected so far even “the principle of discussing boundaries with Jordan simply because, as they say, they have diverse pressures within which prevent them from discussing boundaries.” Perhaps, he said, they “fear setting a precedent.” (Apart from Jerusalem, the main border dispute between the two countries concerns no more than some three hundred square kilometers abutting the Negev that Israel seized in 1967 and has cultivated since.)
“We have been accused of waiting for a Syrian lead,” the prince said. “But the fact is we have been asking for movement on the question of boundaries. But even the principle of discussing boundaries has not been accepted.”
The Israelis, he said, were eager to discuss joint economic projects in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere. But a number of basic “concepts” had to be clarified first: among them were boundaries, Jerusalem, the fair distribution of water resources, and the future of refugees. Israel, he said, has unilaterally established its own fait accompli on each of these four issues.
“When I saw Mr. Peres in Washington I made this very clear to him. His opening lines were: this project and that project. I said to him, look, we didn’t come here to discuss projects without a concept.”
I asked the prince if he was aware that Mr. Peres’s vision of peace was quite similar to his own: they were both stressing the importance of regional security and cooperation; both were constantly emphasizing economic interests (both speak of a “dimension”) and relations and the need to move beyond the narrow nationalisms of the past. Both were talking about the common man, what the prince called “anthropolitics.” And both were accusing each other of ambiguity. Couldn’t these ambiguities be cleared up, I asked, if the two sides got together more frequently?
“Well, contacts are quite frequent,” the crown prince said. “But readiness on the part of the political decision-makers is lacking—I don’t want to sound tough, I am not accusing anybody—there is a deadlock.”
Perhaps the principals should get together in an intensive way, I said, before another madman…
“Believe me,” Prince Hassan interceded, “we are in contact in an intensive manner in more than one way…”
“I realize that now,” I said, “but it’s also true these intensive contacts are rather far apart.”
“We’ll invite you the next time and you can shout at us both,” said the crown prince, with a loud laugh.
“Peres is ready to meet you on a daily basis.”
“It’s not this meeting that is the reason for my concern but what’s happening [when he meets] Rabin in Tel Aviv,” he answered, still laughing.
“Perhaps we should get King Hussein and Premier Rabin together more often—lock them up in a room until they find a solution,” I said.
The prince mumbled something I took to mean this wouldn’t be a bad idea. I said I hoped this should happen sooner rather than later, before another Jewish madman or an Arab madman upsets everything once again.
“There is major lasting damage control to be done now during the next few weeks,” he said. “After that we must get back on track. Something meaningful will have to be done before the congressional and US government summer recess. Otherwise, really, this will be a year of terrible backsliding into violence.”
The United States was not doing everything it should, the prince said. “The structure of the peace talks of Madrid envisaged, effectively, that the third party, the sponsor, the United States, play a full role…. Instead of saying what we shouldn’t be discussing because it’s too explosive, let them be creative from time to time and say what we could or should be discussing…. After Hebron something more than charm is required…. Washington always wants a gimmick…. Something more is needed—not along the lines of ‘let’s have another public handshake.’ The key issues have to be addressed.” These statements will come over very badly in print, the crown prince concluded. The trouble with the United States was that it always “rushes to claim credit for many things”—he was alluding to the White House ceremony last September—but peace-making, “after all, is much more than that…”
—March 24, 1994
April 21, 1994
Jordan, along with Syria and Lebanon, agreed to resume the peace talks in April, following the Security Council’s resolution of March 18 denouncing the Hebron massacre. It is unlikely that the talks will lead to peace accords unless the Palestinians take part in them. Support for the Oslo agreement has declined among Palestinians in the occupied territories, as has Arafat’s personal popularity. Both dropped dramatically following the Hebron massacre. It remains in question whether the talks can be revived without the evacuation of armed Jewish settlers from sensitive places such as the heart of Hebron and the Gaza Strip, where their presence is a provocation and they are themselves objects of Palestinian violence. It must be remembered that, in spite of the Oslo agreement, the settlers’ struggle for sovereign status everywhere in the occupied territories continues, as has the Palestinian counter-struggle. In the circumstances, it is not difficult to see that the peace talks could again come to a halt. ↩