Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Shevat 5759 - Feb 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The Middle East of King Hussein

If we were asked to summarize our attitude to the late King Hussein Ibn Talal of Jordan in a word, we would certainly decline. It is a good thing that we have some 800 words in which to do so.

Ruler of a small country without any natural resources that Winston Churchill, as British Colonial Secretary in 1923, said he created in one afternoon by splitting the territory east of the Jordan in the Palestine Mandate off from the rest, Hussein, with his wile, guile and sincerity, became nonetheless one of the seminal figures of the century. The high level delegations from around the world that participated in the royal funeral of this small Middle Eastern Country testify to the world consensus about the late King's importance and the high regard in which he was held by all.

Because of the special relationship between the late King and Israel, there is genuine sorrow in Israel at his passing. He maintained high level ties -- both public and private -- with Israeli leaders for most of the 46 years of his rule at great personal risk, and said that the signing five years ago of a treaty with Israel was "without a doubt my proudest accomplishment." But his real tie to the people of Israel was cemented in a dramatic gesture when he paid a condolence visit to the families of seven young girls murdered by a Jordanian Army soldier in Beit Shemesh. He went on his knees before the mourners and asked their forgiveness for what he called the despicable act of his countryman. It was a deed that indicated that peace was more for him than just a calculated, politically useful goal, but rather a true and deep-rooted aim.

His recent efforts for peace in our troubled area, including his appearance at the Wye Conference Center, weakened by his long bout with cancer, served to blur the memory for some of the long years in which he was a bitter enemy of Israel, when his soldiers spilled much Jewish blood. In the first years of his reign, when east Jerusalem was under his rule, Jordanian sharpshooters of the Arab Legion killed innocent citizens at every opportunity across the border. In 1967, when the massive Arab armies of Egypt and Syria threatened to wipe out the Jewish refuge, Hussein ignored repeated Israeli pleas to stay out of the fray, apparently in the hope of sharing in the spoils of victory. The result was obviously one of his worst losses, as Israel gained control of Jerusalem and the west bank of the Jordan River.

Hussein was also virtually the only Arab leader (the other exception was Yasser Arafat) who sided with Iraq in the Gulf War, refusing to join the Arab and indeed, the entire world, in the coalition against the Iraqi despot. It was said that he feared an Iraqi invasion and/or internal unrest if he followed any other course, but he paid dearly for his choice as he lost hundreds of millions of dollars yearly that he had been receiving from other Arab states.

This dark side has been forgotten in the collective world memory, as Hussein played a central and very public role in the Middle East peace process of more recent years. He went a long way in signing a full peace treaty with Israel, accompanied by many visits to and from Israel and moving personal gestures, against considerable opposition within his own country. King Hussein certainly put his personal prestige and all his considerable influence on the line to win broad public support for peace.

He was not satisfied with peace between his own kingdom and Israel, but worked hard and effectively to advance the peace between Israel and the Palestinians, climaxed by his visit to the marathon negotiations preceding the signing of the most recent agreement in the United States, weak and drawn from his debilitating medical treatments. It was an heroic effort for peace that was universally admired.

The transition of leaders in her neighbor can only be a cause for concern to Israel. The kingdom of Hussein was an island of stability in the Middle East, and our hope and prayer is that his son and heir, King Abdullah, will ably and smoothly fill the large shoes of his father.

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