When I was a student at the Hebrew University a lecturer in journalism told our
class that one day we would be invited to a cocktail party and think to
ourselves: “Oh, no. Not another one.”
A diplomat once told me he’d heard
the same thing.
Despite the warning, I was vaguely surprised several
years later when a visit to the palace in Jordan was canceled and my first
feeling was one of relief, not disappointment. I was pleased that I didn’t have
to get up extra early to travel to the Allenby Crossing and meet the king –
Now, of course, both that Israeli envoy and I would be happy to be
in a situation in which we were popping there and back across the border so
frequently that a chance to stay home and sleep a bit longer would be more
In the early days of relations between Israel and the
Hashemite Kingdom – their heyday, as it turned out – I crossed the River Jordan
fairly regularly. I always got a thrill from it, but with each journey the
“river deep and wide” that inspired spirituals seemed less and less
The power of the River Jordan has, of course, always stemmed
from its symbolism and not its size. It always represented a huge
Today, I remember those quick jaunts to the palace and elsewhere
like a distant dream.
Petra is incredible; Jerash, interesting; Aqaba,
pleasant, and the capital Amman a little on the boring side, but a good guide
can still reveal some well-hidden charms.
I covered the development of
relations with Jordan from the moment they were announced in 1994. They came as
such a surprise that I had to cancel a dental appointment with the undeniably
great excuse: “I can’t make it this afternoon. Peace has just broken
I attended the initial talks in a huge tent at Ein Avrona in the
Arava, getting excited at the sudden realization that I could simply walk around
the table where the two delegations were sitting and interview the unfamiliar
faces on the Jordanian side.
The signing of the peace treaty on October
26 was a festive affair. Hearing the gun salute and knowing this was a volley
saluting peace was a powerful experience. Watching the balloons spreading their
message of hope was wonderful. And I treasure, along with the many photos in my
album, the memory of interviewing a high-ranking Jordanian official.
I asked his name for the news story, he said he couldn’t give it to me
After I pushed, “When will you let me write it?” he replied: “At
the rate this peace is developing, in about 15 minutes.”
Over the years,
I saw him several times in various places.
Sadly, while there was a
period in which he was happy to have his name in the Israeli press, in recent
years he has again always asked for anonymity. The warm peace I felt under King
Hussein has grown decidedly chilly during his son’s reign.
last week’s meeting in Amman between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy
Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat, while it made
no major headlines, was nonetheless significant.
Ditto, the follow-up
meeting planned to take place this week. The meetings are the
Jordan’s King Abdullah II realizes as much as the ordinary man
on the street that nature abhors a vacuum. And that includes human
With most of the Arab world still in turmoil, and presidents
tumbling from power at what must seem like a terrifying rate to the remaining
leaders, the Hashemite monarch had to step in. The removal of Egyptian president
Hosni Mubarak from the arena provided Abdullah with an opportunity, and also a
need to get involved.
Hosting Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, like a
diplomatic cocktail party, appears glamorous. In reality, both require hard
work, unsociable hours and trying to be pleasant no matter how you
The Jordanians reported that last week’s meeting was held in a
“positive atmosphere” – the diplomatic linguistic equivalent of a forced
Nobody had high expectations of the gathering; nobody was
disappointed. I can schedule a dental checkup for next week, next month, and
probably the rest of this year, without the caveat that I might have to postpone
it to cover a peace agreement.
But I’m not belittling Abdullah’s genuine
desire for some kind of Israeli- Palestinian agreement. He’s not interested in
it for the Nobel Peace Prize. He’s got a far greater vested interest: keeping
The palace in Amman where I met King Hussein is surprisingly
modest for a Middle Eastern monarch. The winter palace in Aqaba even more so.
The Hashemite rulers are aware of the precarious position of heads of state who
flaunt their wealth and power while their subjects struggle.
father, Abdullah’s taste for life in the fast lane expresses itself in a
fondness for racing cars and motorcycles – he is a Jordan National Rally
champion – and planes. A free-fall parachutist, he lives dangerously, but he has
no death wish.
And like his father before him, King Abdullah has a
strategic interest in trying to solve the Palestinian issue. Nearly two-thirds
of all Jordanians, including Queen Rania, are of Palestinian
Civil unrest by extremist Palestinian groups continues to be a
fear for the future as it was a threat in the past.
government is the ninth since Abdullah ascended to the throne on his father’s
death in 1999 and its mandate seems to be to implement sufficient royally
dictated reforms to keep the kingdom from being torn apart by social, political,
Islamist and tribal protests.
Add to that the chaos just beyond the
eastern border. King Abdullah is a former military man. He is well aware that
the departure of the US forces from Iraq has left a very weak country extremely
vulnerable to exploitation by religious extremists and terrorist
At the most pragmatic level, he can’t afford unrest
threatening to spill over from both east and west, and all this while Syria to
the north continues to descend into what threatens to become a civil
For the same reasons, Israel cannot afford for Jordan – somewhat of
a buffer zone – to fall. It would leave the back door wide open in a very
One of the most serious failings of the Oslo
Process – and there’s unfortunately a lot to choose from – was the manner in
which it brutally superseded the Madrid Process with all the grace of a coup
d’etat ousting a royal house.
Under Madrid, the Jordanian and Palestinian
delegations were combined.
Oslo – and all the mini processes that
followed when it literally blew up – has destroyed any chance for a “Jordan is
Palestine”-style solution, no matter how historically justified it
Jordan needs Israel’s help in keeping tensions with the Palestinians
under control; Israel needs Jordan for similar reasons.
commentators have noted recently, the focus is moving from conflict resolution
to conflict management.
We don’t need a piece of paper saying we have
achieved peace. A phony peace helps nobody; quiet is far more
If the king can help bring about stability, I would be happy
to get up at any hour to travel to Jordan and celebrate it with a non-alcoholic
cocktail.The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.