My Word: The king and us

Jordan’s Abdullah II has delivered more of a threat than a promise of peace.

Obama Jordan's King Abdullah 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Jordan's King Abdullah 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Lying in bed early the other morning, listening on the radio to snatches of an interview with King Abdullah II of Jordan, I suddenly realized that although I liked the ultimate message and wanted to believe the messenger, there was a problem.
The king told the Chicago Tribune editorial board on April 15, “If we hit the summer and there’s no active process, there’s a very good chance for conflict – and nobody wins when it comes to that.”
In answer to a question, Abdullah said he’d become “extremely frustrated” with the Netanyahu government. “I believe Israel’s future is to be integrated into the region. But if the powers-that-be look at Israel’s future as [isolated] Fortress Israel, that means bloodshed will continue for decades,” he warned.
And he offered a solution: Opt for the Arab League peace initiative before it runs out in July. “In the Arab-Islamic peace proposal, it’s not just opening trade offices, it’s full diplomatic relations,” Abdullah explained.
“Indirectly, what the Arabs are saying is, we will be the ones to ensure the security and the survival of Israel,” he continued. “You don’t need to have those walls; you don’t need to be Fortress Israel because you’re one of us now.”
Half-awake, half-asleep, I permitted myself a pleasant daydream, mixed with memories, of trips to Petra, Jerash and Wadi Rum, and beyond – way beyond – to the incomparable waters of the Persian Gulf. Above all, still tucked under the covers, I had the snatch of a wonderful dream of feeling safe and secure. Then the snooze button broke into my reverie and served as a literal wake-up call.
Snapping back into consciousness I thought of the question I would have asked the Hashemite monarch were he to visit The Jerusalem Post’s editorial board. If the Arab League countries could guarantee Israel’s safety were it to accept their two-state solution, why can’t they prevent the possible conflict in July?
Obviously peace would be better for Israel, Jordan and the so-called moderate countries (although classing places like Saudi Arabia as “moderate” makes you appreciate how desperately immoderate some of the other countries are). If they can really control the “hard-line” states and the terrorist networks they support, wouldn’t it make more sense to do it now and allow everyone to get back to the negotiating table without a threat hanging over their heads?
RECENTLY I met a well-placed Jordanian in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal his name, exactly where we met or under what circumstances  – which is pretty frustrating from more than a purely journalistic point of view. The man feared the very real likelihood that he would be killed should the details be published.
If this was the kind of fear a highly respected Jordanian was subjected to for traveling to Israel – some 15 years after the signing of the peace treaty between the two countries – exactly what type of normalization did King Abdullah envisage?
I share the monarch’s feeling of frustration, although I apportion the blame differently. I, too, recall different days: days of optimism.
I will never forget attending the peace talks in a huge air-conditioned tent set up at Ein Evrona, where it took me a couple of minutes to realize that I could simply walk around the table, from the Israeli side, and ask Jordanian participants questions.
I later attended the signing of the peace treaty – far more festive than the ceremony at which the Oslo Accords were initialed.
I traveled to the Hashemite kingdom on several occasions, enjoying in particular the thrill of crossing the Jordan River, on foot, at the Allenby Bridge. I met Abdullah’s father, King Hussein, on so many of these trips that I could routinely recite the blessing on seeing a monarch, shenatan m’kvodo l’vasar v’dam (who has given from His glory to flesh and blood). I still dine out on the story of my supper in the palace.
The last time I saw King Hussein, shortly before he died, he came up to me in the crowd of reporters and greeted me, in Arabic, “Marhaba.” I will never know whether he recognized me or whether it was just that way he had of making everyone feel special and welcome.
I know that as an Israeli I felt safe there, even on the trip where by misadventure I was lost in Amman without a passport. And when the king gave his word that he would guarantee the safety of a parliamentary delegation I was accompanying, I trusted him.
When King Hussein, or his brother and then heir-apparent Prince Hassan, spoke of peace, I could identify with the vision. King Hussein spoke in his warm tones, Prince Hassan in a far more down-to-earth manner. Both seemed to say the peace needed to be worked on, but it existed.
I didn’t get to met King Abdullah on his ascension to the throne although I traveled with Binyamin Netanyahu’s entourage. It was during his first term as prime minister, February 28, 1999.
Waiting for the meeting, the Israel Radio reporter called Jerusalem and we discovered that veteran correspondent Ilan Ro’eh had been killed in Lebanon, accompanying Brig.-Gen. Erez Gerstein, who also died along with his driver and radio operator.
What followed assumed that strange state of clarity and haziness that follows the shock of bereavement. I clearly remember palace staff bringing me a glass of water and helping me sit down. And I have another strong memory: Someone, I think a radio technician, needed a quorum to say the memorial prayer for a parent. So the Israeli press delegation, religious and secular alike, stood on the palace steps, turned to face Jerusalem – as Jews have done in prayer for millennia – and as one responded to Kaddish.
A year later, Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon, and not by chance the intifada broke out. More dead. More prayers. Missiles fell on Jerusalem (yes, Gilo is in Jerusalem).
Later, the IDF – and all the Jewish communities – left Gaza, too. More missiles. More dead and wounded. And, not coincidentally, Hizbullah launched a war on Israel from the area that the IDF had left, six years previously.
And now, instead of blasting Syria for arming Hizbullah with Scuds, the Jordanian monarch seems to be saying: You’ll have brought these missiles on yourselves if you don’t agree to trying another peace on our terms.
Last week, Jordan’s Queen Rania declared an initiative to improveeducation in Jerusalem schools under Wakf control, stating, accordingto a Jordan Times report: “Today, Jerusalem occupies the news headlinesand tops the agendas of summits just as it always has... It will becomemore Israeli every day if we don’t support its Palestinian identitystarting today.”
Well I have news for you, your highness: Jerusalem didn’t always topagendas and summits, or even have a Palestinian identity. Certainly notduring the 19 years Jordan had control there. And this only ended whenKing Hussein decided to join in the armed effort against the Jewishstate in 1967.
But you are welcome to come visit the holy places, something Jews couldnot do under Jordanian control, and your husband is invited to visitthe Post’s editorial board.
As your late father-in-law might have said: “Ahlan wasahlan.”
May you come in peace.