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For Jordanians, Treaty Means an Opportunity to Plan for the Future : Reaction: Citizens in the capital say they want peace, prosperity. Their king is counting on those hopes to bolster his decision.

October 18, 1994|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — In the working-class area of downtown Amman and the chic restaurants of the upscale Shmeisaneh district, Jordanians on Monday welcomed the draft peace treaty with Israel.

"Who hates peace?" asked Majaad Ghanma as he bought pastries at Shmeisaneh's Jabri patisserie. "The main thing is for Jordanians to feel that we are not expecting war anymore.

"You have to have peace of mind to plan for the future, and for 50 years, all we had was uncertainty and war," said Ghanma, an administrator at Yarmouk University. "As long as our rights have been preserved, this is a good thing."

On the other side of town, in a crowded, working-class coffee shop filled with men smoking water pipes and playing backgammon, Salim abu Dahab echoed Ghanma's sentiments.

"I believe that most of the people welcome this treaty," said Abu Dahab, a businessman whose family fled Jaffa, since incorporated with Tel Aviv, in 1948, when the Jewish state was born.

Now 60, Abu Dahab says he no longer dreams of returning to Jaffa.

"It is impossible," he said. "Only low-class people and fundamentalists are thinking of going back to Palestine. I am 60. What do I know about Jaffa? It exists only in my imagination."

Instead of dreaming of return, Abu Dahab said, he thinks of doing business with Israel.

"Until now, we hear about peace and we read about peace, but we don't feel peace," he said. "We want to feel it, and the way to do that is through business. If there is business transactions, then people will welcome this peace."

It is the hopes of people such as Abu Dahab and Ghanma--the desire to live a normal life and enjoy economic security and prosperity--that King Hussein is counting on to counterbalance the shock of making peace with the Jewish state.

Since Arab-Israeli peace talks opened in Madrid three years ago, Hussein has gradually prepared the population for the signing of a full peace treaty with Israel. There has been more reporting here on peace negotiations, and on news occurring inside Israel, than in any other Arab country. Meetings between Hussein and Rabin have become almost routine, and Hussein is the only Arab leader who has agreed to conduct bilateral negotiations in Israel and to welcome Israeli negotiators in Jordan.

Even so, Monday's agreement came as a surprise to most people here--even newspaper editors were reduced to turning their channels to Israel Television's live broadcast of the Hussein-Rabin news conference to learn that a draft treaty had indeed been agreed on.

There is likely to be some opposition expressed by Islamic fundamentalists and left-wing peace opponents, but neither group is particularly strong in Jordan.

On Amman's crowded sidewalks Monday night, many people still had not heard the news, several hours after the draft treaty was announced.

At the Babiche coffee shop in Shmeisaneh, Palestinian students were divided in their reactions when a reporter told them that a treaty is scheduled to be signed on the Israeli-Jordanian border next week.

"It's a good step," said Maha Abdul Hadi, an 18-year-old student at Amman University. Born in the West Bank, Abdul Hadi grew up in Saudi Arabia after her family decided to leave. But she holds a Jordanian passport and said she feels both Jordanian and Palestinian now.

"It's time to do something," Abdul Hadi said. "Now, everybody is talking about peace. Maybe, with this treaty, it will be easy for us to travel from here to Palestine. That would be a good thing."

Bayan Dawood, sitting across from Abdul Hadi, shook her head in disagreement.

"I'm not convinced that we should make peace with Israel at all," said the 18-year-old Dawood, whose father was born in Nablus. "Many people had their children and their brothers die fighting the Jews, and then we make peace, after all that? When I think about the people that died, I feel selfish for making peace."

Dawood declared that she will never visit Israel "until it is Palestine, and until it is all ours again."

Across the street, in the Al Sultan coffee shop, a group of young Jordanian businessmen said the treaty might not please Palestinians--who make up more than 50% of the population here--but will certainly be good for Jordan.

"So far, so good," said Munief Tall, 26, a junior executive with the Jordanian Petroleum Co. Tall said that Israeli businessmen had already started faxing his company, putting out feelers for business possibilities.

"Why not?" he asked. "Nobody knows the future, but I think this will be good for business."

"It is the only choice," said Ali Dbbas, 24, a salesman with an agricultural products manufacturing firm. "There is no other choice for Jordan. There should be no more fights."

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