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'Warm Peace' With Israel May Be Long Time Coming, Jordanians Say : Diplomacy: Leaders claim nation is prepared to end years of enmity. But analysts know changing hearts will be difficult.

October 19, 1994|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — If all goes as planned, the Israeli flag--for decades a hated symbol of this nation's worst enemy--could be snapping in the breeze above a newly opened Israeli Embassy in just six weeks. Are Jordanians prepared for such a spectacle?

Absolutely, according to Prime Minister Abdul Salam Majali, who announced Tuesday that the Cabinet had that morning approved the peace treaty initialed the day before with Israel. The Jordanian Parliament is expected to ratify the accord Saturday.

"The Jordanian people are well-prepared for peace; they have believed in peace for a long time," Majali said confidently, when asked by a reporter about the psychological impact of Israel opening a mission here.

But Sari Nasir, head of the sociology department at Amman University, thinks that Majali and the government are too optimistic about the reception Israelis are likely to receive here. Nasir points out that more than 50% of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, and many Palestinians still feel their grievances against Israel have not been addressed.

"It is too much, too soon," said Nasir. "People need much more time to understand and digest what is happening. Will Israelis feel safe walking the streets of Amman? If I were them, I wouldn't."

Both Majali and Nasir are partially right. On an abstract level, Jordanians and Palestinian Jordanians appear to have accepted the process of rapprochement with Israel that began in October, 1991, when the United States and Russia presided over the opening of Arab-Israeli negotiations in Madrid. In 1993, they witnessed the signing of a framework for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In July of this year, they saw King Hussein announce an end to the state of belligerency that had existed between the two countries for 46 years.

Ask passersby on the streets of Amman whether they support the signing of a peace treaty with Israel, and the response is generally favorable. But probe deeper, and Jordanians invariably dwell on the economic benefits they expect will flow from making peace. There is no eagerness to get to know the neighbors with whom Jordanians have fought two wars.

"My children believe that these people are devils and that they ought not to be accepted," said Nasir, a Palestinian whose family became refugees twice after the Jewish state was born in 1948. As a child, Nasir fled with his family to East Jerusalem in 1948. As a young man, he fled from East Jerusalem to Amman after Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the June, 1967, Arab-Israeli War.

Even government officials acknowledge that they have trouble with the human side of peace.

"When Israel and Jordan opened the new border in the south last August," said Michel Hamarneh, the urbane director of Crown Prince Hassan's office, "I stood there at the ceremony, not knowing what to feel. In my mind, I had accepted this moment, I wanted it to happen. But all my life, I hated these people. I tried to inject hatred of them into my children." Hamarneh recalls that he could not bring himself to speak to the Israeli officials seated on each side of him.

Because most of the negotiating process that has occurred since Madrid has been carried out behind closed doors, with the principals emerging only for periodic, historic signing ceremonies, the treaty that King Hussein intends to sign next Wednesday is one made between regimes, not peoples, said Nasir and other Jordanians.

The sort of "warm peace" Israelis are hoping to build with Jordan will follow the formal treaty slowly, if at all, according to many Jordanians.

"You don't change attitudes overnight," Nasir said. "There are so many people who have lost very dear ones, who have lost their villages, their social structure. These people are very bitter."

That bitterness, both Jordanian opposition figures and government officials agree, is unlikely to express itself in any violent form of protest. Hussein is a popular monarch, and his kingdom is well-managed by his security forces. Opposition groups on the left and right are closely monitored and kept in check. Palestinians, who under the Palestine Liberation Organization's leadership rose up against the regime in 1970, have in the past two decades become overwhelmingly middle class and settled into society.

"There will be no riots in the streets," Hamarneh said. "The Palestinians here would like to make the best of their lives here. They know that their dreams of returning to Palestine are finished."

Palestinian refugee camps, where opposition might be expected to be the most fierce, are directly controlled by the security police, and have been quiet since the initialing occurred.

Islamic fundamentalists already have announced that they will vote against the treaty in Parliament on Saturday, but they hold only 16 seats and cannot block ratification. Leftists also are opposed, but across the spectrum opposition figures have taken pains to say their protests will be restricted to democratic expressions.

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