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Monarch Views Peace as His Greatest Legacy : Jordan: King Hussein is reported to be thinking about mortality. But advisers say no decision has left him as confident as the treaty with Israel.

October 26, 1994|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — King Hussein calls the peace treaty to be ceremoniously signed with Israel today his gift to the Jordanian people, the greatest legacy of his more than four decades on the throne.

Although voices of opposition from both the left and the right are getting loud enough here that the king felt compelled to urge restraint Monday in a televised speech to the army, his advisers say the monarch has never projected more certainty and confidence about a political decision.

"The king is thinking about his own mortality, and about what will happen to Jordan after he is gone," said a senior official at the royal court, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He wants to leave Jordan stable and with a chance for a good future."

As thousands of dignitaries and reporters descended on Jordan for the signing ceremony, Hussein appeared to be reveling in the moment. In every public appearance, the king seemed relaxed, even ebullient. Only on Monday did the carping of Arab leaders that he made an agreement too soon, and the criticism from some of his own subjects that he did not wrest enough concessions from Israel, provoke a response.

"A minority among the people has attacked it (the treaty)," Hussein told a gathering of army officers, "and part of our democratic life and our respect for the people's rights is to allow them to express their views. But I would like to remind them of the . . . need for the minority to respect the views of the majority."

Hussein intends to make the most of President Clinton's one-day stay here, the first presidential visit since Richard Nixon came in 1974. After Clinton attends the signing ceremony in southern Jordan, Hussein will accompany him on a tour of Petra, an ancient city carved in red rock. The two then will fly to Amman, where Clinton will address Parliament and be feted at a state banquet in the king's hilltop palace.

Hussein was particularly eager for Clinton to address the 80-member Parliament, Western diplomats said, because it is the symbol of his efforts to build institutions that will outlive him. But the king was said to be distressed by the announced intention of 16 militant Islamic legislators to boycott the President's speech.

Members of the Islamic Action Front said they will walk out to protest the peace treaty and U.S. policy in the region. Some leftist parliamentarians have also threatened to disrupt the President's speech to voice their opposition to the treaty and the U.S. role in brokering it.

"There is anxiety at the palace that the parliamentarians will hurt the king's credibility," said one senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But Parliament's rambunctiousness is an embarrassment to Hussein, not a threat, analysts here agree. His decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel without waiting for Syria to go first startled some Jordanians and angered others, but it has not aroused any significant opposition.

"I think there is a sense of realism, a sense that somehow the Arab-Israeli conflict must come to an end," said Mustafa Hamarneh, director of the University of Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies. The king remains enormously popular with the vast majority of Jordanians, said Hamarneh, who regularly conducts public opinion polls on the peace process. Hussein is counting on that personal popularity to win at least grudging acceptance of peace with Israel from most Jordanians, Hamarneh said.

"The whole thing is based on the king's popularity," said the bearded professor, who said he supports signing a peace treaty with Israel. "In our subconscious, we know that we lost, that the Zionists won. So there is nothing joyous about (the signing ceremony). For me and my peers, it was a noble cause, fighting for Jerusalem and for Palestine. And so there will be sadness tomorrow, because it is over."

Hamarneh agreed with those who said that Hussein's thoughts of his mortality helped push him toward making peace with Israel. More than two years ago, the king, now 58, was found to have cancer of the ureter. He was treated in the United States and has since been declared cancer-free. But in his addresses to the nation since then, he has seemed preoccupied with the prospect that he will soon pass from the scene.

If the experience of surviving a life-threatening illness gave Hussein a new sense of urgency about the negotiations that began with Israel in October, 1991, political developments surrounding the talks soon combined with a deteriorating economic situation inside Jordan to convince the king that the time had come to act.

In the summer of 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization revealed that they had secretly negotiated a framework for Palestinian self-rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, outside the formal talks going on in Washington among Israel, the Arab states and the Palestinians.

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