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Disenchantment Follows Renewed Jordan-Israel Ties

Mideast: Resumption of violence with Palestinians, lack of economic payoff fuel discontent among populace, politicians alike.

November 10, 1996|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — When this Arab nation signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, ending nearly five decades of mutual belligerency, Riad abu Ezz was relieved that the years of conflict and fear were at an end.

Abu Ezz, 24, who works in a print shop near the University of Jordan, says he was optimistic too, believing that peace with Israel would translate to tangible economic benefits for the nation and for him.

Now, however, given Jordan's increasingly chilly relationship with Israel and no sign of the peace dividends that many here expected, the young man says he feels angry that he allowed himself to hope.

"There is nothing good about this agreement," Abu Ezz said last week, pausing during an evening shopping trip with his wife in downtown Amman. "It's . . . writing on paper only. It didn't bring anything to us."

At the popular and official level alike, there is deep frustration here these days with the lack of immediate economic benefit from the peace agreement, anger at the perceived intransigence of the new Israeli government and outrage over recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, just across the Jordan River.

Relations between Israel and Jordan, which once seemed on a rapid track to normalization, have slipped to their lowest level since the peace treaty was signed two years ago.

"There is a crisis between Jordan and Israel," said Information Minister Marwan Muasher, who served as Jordan's first ambassador to Israel. "The fact that a crisis exists does not mean there is any intention on Jordan's part to deviate from the peace process."

Officials in Amman pointed to a day trip to Jordan on Wednesday by Israeli President Ezer Weizman, who has often used his largely ceremonial position to build goodwill with Arab leaders, including Jordan's King Hussein.

"It's important for us to send the message to the Israelis that we want the peace process to move forward but that we are worried," Muasher said.

Nonetheless, Muasher said, "we expect more of this relationship than it is producing. Both as a government and a people, we expect more."

For several months this year, Hussein stood virtually alone among Arab leaders, calling for calm in the face of the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud Party, as Israel's prime minister.

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Throughout the summer, the king said it was too early to judge the new government and that he would give Netanyahu a chance to prove his peace credentials. In June, at an Arab summit in Cairo, Jordan resisted a Syrian-led call for an immediate end to diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel.

But the Jordanian monarch, disappointed at the stalemate in the peace process and angered by Israel's decision in September to open a new door to a Jerusalem tourist tunnel without notifying him, lately has become openly critical of the Netanyahu government.

He has urged Israel to implement its agreements with the Palestinians and warned that the lack of progress invites further violence.

Not all in Jordan are sorry to see a slowing of what many viewed as an inappropriate race toward normalization with an old, bitter enemy. With twice-daily flights between Amman and Tel Aviv and the opening of bus routes linking several Jordanian and Israeli cities, Jordan, seemingly overnight, had developed far broader ties to Israel than any Arab state.

The king's enthusiasm for the peace agreement with Israel--along with his emotional eulogy last November for his assassinated peace partner, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin--left many Jordanians confused and uncomfortable, said political science professor Radwan Abdullah.

"Why the hurry? Why couldn't we have coordinated with the Syrians and the Lebanese?" asked Abdullah, who chairs the political science department at the University of Jordan. "We are a weak country, and we cannot ignore our environment in this way."

Ibrahim Izzadine, a former Cabinet minister, said the king had little choice but to move toward peace with Israel at the time he did. With the end of the Cold War, the emergence of the United States as the world's only superpower and the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Hussein had to act or risk being left behind.

"It was evident that Jordan would move, but it was quicker than one would have liked, without synchronization with the other Arabs," said Izzadine, who also served as ambassador to Washington in the early 1980s. "That's the problem with the Arab states: We go to war together, but we make peace separately."

And while most Jordanians readily accepted the idea of an end to the state of war, he said, "to jump in and be friendly to the extent we did was not acceptable. To see Israeli ministers coming here, an embassy opening--you cannot imagine that national enmities would disappear overnight."

The current slowdown with Israel--and Jordan's improved relations with other Arabs, especially the Palestinian leadership--represents "a more natural course," Izzadine said.

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