Jordan Seeks Greater Role In Middle East Changes
A MONTH after the Sept. 13 signing of the historic Israeli-Palestinian accord, King Hussein has moved to a assert a key role for Jordan in future arrangements on limited Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Despite his strong reservations about the accord between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, the king has backed the accord apparently out of concern that Jordan could become politically and economically isolated if it does not join the regional process triggered by the breakthrough.
``The train has taken off. Jordan's choices are either to stand in the way and get run over by the speeding train or jump on the wagon without knowing the destination,'' says Fahed al-Fanek, a leading Jordanian economist.
Jordanian officials say their debt-ridden country cannot afford to be excluded from the internationally backed program to fund Palestinian autonomy. Backroom assurances
Many Jordanian analysts and foreign observers believe the country has received some kind of assurances from the United States and Israel that the kingdom will be afforded a major role during the proposed five-year interim period for Palestinian autonomy.
Thus top-level Jordanian officials, who initially voiced strong criticism of the accord, have had to turn silent in return for much-needed financial aid.
Moreover, Jordan seems to be trying to avoid the kind of political and economic pressures it faced for refusing to join the US-led coalition against Iraq during the Gulf war. The Gulf states cut off financial aid to Jordan while the coalition imposed a blockade at Aqaba, an important conduit for Iraqi trade.
According to official estimates the international embargo against Iraq cost the Jordanian economy $9 billion. Jordan has a $7 billion foreign debt.
The king's tacit acceptance of the Israeli-Palestinian accord is already paying off: The West has eased the three-year blockade on Aqaba; the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) appear ready to approve at least a partial scrapping of its debts; and a tripartite US-Jordanian-Israeli economic committee has been formed. Mounting opposition
But the king's apparent desire to avoid political isolation and further economic pressure has fueled opposition here from the Islamists, leftists, Pan-Arab nationalists, and even some liberals.
The unprecedented public meeting between Crown Prince Hassan and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Washington on Oct. 1 has further provoked speculation that the palace was ready to bow to US demands for the lifting of the Arab boycott against Israel.
But Prince Hassan has indicated that Jordan is not willing to make that move now. Jordanian officials say that, since Jordan cannot reverse the Israeli-PLO accord, it should try to influence its course. The prince has warned that the accord could provide Israel with the upper hand in determining the future economic order in the region.
The annexes of the accord effectively establish a framework for regional economic cooperation between the Arabs and Israel, and include an agreement on joint security arrangements and the exploitation of vital resources.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Oct. 5, Prince Hassan made it clear that Jordan will not accept provisions in the Israeli-Palestinian accord pertaining to water, energy, security arrangements, and refugees. Jordan hosts at least 1.4 million Palestinian refugees who were displaced in the 1948 and 1967 wars.
``Some issues cannot be addressed by any two parties to the exclusion of others. The questions of regional security, water, and above all the refugees, cannot be resolved without direct reference to the neighboring states,'' he said.