Husseins death leaves Israel, Jordan in flux

With the passing of King Hussein, Israelis are wondering if Jordan's new monarch will be as good a friend as his father became.

Their concern, unfortunately, is merited.

Jordanian analysts predicted this week that Jordan will likely cool off its relations with Israel out of deference to public disillusionment with the peace treaty Hussein signed.

Speaking hours after Hussein's funeral at Raghadan Palace on Monday, political scientist Radwan Abdallah forecast that there will be an "adjustment" of ties under Hussein's son, King Abdullah II.

"King Hussein, who was so dominant and in control here, could afford to defy public opinion and act with impunity in foreign policy," Abdallah said.

"This is no longer the case. There will have to be some kind of adjustment, because internally, public opinion doesn't support [relations with Israel] and the public has been largely disenchanted."

Along with the unpopular peace accord, the 37-year-old Abdullah has inherited an unstable domestic economy.

Israeli and U.S. analysts are divided over the short-term impact of the untested Abdullah.

"Jordan has never been just a one-man show," said Asher Susser, senior fellow at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Thus, Hussein "leaves Jordan a country with an institutional foundation capable of maintaining itself. His departure does not mean the destabilization of the Jordanian state."

Others believe Hussein's loss is just too large not to create problems.

"Unless a very high bar is set now on peacemaking and normalization with Israel, then it is sure to be lowered with the passage of time," said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The main cause of discontent with the Israeli-Jordan treaty is the lack of any progress in the Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations, for which Jordanians blame the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdallah said. "Hopefully, after the [Israeli] elections, a new start can be made."

The international community, for its part, wants both to help the new ruler in his time of transition and ensure their interests are maintained in the new regime.

This week, the United States, Britain and Japan all pledged special financial help for Jordan, which is laboring under a heavy debt burden.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government announced it plans to facilitate commerce with Jordan by slashing taxes on imports.

Though Abdullah will need to maneuver among numerous forces and pressures in the coming weeks and months, he won't be doing it completely alone.

Many of Hussein's closest advisers, like Royal Court Chief Jawad Ananan and Royal Chief of Protocol Ayman Majali, will be around to help. So, apparently will Prince Hassan, Hussein's brother and the former heir to the throne.

The army, of course, is where the new king has his strongest base, and this is also of great importance. Some argue that with the ascent of the young leader, the monarchy will be weakened, and the parliament and civil society bodies will take up the slack.

For the most part, however, the official line both at the palace and on the street is that everything is to remain as much the same as possible.

Jordanian Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh, speaking to the Jordanian news agency Petra, assured his fellow citizens and foreign governments alike that Abdullah would be following in his father's footsteps.

"Jordan has been dealing with the Arab sister countries and the other nations of the world within a framework drawn up by the late King Hussein, and there is no reason to change this policy," he said.

Rami Khoury, editor in chief of the Arab Daily newspaper, said that "statements such as `How can we live without King Hussein?' are exaggerated expressions of love and admiration at moments of emotional climax that find their way to sensationalism, mind you irresponsibility.

"This is a country which will continue to move forward, a country with a new king who has promised to keep the wheels of the carriage rolling on the road that is already paved."

Who rules Jordan and how he rules it is of immense importance for the region. Israel's longest border is with Jordan, which acts as a strategic buffer with hostile states.

Hussein's charisma and skills, for one, were central to breaking many impasses in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Indicative of the importance Israel places on its relations with Jordan, Netanyahu and Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon had scheduled a meeting with Abdullah last weekend. The meeting was canceled when Hussein lapsed into unconsciousness.

Instead, Netanyahu and Sharon attended the king's funeral Monday along with Israeli President Ezer Weizman, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Labor prime ministerial candidate Ehud Barak and centrist party prime ministerial candidate Yitzhak Mordechai.

Over time, the new king is likely to be tested by Syrian President Hafez Assad, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"How Abdullah meets those tests will determine how these three, and others in the region, view him for quite some time," Satloff said.

Abdullah, as a major-general in Jordan's armed forces, has had much experience in dealing with world leaders. He is one of only a handful of people to meet with Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy, Assad and Iraq's Hussein.

Assad, until recently estranged from Jordan, told Jordan's prime minister Monday that he plans to release about 300 Jordanian political prisoners sitting in Syrian jails.

President Clinton and Assad held a brief meeting at Hussein's funeral. When Clinton asked Assad to support Jordan in the wake of the monarch's death, Assad "sort of said yes," according to Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned Iraq not to intimidate Jordan now that it has a new, untested leader on the throne.

"We have made it clear to Saddam Hussein that were he to threaten any of his neighbors it would be a great mistake," Albright told the Associated Press. "And that goes for Jordan."

In a sign of probable stability for Jordan, Kuwait is said to be on the verge of restoring diplomatic ties that were suspended after Hussein backed Iraq during the Gulf War. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also expected to expand economic ties and may send aid.

Clinton, who attended Monday's funeral with former Presidents Bush, Carter and Ford, has asked Congress to accelerate the aid package of $300 million over the next three years. The aid was promised to Hussein after his intervention at the Wye peace conference between Israel and the Palestinians in October.

Washington insiders expect Clinton to give Vice President Al Gore the responsibility of developing close relations with Abdullah.

Abdullah is also a known entity at the Pentagon, where, as head of the Jordanian military, he has met on numerous occasions with top U.S. military officials.

For their part, Israeli military leaders have quietly developed good relations with Abdullah that began when he studied at Georgetown University in the early 1980s.

An Israeli professor and teaching assistant guided the new king in his thesis, which examined Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the period after the 1967 Six-Day War.

That teaching assistant, Allon Pinkus, is now a senior official in the Labor Party.