Long live the king! (Or: A love story)
By Uri Avnery, Jan 26, 1999
Imagine this scenario: Yasser Arafat returns home after being treated for an illness. Approaching the coast, fighter planes of the Israeli airforce escort his plane as a honor guard. The control tower in Lod issues words of welcome. Arafat responds in kind. The media gives enthusiastic coverage to the event.
Something like it will undoubtedly happen, in five, ten or twenty years. Today it may still seem like a fantasy. But it is precisely what happened only a few days ago, when King Hussein returned home.
The average Israeli hates Arafat, fears Asad, despises Saddam, is indifferent to Mubarak, removed from Hasan and a stranger to Fahd. But he is absolutely in love with the Hashemite King Hussein.
But why? The king is a dictator, like any other Arab leader. Jordan is a police state. The king's generally soft hand can turn into an iron fist when his rule is under threat -- as was the case during Black September, when he shelled Palestinian refugee camps in his state. During the Six-Day War the king's artillery shelled West Jerusalem, and he joined the war-front against Israel. So what is it about this king that has so captured our hearts?
It's true, over the years he met in secret with many Israeli leaders. His grandfather, the then Emir Abdallah, had met with Golda Meir even before the war of 1948. Hussein himself had done something unbelievable when he revealed to Golda the Egyptian plan to attack Israel on Yom Kippur, a plan whose entire success hinged on the element of surprise. But this love goes far beyond political interests.
Last week one journalist listed Hussein's virtues in Israeli eyes: He is Western in manners and dress, and he speaks excellent English. (Better English, in fact, than any Israeli politician. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu's English is flat and shallow when compared to the linguistic richness of the king.) But this love transcends even character traits, the personal charisma, the humane gestures (such as the speech at Rabin's funeral, or the genuflection before the bereaved Israeli families from the Naharayim attack). The proof is that the love for his grandfather was passed on to him and has surrounded other family members as well.
Once, Eliahu Sasson, a long-time member of the Jewish Agency Political Department, complained to me about the ingratitude of the Hashemites. For example: In 1941 King Faisal II, Hussein's cousin, and his uncle, the regent Abd-Illah, were forced to escape from Iraq. They arrived in Palestine and the Haganah put at their disposal a "secret" broadcasting station on Mount Carmel, helping them in other ways as well. But when the British returned Faisal to Baghdad, he severed all contancts with the Zionist leadership (and according to a credible version, his British patrons even organized the famous anti-Jewish pogrom in Baghdad).
But even this has not cooled at all the continuing Israeli love affair with the Hashemites. Every Israeli government has gone out of its way to ensure Hussein's rule. When the Egyptian leader Gamal Abd-el-Nasser threatened Hussein, Israel officially declared that any change in the Amman government would prompt an immediate Israeli involvement. When the Syrian army invaded Jordan in September of 1970, Golda threatened with an Israeli invasion of Jordan and compelled the Syrians to withdraw. Ben-Gurion, Golda, Yigal Alon, Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan -- all were sworn believers in the "Joradanian Option," with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin surpassing them all.
After I had established the first contacts with the PLO leadership, I held a series of talks with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1975. He went to great lengths to explain to me that he would never make even the smallest move towards the Palestinians, and that peace should be made only with King Hussein. His explanation seemed to me blatantly irrational, in contrast with his characteristic analytical rationality. I pondered then the roots of this Hashemite love affair.
In my opinion, this love affair had two reasons -- one practical and conscious and the other more profound and subconscious.
The practical reason had to do with Jerusalem. It went as follows: "The king's capital is Amman. Jerusalem is not his capital. Which is why he can afford to give it up. If he gives Jerusalem up we can give him back most of the West Bank and even Gaza."
That, of course, was an utter illusion, stemming from ignorance and contempt for the king. The Hashemite family is the family of the Prophet, and Hussein is a direct descendant of Mohammed. The very notion that, of all people, it would be Hussein who would officially give up the Holy Jerusalem, was baseless to begin with. (They say that when Hussein informed Abd-el-Nasser of his impending secret meeting with Yigal Allon, the Egyptian leader responded: "You can meet with anyone you want just as long as you remember this: If you give up Jerusalem, Arab history will never forgive you.")
But there is a deeper reason for this love. Hussein's overwhelming virtue is that he is not a Palestinian. True, most of his subjects are Palestinians and he had control over the West Bank for a few years. But the roots of the Hashemite family lie in the city of Mecca. Our entire relationship with the Palestinians is burdened with a huge weight of fears, emotions, complexes, memories, myths, matters of conscience and feelings of guilt. Most of these feelings are supressed and subconscious, which makes them that much more dangerous. All this in addition to the very real fact that with the Palestinian people we are engaged in a historic battle for land. But His Majesty is entirely outside of this vicious circle.
So we can freely hang on his every word, kiss his cheek, anguish over his health, shower him with compliments, give him back territory and quantities of precious water. Were Israel to give one tenth of all these to Yasser Arafat, peace would have come to dwell amongst us a long time ago. But just that Isralis find difficult to do.
So Israelis wish good health to His Majesty, to his deputy and to all his heirs, whoever they may be. As long as they are Hashemites and not Palestinians.
Translated from unabridged original version of article 26/Jan/99 Ma'ariv