Commentary: Rorschach Test for Jordan


WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- King Abdullah II of Jordan is popular and pro-American, as was his father, the late King Hussein. But 65 percent of the people are, for the most part, anti-U.S. Palestinians with Jordanian passports. And 80 percent of the people find Osama Bin Laden "more responsible" as a global leader than George W. Bush, according to the Pew Foundation on Global Attitudes toward the United States.

The suicide terrorist attack against three Amman hotels, ordered by Jordan's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, and carried out by Iraqis, elicited ambivalent reactions among the thousands who paraded with portraits of King Abdullah. Some tried to rationalize the latest acts of terrorism.


"They are reacting to Israeli terrorism," said one street worker.

The targeted hotels, where liquor is available, were used mostly by the privileged and wealthy and were not accessible to average Jordanians who could not afford their steep prices. The overwhelming majority of the country's 5.7 million (70 percent urban) is poor. The World Bank calls Jordan a "lower middle income country." Its 4- and 5-star hotels were also headquarters for scores of businessmen doing deals in Iraq with the U.S. military whose lives were constantly threatened in Baghdad.


In the 1967 Six-Day War, King Hussein lined up behind Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser - and lost the West Bank to the Israelis. Some 300,000 Palestinian refugees followed into Jordan, boosting the Palestinian population to well over a million almost four decades ago. Jordan's powers that be know that Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's grand design for a Palestinian state has long been the east bank of the Jordan River, or present day Jordan, which would leave the West Bank in Israeli hands.

In the 1990-91 Gulf War, Jordan was one of two Arab countries (the other was Yemen) that remained neutral. All the others fell in behind George H.W. Bush's coalition to turf the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Even Syria supplied a division to Bush 41's coalition. On the other hand, Jordan is one of only two Arab countries, with Egypt, that has signed a permanent peace treaty with Israel.

Yet Jordan could not afford to be perceived as anti-Saddam Hussein. A poor country, almost entirely dependent on foreign aid and tourism, Jordan met its oil needs with heavily discounted Iraqi oil. The quid pro quo was support for Saddam in his eight-year war (1980-88) against Iran. Jordan was also the key to Saddam's ability to overcome a tough sanctions regime after the 1991 war that liberated Kuwait. Jordanian banks greased the relays for the billions of dollars in the oil-for-food rackets recently exposed by the Volcker report.


Amman was also a privileged sanctuary for Saddam loyalists, both before the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and since the downfall of the Iraqi regime. Some 400,000 Iraqis are now living in Jordan, including Saddam's two daughters, many of them former Saddam sycophants whose ill-gotten gains have driven up Amman's upscale real estate 100 percent.

The U.S.-educated King Abdullah, former head of his country's Special Forces, gave the Pentagon a green light for secret operations that were launched from Jordanian territory on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Several Jordanian Cabinet ministers told this reporter at the time their children were giving them "hell" for lending a hand to the U.S. against Saddam.

Following the Arab defeat in 1967, there was a dramatic upsurge in the power and importance of Palestinian resistance movements (fedayeen) in Jordan. In the summer of 1970, three airliners were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and flown to Jordan where they were blown up after the passengers were released. King Hussein at first tried to appease extremist Palestinian movements. Thus, the army was kept out of Amman and the Palestine Liberation Organization gradually acquired control of the capital.

This reporter arrived in Amman Sept. 16, 1970, the night before Hussein ordered the army back into the capital with orders to wipe out the fedayeen. The civil war, known as Black September, lasted 10 days and cost 3,500 lives. A defeated PLO moved out of the country and took up residence in Lebanon where it was trounced yet again in 1982 by Israel Defense Forces units led by Gen. Sharon that invaded Israel's northern neighbor. This time the PLO moved back to the other end of the Mediterranean to lick its wounds in Tunisia.


In the October 1973 Arab-Israeli (Yom Kippur) war, Jordan sent a brigade to Syria to fight Israeli units on Syrian territory. But this did not deter the Arab League from betraying King Hussein a year later.

At a historic Arab summit in Rabat in 1974, the Arab League decreed the PLO was the "sole legitimate representative on the Palestinian people." Humiliated, Hussein embraced PLO leader Yasser Arafat and flew home, stripped of his mandate to "liberate" West Bank Palestinians.

In 1922, in an attempt to lenify Arab anger over the Balfour declaration that allowed the emergence of an Israeli state, the British created the semi-autonomous Arab Emirate of Transjordan in all Palestinian territory east of the Jordan River. It 1948, it went to war against the newly founded state of Israel, a conflict that left Jordan in control of the West Bank, which it annexed in 1950.

Invaded over the last 2,000 years by Hittites, Egyptians, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arab Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks and finally the British, what is now Jordan is a volatile mix of moderate Palestinians who are anti-Bush, and extremists who are anti-U.S.

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