INDEPTH: MIDDLE EAST|
Quest for Peace
Gary Katz, CBC News Online
IN THE BEGINNING
The land that the State of Israel sits on is small enough to fit into New Brunswick three and a half times, but you can't get from Mesopotamia to the Nile by chariot without crossing it. It's been controlled by Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, Turks, and the British and it's deeply embedded into the passions and the history of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
When the Israelites travelled eastward across the Sinai Desert in their exodus from Egypt over three thousand years ago, the land they were aiming for was called Canaan. Their tradition was that God had promised the land to the patriarch Abraham and his descendants. Jericho, the first town in the West Bank lands to be given Palestinian self-rule by Israel (1994), is famous for its place in an Old Testament story involving Joshua, trumpets and tumbling walls. It goes back 10,000 years and is the oldest settlement ever uncovered.
Around 1000 BC, after successful conquests, the land became the Hebrew state of Israel, named after the patriarch Jacob who was renamed Israel by God. Its first kings were the famous trio of Saul, David, and Solomon. A century later, after Solomon's death, the country was divided into two and the southern portion named Judah. In 721 BC, Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and its inhabitants disappeared from history as "The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel".
In 587 BC, Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, and the Jews (from the name "Judah") were deported into exile. 50 years later, when the Persians under Cyrus the Great overcame the Babylonians, the Jews were permitted home again to rebuild Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem which the Babylonians had destroyed.
Between the Persians and the Roman occupation around the time of Christ, the land was under the control of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Seleucids of Syria. A brief Jewish dynasty resulted from a national uprising by Judas Maccabeus (the source of the festival of Hannuka) but by the middle of the century Before Christ, Romans were in control of the province they called Judea. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem (and the Temple) and again most of the Jews were dispersed from the land.
In the early seventh century a new religion came blazing out of Arabia fueled with the word of the prophet Mohammed and afire with his admonition to spread it. Islam (meaning "submission" or "surrender" to Allah's will) was seen by Mohammed as a continuation of Judaism and Christianity, and his God was the same as in both the Old and New Testaments. His followers spread quickly throughout the middle east (and much further). Except for several years of Christian control during the Crusades, Palestine remained in Muslim hands, first Arab then Turk, for 1300 years until the end of World War One.
The Twentieth Century
The empire of the Ottoman Turks had existed since the middle of the fifteenth century and included the ancient land of Palestine and much that surrounded it. Turkey had sided with losing Germany in World War One and was carved up afterward by victorious Britain and France. By that time- the early 1920s- Jewish immigration into Palestine had already begun on a small but regular scale. There were 85,000 Jews in Palestine by the beginning of the war. By 1925 it was closer to 110,000.
Zionism, an organized movement to settle Jews in Palestine, had increased its activity in the late nineteenth century as a result of growing, violent anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe. Zionists were immensely hopeful when, in 1917, the British foreign secretary Lord Balfour put into writing Britain's support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." He didn't, however, suggest turning the country into a Jewish state. When the League of Nations made Palestine a British mandate after the war, Lord Balfour's declaration was assumed as part of the deal and the allied powers of the Great War all agreed.
It was the people whose land it was that objected.
Britain quickly discovered that the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was immensely unpopular among the residents of the area (except the Jewish settlers already there). For the years between the World Wars Jewish immigration and Arab hostility to it both continued while Britain tried to avoid doing anything wrong, which meant avoiding doing anything at all. By 1935 there were 300,000 Jews in Palestine. Tel Aviv, founded in 1909, had 100,000 people.
As conditions in Nazi Germany worsened throughout the thirties, the need for Jewish sanctuary in Palestine grew but conflicted with British needs to woo Arab support in case of war. In 1939 Britain declared that Jewish land purchases in Palestine would be cut back sharply for the next five years and then stopped altogether.
Then came the War. When it was over in 1945, the case for a Jewish homeland was stronger than it had ever been. The problem was both practical and emotional. The practical issue was the hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe who had no homes to return to and little or no family left alive. 2.3 million of the eight million Jews who had lived in German- occupied Europe were still alive. They had to go somewhere. The emotional problem was the guilt and sadness that resulted from the revelation of the millions who hadn't survived. The Jewish homeland question was front and centre.
In 1947 Britain, which had been handed the Palestine problem by the now-defunct League of Nations passed it on, with relief, to the newly born United Nations. The UN agreed to partition Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a neutral UN zone containing Jerusalem, a city sacred to three religions. The Jews were thrilled, the Arabs adamantly opposed.
In late 1947 the plan was ratified by the UN, and the State of Israel proclaimed on May 14, 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the country or were evicted, the British pulled out completely, and most of the Arab world- Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, as well as Palestinians- immediately attacked in an attempt to destroy Israel. By the time of armistice in 1949 Israel held three quarters of Palestine- twice as much land as the UN had proposed- Jordan had taken the land on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and Egypt had taken the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians had nothing.
The year of Israel's twenty-fifth anniversary, 1973, marked the fourth all-out war in the area. The state was one day old when the first assault occurred. Surrounded by Egypt on the west, Jordan on the east, Syria and Lebanon on the north, and with Iraq close enough to be a danger, Israel managed to end that war with more land than it started with. Among it was the new section of the city of Jerusalem that was to be part of an international zone administered by the UN. Jordan took the old city, also meant to be in the neutral area.
In 1956 Egypt moved to nationalize the Suez Canal (up until then owned by a corporation dominated by France and Britain) and, as well, prevent Israeli shipping through the Strait of Tiran into the Gulf of Aqaba, the country's access to the Red Sea. Israel allied with France and Britain and, by the cease-fire, had taken the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. They were convinced by the UN, which set up a peacekeeping force in the area, to return the land to Egypt in return for assurances that Israeli shipping rights would be protected.
By 1967 Arab nationalism and Egyptian anger toward Israel had both increased dramatically. Egypt demanded removal of the UN troops which had been stationed in the area since the Suez Crisis and, when they were gone, again threatened Israeli shipping by blocking access to the Gulf of Aqaba. In what became known as the 'Six Day War' Israel destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground and, with military supremacy assured, headed west across Sinai. Though they again faced the circle of their Arab neighbours, they gained more ground, capturing Gaza, parts of the Egyptian Sinai desert, taking the West Bank lands and old Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights on Israel's northern border with Syria. This time, they refused to return any part of their spoils of war.
The Arab world responded with a united policy on Israel: no peace, no negotiation, and certainly no recognition. Guerrilla violence in Israel escalated with neighbouring countries, chiefly Jordan, used as bases for attack.
In 1973 (the Yom Kippur War), Egypt attacked Sinai while Syria attacked the Golan Heights. Other Arab countries contributed troops and aid. Israel again prevailed, driving further into Syria and encircling the entire Egyptian Third Army in Sinai, clearing a path to Cairo.
But finally, after a quarter century of warring, everyone seemed to accept the futility of looking for a military solution. Israel was not about to be driven into the Mediterranean. In December, the first Arab-Israeli peace conference was convened in Geneva, Switzerland and the expression "shuttle diplomacy" soon entered the language.
Ten years after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes they were still homeless and no one seemed to care. Some had been taken in by surrounding countries but many lived in camps. In the West there was support for the Jewish state based on political expediency (the U.S. needed allies in the region), affiliation (the Jewish population outside of Israel supported the state politically and financially), and humanitarianism (the Holocaust was still vividly and appallingly recent). The West also seemed to think that the Palestinians who left should have been absorbed easily into the lands of their neighbours. That's a bit like giving Saskatchewan to the Kurds and expecting the displaced to be absorbed effortlessly into Alberta and Manitoba.
In the late fifties an underground group was formed to push for the destruction of the state of Israel. It was called al-Fatah and its leader was a 29-year-old engineer named Yasser Arafat. Arafat was born in Jerusalem and had been involved in '48 smuggling guns to the Arabs, and in '56 as a soldier in the Egyptian army. He'd also trained commandos and edited an anti-Zionist magazine.
In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed to co-ordinate the growing number of Palestinian groups fighting against Israel. In 1969 Arafat became chairman of the PLO. It was a PLO group, Black September, that murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Though the organization was an umbrella for a wide range of pro-Palestinian groups, it was perceived clearly in the West as a purely terrorist organization. It's avowed objective was the total removal of Israel from Palestine.
In 1974, less than a year after the first Arab-Israeli talks began, the PLO was given official status by the UN and the Arab world accepted it as a Palestinian government in exile.
ROAD TO WYE PLANTATION
From Camp David to Wye Plantation
It was Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, who made "shuttle diplomacy" a buzzword. Kissinger was already an acclaimed negotiator when he got between Egypt and Israel, having shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in Vietnam. In December of 1973, in the aftermath of the "Yom Kippur War," the first Arab-Israeli peace conference opened in Geneva, Switzerland.
By early 1974, with Kissinger flitting from side to side, Israeli and Egyptian troops were disengaged, and by May the Israelis and the Syrians were disentangled. Israel returned some of the land it took from Syria and UN buffer zones were created between the antagonists.
In 1977 a dramatic step was taken toward peace in a region that had known nothing but war for far too long. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat visited Jerusalem - an unthinkable idea just a short period before - and within a year Egypt and Israel began discussions on implementing a continuing peace between the former bitter enemies. The Arab world was appalled.
In 1978 Sadat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin for his courageous initiative but paid dearly for it as well. In 1981 he was assassinated by a Muslim extremist for exactly the act which most of the world applauded.
The agreement between Egypt and Israel was negotiated at the American Presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland with President Jimmy Carter as host and witnessing signatory. Israel agreed to return the Sinai to Egypt, but an equally important part of the talks involved the Palestinian problem. Both sides agreed to negotiate Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and in the West Bank lands. Sadat was killed, however, before any headway was made on the issue.
But, for the first time since Israeli statehood, Palestinian self-rule was an issue on the table.
A decade after Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem, the Palestinians were no further ahead. In fact, it had been 10 years in which the situation appeared to be getting worse, not better.
By the early 1980s the PLO, which had been driven from Jordan in 1970 after a brief civil war, was based in Lebanon, on the north of Israel. In 1982, Israel, in response to PLO missile attacks on Israeli settlements, invaded Lebanon in an attempt to drive the PLO out. Before the war was over several hundred Palestinians living in Lebanese camps had been massacred and, though the actual killing was done by Christian militia members, Israel was in control of the camps during the murderous event and had permitted the militia to enter. International condemnation of Israel was small comfort to the Palestinians.
The Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank were still living in poverty, mostly in squalid camps, and under Israeli rule. To make the situation even worse, Israeli settlements were being constructed throughout the lands occupied since the 1967 war, the lands on which the Palestinians hoped, demanded, to create their own state. Increased Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel (sometimes at the rate of 1000 people a day) had made new housing an absolute necessity, and there were many Israelis who thought of the lands not as "occupied" but as "retrieved."
In December of 1987, the Palestinians in Gaza, followed immediately by those in the West Bank, erupted with four decades of anguish and anger. The Intifada, the spontaneous uprising of a people with nothing to lose, had begun. Israeli military presence was increased, curfews imposed, the Palestinians answered with a general strike. Violence became as common as poverty. Rocks and homemade explosives faced rubber bullets and tear gas. Over the next several years hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands more put into detention camps. The economy of the areas, always poor, worsened. Construction of Israeli settlements continued at an ever-advancing rate as immigrants flooded into the country.
In 1990, the U.S., in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, formed an international coalition of 28 countries to force them out. The Gulf War, early in 1991 achieved that end. In a wave of international fellow feeling that followed, peace talks were planned to grapple, finally, with the Palestinian situation. A conference in Madrid, Spain, in October of 1991 included representatives from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians. Both American president George Bush and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the meeting. The issue was clear even if the solution was anything but: both Israel and the Palestinians wanted to live in peace in their own country. Though the Madrid conference settled nothing it had started something and that was a major victory.
By 1993 Israel and the PLO had met in Washington and signed an agreement that all parties hoped would end almost half a century of violence and hatred. It had been worked out beforehand in secret, in Norway. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and PLO leader Yasser Arafat met and shook hands on the White House lawn, though it must have been a mixed pleasure for both of them. Gaza, and the West Bank town of Jericho were to be transferred to Palestinian rule. The agreement wasn't broad but, to use a word that has so many meanings in the Middle East, it was historic.
The peace process took a terrible turn when, in November of 1995, the left-wing Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish law student who was opposed to peace talks with the Palestinians. The election, in June, 1996 of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the peace situation even more tenuous. The convoluted history of the agreement regarding the West Bank city of Hebron gives some insight into how tortuous the process can be.
But a series of talks have followed, most recently at the Wye Plantation in Maryland with President Clinton presiding and, bit by bit, land on the West Bank has been returned to the Palestinians. In return Israel wants to stop sleeping with one eye open as it has for the last fifty years and spending an enormous amount of its economy on fighting. Unfortunately, half a century of hatred is not erased by a contract.
After Israel under Netanyahu stalled on implementing the Wye accord, the election in May 1999 of Ehud Barak breathed new live into the peace process. Barak's first move was to call for peace with Israel's Arab neighbours, pledging to carry out the terms of the U.S.-brokered agreement. Then, in March 2000, the Israeli cabinet voted to withdraw its soldiers from the zone they had occupied in southern Lebanon for 15 years.
The two biggest obstacles remaining to settling the land-for-security issue are that the two sides loathe and mistrust each other, and that both sides -- like, say, Canadians -- are made up of people with a range of conflicting needs and opinions.
Israeli politics remain divided left and right, while in Palestine, Arafat's leadership has been uneasy for at least twenty years. Hamas, a militant Islamic group, wants an end to negotiations and a resumption of the Intifada. Israelis who have settled on the West Bank consider a return of the lands to Palestine a betrayal of them and of the entire nation. Every time a small step toward resolution is planned extremists on one side or the other try to commit acts so heinous as to replace the movement toward settlement with renewed hatred.
A total absence of good will makes every agreement, every word of every agreement, slippery to handle. The Wye accord, for instance, called for Israeli release of some Palestinian prisoners along with the return of land. Since the Israeli purpose in the plan is to achieve peace and security, they don't want to release from prison Palestinians whom they consider a danger to them. Since the Palestinian requirement is freedom and self-government, they demanded the release of those they consider political detainees.
From the Israeli perspective there's nothing worse than giving neighbouring land to an enemy who then uses it as a base to destroy you. For the Palestinians, getting back land only to find themselves overrun by Israeli settlements is barely better than their current situation.
If politics is the art of doing the best you can under the circumstances, then the negotiators on both sides are trying hard to be rational politicians. But the conflicting nationalism of two peoples, a life-long memory of loathing and suspicion, and a list, thousands of names long, of dead and broken relatives, friends and countrymen, can obscure pragmatism.
BUILDING THE FUTURE
What a difference a few bulldozers can make.
The leaders talk, shake hands, sign documents and sometimes they agree. Then real life and real emotions get in the way. An Israeli housing project on a rural hillside in East Jerusalem is a good example. It helped derail a peace process that had seemed on track just months before.
The land is known to Jews as Har Homa, and to Arabs as Abu Ghnaim. Though news reports often mention that the plot of land has religious significance for both Muslims and Jews, archaeologists refer to it mainly as the setting for Christian monuments on an old road to Bethlehem. Whoever can lay claim to the most symbols on the site, the real issue is much larger than a plot of new houses on historic lands. The issue is Jerusalem itself, the sacred city of three religions and the centre of the most disputed land in a much-disputed country.
The Lure of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is considered among the holiest of cities by Christians, Jews and Muslims, and it contains many of the most revered locations in all three traditions.
To Jews, Jerusalem is the central and most emotional place in the religion, home of Solomon's Temple which was destroyed twenty-seven hundred years ago then rebuilt. It is the City of David, from which they were driven in 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the Temple yet again. Jerusalem is the centre of the Jewish dream of return. According to Muslim tradition, Jerusalem the third holiest place in Islam. The Dome of the Rock is there, the place where Mohammed was elevated to heaven, and also the Mosque of Al Aqsa, one of the religion's most sacred shrines.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The city contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the traditional tomb of Christ. As well, Palestinian Christians have expressed concern about the Har Homa development's proximity to Bethlehem, Christ's birthplace.
In 1947 when the UN drew their partition lines in Palestine, the city of Jerusalem wasn't part of the deal. Because of its intense importance to three religions, the UN's plan called for the city to be an international enclave administered by the UN. However, after armistice was declared in 1949, ending the Israeli War of Independence, Jerusalem was a divided city, with the new, or western, section in Israeli hands and the old, or eastern, part annexed by Jordan. By the end of the Six Day War in 1967, the entire city of Jerusalem was in Israeli hands. It remains for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace process to decide its future, both in terms of who controls the city and in terms of who lives there. It's not a dispute either side will give up on.
The Last Suburb
Har Homa/Abu Ghnaim covers only 2 square kilometres, but the parcel of land is one of the last rural spots in an area of dense suburban development. It is a small piece of land that symbolizes the larger struggle for Jerusalem.
In the early 1900s, Arabs farmed the territory known as East Jerusalem and established some rudimentary buildings on Abu Ghnaim. In the 1930s and '40s, some of the land was purchased by Jewish businesses. From 1949 until 1967 the Jordanians were in control.
Since 1967 Israel has initiated a series of settlements in East Jerusalem. The state has provided financial incentives and encouraged immigrants to Israel to move to these suburbs. In 1991 Jewish developers who owned some of the rural Har Homa land asked the Israeli government to expropriate the rest of the land in preparation for development. Both Israeli and Palestinian land owners appealed, but to no avail. Har Homa completes a ring of Jewish-owned homes around the old city. There is a housing shortage for Palestinians in Jerusalem, and fewer Palestinian housing projects have been approved than Jewish projects. Palestinians claim that construction of a controversial thoroughfare, called Road 45, isolates many of their communities in Jerusalem from their neighbors on the West Bank.
The Diplomatic Crisis
The Israeli population in the East Jerusalem has swelled since 1967. It is estimated there were 50,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem in 1979. By 1993, there were 168,000 Israelis and 154,000 Palestinians. Palestinians believe the future of the city and control of the West Bank will be determined by local politics, and they believe control of those politics, by virtue of numbers, has shifted to the Israelis. That's one of the reasons they don't want new construction in the area.
In the Oslo II peace agreement of 1995, Israel agreed that Palestinians- who are residents but not citizens in Jerusalem- would have a vote in future elections. More Israeli citizens means the balance of power shifts in their favour. Jews, of course, believe this is desirable. Arabs will fight strenuously against it. So the bulldozers arrive to do their work. To one community they are building a rightful future. To the other, they are machines of destruction of a homeland.
JORDAN'S KING HUSSEIN
Hussein played major role in peace process
Hussein ibn Talal, whose line stretched back to the prophet Mohammed, ascended the throne of Jordan at the age of 17.
The Hashemite Dynasty to which he belonged proudly traces their lineage thirteen hundred years back to the founder of Islam. The dynasty had endured through the centuries of Turkish Ottoman control of the Mideast, and the Hashemite Prince Faysal ibn Husayn had fought alongside Colonel T.E. Lawrence during the First World War to overthrow Ottoman control in the area.
After the war Faysal's brother, Abdullah, became the Hashemite ruler of the newly formed nation of Trans-Jordan, which, like Palestine, was a British mandate.
Full independence came to Jordan after World War II and in 1946 Abdullah proclaimed himself king.
From the beginning of King Hussein's rule in 1953 he perpetually found himself, like his country, caught between conflicting forces: Israel and the West on one side, Arabs-- in particular Palestinians-- on the other. And Jordan always between them.
When the State of Israel was born in May of 1948 on the land that had been Palestine, the Arab world rose up in immediate attack.
When the fighting was over only Jordan emerged as a significant Arab victor. The lands on the west bank of the Jordan River that were, according to the UN plan, meant to form part of the Palestinian portion of the partitioned country ended up in Jordanian hands.
In 1950 Jordan officially annexed the West Bank. Israel and Britain quietly agreed to King Abdullah keeping the area, but the Arab countries objected loudly, and the new arrangement was recognized by only two countries: Britain and Pakistan.
In part it was Jordan's affiliation with the West that was responsible for its victories in the Israeli War of Independence.
The Arab Legion, formed in Trans-Jordan in the 20s under British influence, and taken over in 1939 by Sir John Bagot Glubb (a.k.a. Glubb Pasha), was the most effective military force in the Arab world. But Jordan's annexing of the West Bank, though it nominally expanded the Hashemite Kingdom, provided few benefits for Hussein.
The Palestinians were not supporters of the Hashemite Dynasty and an increase in Palestinian population could only be seen as a threat to Hussein's control. As well, the West Bank lands were at the centre of Palestinian hopes for their own homeland.
Because Jordan is not a nation rich in resources, Hussein knew that satisfying foreign interests in return for economic support was an absolute necessity. The West has been an enormous source of support for Jordan.
On the other hand-- there was always the other hand for Hussein-- the Arab world demanded Jordan's allegiance. After the armistice ending the Israeli War of Independence, Jordan's control of the West Bank was accepted by Israel and relations between the two countries were tolerable, though intermittent acts of violence on both sides kept tensions always near the surface.
Jordan retained its claims over the West Bank lands even after Israel occupied them during the Six Day War in 1967.
Jordan didn't finally relinquish its claims until 1988. But whatever Jordan's relationship to the West Bank, their histories were intertwined and Hussein was never far from whatever battlefield, military or political, was at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During the 50s, Hussein bowed to nationalism and Arab pressure by purging Western advisors and removing Glubb as head of the Arab Legion.
He was also talked out of joining in a Western defence arrangement called the Baghdad Pact even though he had been instrumental in initiating it. But an attempted coup d'etat in 1957 by members of the National Guard, many of them Palestinians from the West Bank, caused Hussein to act decisively against the Palestinian nationalists in his legislature. Caught in the middle of too many conflicting demands, he banned political parties and set up a dictatorship.
When the Iraqi branch of the Hashemite Dynasty was killed in a coup in 1958-- engineered by Egypt-- Hussein turned to the West for protection.
With the financial and military aid of the U.S. and Britain, Hussein resisted the anti-Hashemite forces-- largely Palestinians supported by Egypt-- and hung on to power.
His next crisis was the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1960s. This new force in Palestinian affairs threatened Jordan's sovereignty on the West Bank and caused the Israelis to respond to PLO raids, many launched from Jordan, with violence of their own. It was Israel's hope to force Jordan to stop the PLO. Relations between Jordan and the Palestinians worsened.
Hussein, understanding the potential for violence and political disintegration, attempted to quiet the situation by stopping guerilla use of his country and, in the process, he strained relations with both Syria and Egypt. But as tensions boiled ever higher, he joined with Egypt and Syria in 1967, putting Jordanian military forces under Egyptian command.
In the Six Day War in June of 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, pushing Jordan back to the east side of the Jordan River. Jordan not only suffered heavy casualties but also lost much of its best farmland and, as well, had to cope with hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Hussein had gambled and, though he lost, he may have lost less than he otherwise might have. His reasoning was that if he didn't support Egypt and Syria, they in turn might well have supported a Palestinian coup in Jordan. He lost the West Bank but he kept his kingdom.
The post-Six Day War period provided several major problems for Hussein. The increase in Palestinian population in Jordan--angrier than ever at their situation-- threatened his Hashemite throne. The losses in the war had been crippling. And Israel now occupied the West Bank.
Ever the pragmatist, Hussein kept up negotiations with Israel but out of sight of the Arab world. He refused to sign a peace treaty with Israel and their relationship subsisted as neither friends nor enemies.
The PLO, under the chairmanship of Yasser Arafat was a constant challenge to Hussein's power.
In September 1970, PLO guerrillas hijacked several airliners and blew them up on a landing strip in Jordan. Later that month, civil war erupted in Jordan and Hussein was forced to ask for Western help in combating the threat, which included several hundred Syrian tanks sent to aid the PLO.
By the next year the PLO had been forced from Jordan. When Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in 1973 (the Yom Kippur War), Hussein kept out as much as possible though he sent tanks to help Syria. When the war was over Hussein demanded the return of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Israel but with no success.
By August 1974, however, Jordan and Israel were discussing a new proposal that would see Jordan representing the Palestinians. Arab leaders disagreed and with a largely unified voice the Arab world proclaimed the PLO as the only official representatives of the Palestinian people. Their objective was a Palestinian State. Hussein recognized that a federation between Jordan and a Palestinian state would give the Palestinian population a majority and he declared that he would never agree to such an idea.
In the late 70s Hussein, meeting with American President Jimmy Carter, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, discussed the issue of a Jordan-Palestine link but this time it was Arafat, speaking for the Palestinians, who demurred.
Relations between Jordan and Israel soured with the election of Menachem Begin as Israeli Prime Minister in May 1977. Begin clearly was in favour of keeping all of the West Bank. He sped up construction of Jewish settlements in the land still claimed by both Jordan and the Palestinians.
Hussein put an end to 15 years of secret negotiations with Israel and for several years, until 1984, Jordan and Israel stopped talking. In the early 1980s Hussein tried to settle with Arafat and the PLO, whose bases in Lebanon had been destroyed by Israel. Hussein needed the Palestinian situation resolved if Jordan was to achieve either peace or prosperity. He also needed to end the continuing threat to his Hashemite throne.
Hussein let the Palestine National Council meet in Amman, and in 1985 he agreed to aid the PLO in coordinating a joint peace initiative. Hussein wanted a confederation of the West and East Banks with autonomy for the Palestinians but under Jordanian rule. Arafat was happy to agree to confederation between a future Palestinian state and Jordan, but his vision included independence for the West Bank.
In February 1986 talks between Hussein and Arafat broke down. Hussein needed assurances from Arafat that he would renounce violence and recognize Israel but such an undertaking was never given. Hussein declared that Jordan would be responsible for the economic welfare of the West Bank Palestinians and, as well, he raised the number of Palestinian seats in the National Assembly.
If he could squeeze out the PLO and reach some accord with Israel, he hoped, he might still hang on to some of the disputed land.
In April 1987 Hussein and Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister, agreed to a UN-sponsored conference that would include Palestinian representatives as part of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. In spite of American assent to the plan, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir refused, wanting the conference to include only Jordan.
Hussein's stature rose with the 1987 Arab League summit meeting in Amman though, interestingly, the Palestinian issue wasn't the main topic of discussion. The Iran-Iraq War, already eight years old, took the floor.
In December of 1987 the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising on the West Bank and in Gaza, changed the entire situation for Jordan. Hussein supported the Intifada publicly and offered aid in an attempt to keep, or regain, Palestinian confidence.
Hussein's attempts at being seen as a friend of the Palestinians were rejected as Arafat became the spokesman for the Palestinians.
Any hopes of a Jordanian-Israeli resolution to the Palestine problem were effectively ended and Hussein renounced all claims to the West Bank. He dissolved the Jordanian parliament, half of whom were West Bank representatives, and stopped paying salaries to over 20,000 West Bank civil servants. When the Palestine National Council recognized the PLO as the sole legal representative of the Palestinians, Hussein immediately gave them official recognition.
With Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War, Hussein was again stuck between two worlds, able to please only one. Hussein favoured Iraq over the US. Saddam Hussein of Iraq was an Arab who was widely supported within Jordan. As well, Iraq was one of Jordan's major trading partners. Jordan suffered condemnation and blockades. With the end of the war, however, all was forgiven as Jordan was again solicited to support a peace initiative in the perpetually troubled area.
With the Gulf War behind them, all the parties involved in the mid-east stepped up attempts to reach a solution to the Palestinian situation, at that point almost half a century old. King Hussein of Jordan, whose land and life had both been in the centre of the controversy for so long, clearly had as much interest in a settlement as the principals themselves.
In 1991 a conference was convened in Madrid, with Jordan as a major player, at which the PLO and Israel were both in attendance and first steps toward resolution were taken. Israel and the PLO went on to arrange a secret peace plan in Oslo in 1993 and Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
In 1997 when President Clinton needed some prestigious heft to break the deadlock at the Wye Plantation talks, he invited King Hussein, in the US for treatment of the cancer that finally took his life, to attend. Though the agreement hashed out at Wye has followed the usual, complex course of mid-eastern affairs, Hussein's input at the conference helped to sway the participants to at least begin to agree.
Hussein was King of Jordan for over 45 years and in that time was plagued by a single problem that overshadowed every other in his political life. He did not live to see its resolution though he will be remembered as one whose efforts helped his neighbours, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to live in the peace that eluded him most of his life.