Leaders sign treaty, but will people follow? DIPLOMACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

October 27, 1994|By Newsday

JERUSALEM -- On the day Jordanians were told their king was ready to sign a peace treaty with Israel, the Amman newspaper al-Mustakbal asked people what they would do if an Israeli wanted to visit their home.

"I would shut the door in his face," responded a 21-year-old named Ali.

"I would stab the Israeli with a knife and hit him on the head with a cane," said 13-year-old Murad.

"I would welcome the Israeli under an atmosphere of peace," said 40-year-old Samiha.

The ad hoc survey was far from a scientific sampling of Jordanians at a particularly unsettling moment in their history.

But those answers, solicited one week before yesterday's Israeli-Jordanian signing ceremony near the Red Sea, give a hint of the challenges facing the two countries as they attempt to translate the treaty into warm relations.

"The agreements being signed are between Arab regimes and the Israeli government," said Sari Nassar, a Palestinian resident of Jordan and head of the sociology department at the University of Jordan. "There is a great difference between the regime and the people."

In Israel, the peace treaty with Jordan is generally popular. Israelis are taught in school that King Hussein was dragged reluctantly into the 1967 and 1973 wars. The long border between the two countries has been quiet for a long time, and hostile rhetoric has died down.

The most outspoken opposition came from the extreme right-wing Moledet Party, which took out newspaper ads to remind Israelis that during Jordan's 19-year rule over Jerusalem, dozens of Jewish gravestones and synagogues were destroyed.

Thousands of Israelis are expected to cross the new bridges over the Jordan River to visit ancient sites like Petra and Mount Nebo, where Moses is believed to have gazed down upon the Promised Land.

Despite their approval of the peace with Jordan, however, Israelis have come to the bitter realization that it can't bring a real respite from violence and hatred. Only peace with the Palestinians might do that.

"As long as we are still the victims of those Palestinian terrorists who refuse peace with Israel, we won't feel secure," said Tel Aviv engineer Uri Almog, as he shopped yesterday in Jerusalem. "It's great to have a peace treaty with Jordan, but the real problem is right here."

Jordanians are just as cautious -- and for the same reasons. They have long been tied socially and politically to Palestinians and an estimated two-thirds of the population are of Palestinian origin.

"Most people here have lost land and homes to Israel," said Nassar. "And everyone has been exposed for 50 years to the fact that Israel is an enemy -- a dangerous enemy. The conflict has been part of our culture. It's engraved on our culture through our religion, beliefs and language."

Indeed, many Jordanians appear uncomfortable with the king's separate peace with Israel, a significant departure for a small country long dependent on Arab economic aid and on Arab political alliances.

"Israel is panting to get this peace process over," said a Jordanian academic, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There used to be strong support here for the peace process as a whole. But now we see a strong opposition coming forward."

Opposition has come from Islamic fundamentalists and from Jordan's vocal leftists. Last week, they issued a veiled warning to the king: "Our hearts are not wide enough for love of the enemy and love of the leadership at the same time."

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