Among Arabs, Jordan alone sounds optimistic King Hussein reaffirms relationship with Israel

June 02, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

AMMAN, Jordan -- King Hussein of Jordan said yesterday that Arab alarm over the change of government in Israel has been overwrought, and he expressed confidence that Benjamin Netanyahu's election would not undermine the quest for peace in the Middle East.

The king sounded far more upbeat than other Arab officials who have spoken out since the election Wednesday. His remarks seemed to reflect the deep commitment he has shown to partnership with Israel since the two countries signed a peace accord two years ago.

"I really don't believe there is a reason to put too much emphasis on the election as a sign that the Israelis are moving away from peace," he said in an interview in Amman. "I believe they are committed to it, and I believe that we will see some good, serious work coming along in the near future."

The vote of confidence from the king was in marked contrast to a pointed call by the Palestinian Authority for the new Israeli leader to "honor what was agreed upon," and another by Syria's state-run radio appealing to the world to "change the Israeli mentality" toward peace.

Even in Egypt, the only Arab country besides Jordan to have a formal peace treaty with Israel, a front-page headline yesterday in Al Ahram, the main government-controlled newspaper, described what it called "urgent contacts to defend the peace process" by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after the Israeli election.

Netanyahu was sharply critical during his campaign of the peace efforts led by Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Unlike the man he defeated, he has said that he would not return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a peace accord and that he could not accept the establishment of a Palestinian state.

After his election, the State Department sent messages appealing to Arab leaders not to prejudge the new Israeli leader, with Secretary of State Warren Christopher conceding that the accession of Netanyahu had provoked natural concern within the Arab world.

While most analysts have portrayed the Israeli election as a contest between rival visions, the king said in an interview with the Cable News Network that he believed the voters' narrow choice of Netanyahu was based primarily on personality.

"I believe the issue was the person of the prime minister of Israel -- who would guide Israel in terms of the coming period," the king said in the interview. "I don't think there is any fundamental change -- or any change whatsoever -- regarding the issue of peace."

Netanyahu telephoned King Hussein and Mubarak on Friday night, and the Jordanian leader and aides to Mubarak said yesterday that the conversations had been reassuring. An account published yesterday in Al Ahram said Netanyahu had told Mubarak that he hoped they could meet soon "to clarify his true position, which is far from his election campaign statements."

The king said Netanyahu had assured him that "he was going to do whatever he could to keep going on the subject, toward our common objective of a comprehensive peace in this area." He said he had assured Netanyahu "of my full support and cooperation in that regard."

The king will be host this week of a long-planned meeting at which he, Mubarak and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, hope to forge a common stand behind the Palestinians.

Egyptian officials, after several days of intensive diplomacy, said yesterday that Mubarak and Syrian President Hafez el Assad will meet in Cairo to consider how to resuscitate prospects for peace between Israel and Syria after the outcome of the election.

About half of Jordan's population is Palestinian, and few share the king's enthusiasm for peace with Israel. Greater hostility has come from Islamic conservatives, and many businessmen are critical of a peace whose economic benefits have been slow in coming.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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