Jordan's once and future king

Succession: World wants stability and peace from fragile kingdom, as does its monarch.

February 03, 1999

AT LAST Jordan will get a king whose mother tongue is English and whose wife comes from the Palestinian majority. Already, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright have met with Crown Prince Abdullah, as have emissaries or callers from Israel, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

What concerns them is policy. Yet Jordan's foreign policy of peace with Israel, usefulness to the United States, cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and great care with respect to Baghdad is not likely to change.

King Hussein replaced his brother Hassan with his eldest son, Abdullah, as royal heir because of personal ambitions and fears. Foremost was whose son would succeed to the throne, Hussein's or Hassan's.

King Hussein's grandfather, King Abdullah, was assassinated in 1951 for absorbing the West Bank and accommodating Israel. Hussein was made king a year later by the parliament, which deposed his father as mentally ill. In 1965, fearing his own assassination and peril to his toddler son, Hussein made his younger brother, Hassan, crown prince.

Returning to a more normal succession means that Hussein had second thoughts about ambition and family after outwitting and out-waiting every enemy but non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Once again, he is in Minnesota's Mayo Clinic.

A major general commanding loyal troops, Abdullah has not prepared for diplomacy and politics. But his marriage to a Palestinian is politically more advantageous than his uncle Hassan's to a Pakistani. At 37, Abdullah is better prepared for what lies ahead than his father was 47 years ago.

Whoever rules, Jordan's future is federated with Israel and the Palestinian Authority by geography, which also links it to Iraq. The time is ending when any monarch may pick his successor by whim. Crown Prince Abdullah could provide the transition to a peaceful Jordan that is stable and democratic.

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