Amid much bloodshed, he tried to make peace

King's 46-year reign saw Israel accord stability at home

February 08, 1999|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

AMMAN, Jordan -- King Hussein of Jordan, the eloquent, British-educated monarch whose 46-year reign delivered this desert kingdom from years of war to a fragile peace, died yesterday in this city where mourners from every walk of life joined his family in waiting for the end.

He was 63. The king's eldest son, 37-year-old Abdullah, was sworn in as king. Prince Hamzah, the 18-year-old son of Hussein's fourth and last wife, American-born Queen Noor, was named crown prince. Setting out the line of succession was one of King Hussein's last official acts before returning Jan. 27 to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

King Hussein was known as the great survivor in the blood-soaked Middle East. He survived numerous assassination attempts, several aborted coups, four Arab-Israeli wars and a Palestinian uprising in his homeland.

The ruler of a kingdom created by the British Foreign Office in 1921 and heavily dependent on money from the West and from Arab neighbors throughout its history, King Hussein nevertheless became a significant and honored influence in his region, seeing his once tribal nation prosper and make peace with its Jewish neighbor.

The cancer that attacked a kidney and his urethra in 1992 resurfaced last summer. He spent six months at the Mayo Clinic undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Proclaiming himself cured in January, he returned to Jordan and a hero's welcome as thousands stood in a driving rain to greet his motorcade.

In an interview with CNN, King Hussein talked about his plans for the country. His words were prescient.

"First of all, I have always been a fatalist, and I have always felt that there is a beginning to life and an end to life and I feel that probably more than at any time in the past," the king said, as though he was preparing his subjects for a future without him.

"Therefore, my concern is not for me. It has never been for me anyway. It has been for Jordan, its stability, its progress, its democracy, its people."

Within a week of that interview, the king suffered a relapse and rushed back to the Mayo Clinic to undergo a second bone marrow transplant. Before he left, he issued a royal decree that will affect the future of his country for decades. The king removed his brother Hassan as his successor, a post that the intellectual, reform-minded prince had held for 33 years.

Marwan Muasher, a confidant of the king and Jordan's ambassador to the United States, spoke with the king last week during his treatment at the Mayo Clinic. "He told me that he was very comfortable with the decision he took on the succession, that his conscience was clear and that he did the right thing for Jordan," the ambassador said. The diminutive king piloted his own plane, raced cars and married four times -- the last to the present Queen Noor, the former Lisa Halaby, an American 16 years younger.

Over the years, his reputation grew from ridiculed playboy and failed warrior to one of the most dependable statesmen in the region. The pursuers of peace came to rely on his counsel.

Last fall, when President Clinton tried to negotiate an end to the monthslong stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, he found himself wedged between an intransigent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Despite his illness, King Hussein flew to Washington to intervene. When the Wye River Memorandum was signed Oct. 23, the king was at the table. The chemotherapy had left him gaunt and hairless, making his participation in the talks even more poignant.

"Many in our part of the world and different parts of the world have written me off," the king said in his mellifluous baritone voice. "But I have a lot of faith in God and I believe that one lives one's destiny."

He was candid about the strained relations of the peace partners, but emphasized the implications of their work for future generations.

"We have no right to dictate through irresponsible action or narrow-mindedness the future of our children and their children's children," said the king. "There has been enough destruction. Enough death. Enough waste. And it's time that, together, we occupy a place beyond ourselves, our peoples, that is worthy of them under the sun, the descendants of the children of Abraham."

With the king's death, Jordan loses not only a respected statesman, but a beloved and benevolent monarch. He opened his heart to paupers and presidents. His gracious manner touched even those who opposed his policies.

"The king has a special unique charisma. He has a large capacity of forgiveness. Whether you agree with him or disagree with him at the end of the day, he can accept your point of view," said Ahmad Obeidat, a former prime minister of Jordan who clashed with the king over the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

"He will let you leave satisfied. He won't let you leave any room for animosity. It's very difficult to hate him."

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