Jordan faces the sad loss of King Hussein

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (U-WIRE) — A once proud king — ally of the west, peacemaker for his neighbors and the darling of his subjects — lost his final battle Sunday. As King Hussein’s organs gradually succumbed to an unmerciful cancer, Jordanians hoped for a miracle. Inshallah (God willing).
But even kings have to die.
Hussein has become part of Jordan’s history, his son Abdullah — the future. But after the tears are shed, eulogies given and the heartbreak healed, the real impact of Hussein’s death will be felt. Jordan’s loss could mean a giant reversal of the progress that has been made in the Middle East over the last decade.
With his rule spanning nearly half a century, King Hussein had been the world’s longest-serving executive ruler. His 47-year reign was marked by landmark breakthroughs in the search for peace — not only between Arabs and Israelis, but among feuding Arab neighbors as well. Hussein unsuccessfully tried to avert the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. He also mediated, somewhat controversially, between Iraq and the rest of the Arabs in the region before and after the Gulf War of 1991.
Making peace with Israel was King Hussein’s primary mission. For decades, Jordan was the only Arab country interested in a peaceful relationship with Israel. Over time, Hussein became an effective and respected intermediary between two historic enemies. Despite painful chemotherapy, he attended the Middle East peace negotiations at Wye River, Md., last fall.
The king’s impassioned plea to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat played a key role in making the agreement possible. Hoping to win the support of Arafat’s PLO, in 1974 King Hussein agreed to let the Palestinians try to reclaim the West Bank territories that Jordan had lost to Israel in 1967.
Brokering for peace in the Middle East came at a price. Hussein was the target of numerous assassination attempts.
“Sometimes I have felt like the central character in a detective novel,” Hussein wrote concerning several attempts on his life.
With the passing of this master of statecraft, the Arabs and the Israelis have lost their common ally. Super diplomat Bill Clinton will be around to break up any skirmishes, but for how long?
After Clinton’s term, will the United States remain as committed to a pie that many Americans feel this country has no business putting its fingers into?
A senior U.S. official told the New York Times the king was “a vital proponent of Middle East peace. It’s strange and frightening to think of the peace process without him.”
While the pundits believe that King Hussein’s son and successor, Abdullah, has the right pedigree and is popular with the powerful military, they worry that he has little experience in running a country as volatile as Jordan. Abdullah could be tested by both external threats and internal subversion. Jordan is also wracked with a whopping 30 percent unemployment rate and an unstable economy.
With King Hussein’s departure from center stage, the future of the Middle East is riddled with question marks. Will the Israelis and Palestinians retreat to their shells in the absence of an enigmatic middleman? Can the new king withstand any opposition?
Will he become too dependent on U.S. handouts and alienate Jordan from the Arab world? Would America even care after the architect of the Wye River Peace Accord leaves office and begins a new life touring the lecture circuit?
It is up to the powers in the Middle East to commit themselves to peace in the region. Otherwise a king would have died in vain.

Urvaksh Karkaria wrote this column. It first appeared on Monday in Indiana University’s Indiana Daily Student.