Jordan Nixes Anti-Israel Rally, But Fails to Snuff Resistance to Peace Pact

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE Jordanian police turned back hundreds of participants on the outskirts of Amman, planning to attend a conference calling for an end to normalization of relations with Israel yesterday.

After initially authorizing it, the government made a last-minute decision to ban the rally, organized by leftist, Islamist, and nationalist parties.

Analysts, including former and current government officials, warn that banning the rally will not suppress widening discontent about King Hussein's promotion of peace with Israel.

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Former prime minister and chief of Jordanian intelligence Ahmed Obeidat was the scheduled keynote speaker at the meeting.

Mr. Obeidat, who was sacked from the royally-appointed upper house of parliament for opposing the treaty, has emerged as the most outspoken critic of Jordan's drive to foster peace with Israel.

''There is a serious crisis of confidence between the leadership and the people,'' Obeidat says. ''If the social cohesion is fractured, Israel will use Jordan as a gateway to gain a foothold in the region.''

Many staunch supporters of the monarchy argue that Israel could be using the peace treaty to cover its continued occupation of Arab territories and its repression of Palestinians in the West Bank.

''Jordan cannot be a fig leaf to cover Israel's naked aggression against the Palestinians,'' says one former Jordanian official.

King Hussein has strived to ban Palestinian commando attacks being launched on Israel from Jordanian territories for decades. And because of Jordan's long borders with Israel, it has acted as a ''buffer'' between Israel and other Arab states.

Now many here fear that if Jordan makes peace with Israel, the buffer could collapse, giving Israel an upper hand in negotiations with other Arab countries in the ongoing Mideast peace process.

Without a solution to the Palestinian problem, many Jordanians fear that violence in the West Bank will spread to Jordan, triggering unrest in the country's 11 Palestinian refugee camps.

But King Hussein, who celebrates the 41st anniversary of ascendancy to the throne tomorrow, sees things differently.

The longest surviving ruler in the world has perfected a delicate balance between public opinion, highly influenced by the Palestinian's plight, and the need to ensure Jordan's role in the region.

While supporting Palestinian national demands, he held continuous secret talks with Israeli leaders throughout his reign, partly to make sure that Israelis would not transform Jordan into a Palestinian homeland and to assure Israelis that Jordan would not be used as a launching pad for Palestinian fighters against Israel.

But after the Palestinians signed a limited self-rule agreement with Israel in 1993, the king pursued a treaty that he hoped would secure an Israeli recognition of Jordanian boundaries and open the flow of foreign investment and financial aid into Jordan.

Jordanian politicians, however, now argue that neither the national security nor stability could be guaranteed in the country as long as the Palestinian problem remains unresolved.

''What happens on the Palestinian track has profound effect on the national security in Jordan,'' says former Prime Minister Taher Masri.

So when Israel announced it was confiscating more Arab land in East Jerusalem recently, Jordan was placed in an awkward position. ''It was a harsh reminder that the peace treaty has ended the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that Jordan remains an involved party,'' says one analyst who is close to the government.

According to officials, King Hussein has had to pursue a policy that would keep the treaty intact, without giving in to Israel.

Foreign Minister Abdul Karim Kabariti's sharp tone against the land grab drew criticism from both Israel and the United States. But King Hussein made it clear, in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, that he had to support Arab sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

The government also was under pressure from its parliament to freeze the pact and send home Israel's ambassador to Jordan.

Consequently Jordanians sighed with relief when Israel suspended its decision to confiscate Arab lands.

The government still has to secure parliamentary approval for annulling laws that ban trade and business with Israel. But even if the parliament approved the annulment, politicians say that King Hussein could still be risking his popularity by personally pushing for closer ties with Israel and ignoring his loyalists criticism.

The king has traditionally guaranteed loyalty through appointing loyalists to government posts. The restoration of an elected parliament in 1989 and the relaxation on political freedoms that followed have broadly widened the king's power base.

His popularity soared when he refused to join the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1991.

''But the treaty with Israel and the decline in political participation is eating up from the king's popularity,'' cautioned a loyalist who had held important official posts.

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