Jordan may be a little state with a small population and few natural resources, but its significance to the Middle East and beyond is greater than its size. Its importance lies not only in the sphere of American interests, but also internally in its own successful efforts at modernization and externally with its varied assistance to its neighbors in the Middle east region.
Because Jordan shares Israel's longest border, the country is of crucial significance in security questions and to the maintenance of peace in the Middle East. To this end, since the termination of its own 1970-71 civil strife, Jordan has succeeded in preventing any violent incidents involving that border. In addition, despite past hostilities and the lack of a peace treaty, Jordan along with Israel maintains open bridges to the Israeli-controlled West Bank so that Palestinians and their goods as well as tourists may pass to and from the country. On balance, Israel could not wish for a better neighbor, especially given the potential alternatives.
With respect to larger issues of Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli peace, the two major US-sponsored initiatives of the past five years specifically include Jordan. In the Camp David accords of 1978, for example, Jordan is given a central and explicitly defined role. This inclusion in the accords, unfortunately, was made in the absence of adequate consultation with King Hussein and his government and thus was much resented in Amman.
In contrast, in preparation for President Reagan's admirable initiative, outlined on Sept. 1, 1982, Jordan was consulted in advance and in some detail. Because the Reagan formula was more consistent with Jordanian views of their interests than the Camp David accords, King Hussein's initial and sustained reaction and position have been quite positive.
In like manner, in the months since President Reagan presented his plan, various Arab parties have indicated their interest (some too have presented their criticisms, but not rejections) and have taken serious steps bringing them closer to the American position. Accordingly, it would now be appropriate and helpful for the US to make a confidence-inspiring, tangible move to encourage further positive actions by Arab parties, notably by Jordan and the Palestinians.
The importance of high politics and security aside, Jordan is equally worthy of US attention because of the nature of its own society and its regional role in the Arab world. One of the secrets of Jordan's notable success in its rapid economic and social development efforts is the existence of a vibrant free enterprise system strongly encouraged by the government. A second reason, somewhat ironically, was the flight of many Palestinian refugees to Jordan. They now constitute perhaps half of the population, and, to the benefit of the country, many bring valuable capital and expertise.
In many ways, development has become an ideology for the country. People talk about the process and its elements and take pride in them. King Hussein and his brother, Crown Prince Hassan, are - and importantly are perceived to be - able to deliver on most development projects, largely drawing on substantial aid funds from the oil-producing Arab countries. In this pursuit, the two brothers appear to the citizenry as genuinely concerned for the welfare of the people.
From the people's standpoint, success in these efforts is measured by a standard of living higher than similar developing countries (per capita income in 1981 reached a remarkable $1,800), which is due in part to the country's ability to adapt new imported technologies to local needs. In a less tangible, but perhaps more important, area this improved standard of living has been realized in a political atmosphere of relative security and personal freedom. Jordanians generally do not fear arbitrary arrest, seizure, or treatment.
In the Arab world, Jordan plays a significant and multifaceted role. Using their success at development, Jordanians actively ply their skills and help Arab countries to absorb modern technologies and systems into their societies. With respect to labor, it is estimated that 500,000 Jordanian citizens, many of Palestinian origin, are living in the oil-producing countries and of that number about 40 percent are of the labor force. Many work and contribute in technical or economic related positions. In addition, many fill sensitive posts in local armies and police forces in and around the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, thus giving Jordan an added security role well beyond its borders - one that is positively relevant to oil importing countries.
In sum, now that King Hussein is seriously contemplating participation in Mr. Reagan's Middle East peace initiative, the US should remember that his little country is three dimensional. It is important not only to larger US interests in the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but significant also because of its own internal development, well-being, and worth and because of its regional role which is of benefit to its neighbors and ultimately to the world.