Why Hussein Trembles as Soviet Jews Depart

AS charges are raised with increasing intensity throughout the Arab world that Soviet Jewish migration to Israel may endanger political stability, the loudest pleas have ironically originated from Israel's politically moderate next-door neighbor - Jordan. King Hussein has vehemently pressed the United States to help stave off what he perceives as a tidal wave of West Bank immigration, and has held talks with several Arab leaders to urge an emergency Arab summit to coordinate an appropriate response to Moscow.

The roots of Hussein's concerns run much deeper than the mere arrival of Soviet Jews in Israel. The king believes that new West Bank settlement likely to result from the influx will encourage more Palestinians to migrate to the East Bank. Those migrants would arrive on the heels of a flow of Palestinian laborers returning to Jordan from lost jobs in the Persian Gulf.

Nearly 24,000 Palestinians left the West Bank for Jordan in 1989 alone because of political unrest, adding to a community whose population of 1.5 million already comprises roughly 50 percent of the Jordanian populace.

Since Israel's war for independence, Hussein - and before him, King Abdullah - has fought to contain the Palestinian nationalist presence in his midst. His relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization have fluctuated between cold and downright frigid. The crackdown on Palestinian nationalists in ``Black September,'' 1970, has never been totally forgotten, let alone forgiven.

As the possibility nears of negotiations on creation of a Palestinian ``entity'' on the West Bank, trepidation reigns in Jordan's Parliament, as in Israel's Knesset. Even senior PLO official Salah Khalaf's assertion that the Palestinians support ``an independent state, but in confederation with Jordan,'' provides Jordanian leaders with little solace. For in the long run, the Palestinians of Nablus and the Palestinians of Amman will always share more culturally and historically with each other than with Hussein's ruling Bedouin Hashemite clan.

Is it any surprise, then, that Hussein views an incursion of more Palestinians to Jordan as a national crisis?

Most observers believe that Hussein's fears of large numbers of Soviet Jews flooding the West Bank have little foundation. Only 2 to 5 percent of the 50,000 to 100,000 'emigr'es expected in 1990 are likely to pursue that option. Still, the lure of inexpensive housing in such developments as Maaleh Adumim, but a stone's throw from Jerusalem, shouldn't be discounted. In a region where perception often becomes reality, Western states must be sensitive to Jordanian concerns.

The Bush administration should continue to press the Kremlin to allow a free flow of Jewish emigrants to Israel via direct air flights, particularly with reports of heightened anti-Semitism emanating from Moscow. But concrete American assurances that future aid to Israel is destined for purposes inside the Green Line only, and is not to be used for West Bank settlements, would assuage Hussein's concerns.

At the same time, Israel's prime minister can be assured that a freeze on West Bank settlement does not apply to East Jerusalem and is truly in Israel's own best interests at a time when talks on future elections in the West Bank and Gaza hang so precariously in the balance.

When Likud hard-liners like former Israeli Minister of Industry and Trade Ariel Sharon say ``Jordan is Palestine,'' it is King Hussein, not Yasser Arafat, who winces. For Israel's hawkish right, this formula is little more than an attempt to provide an easy ``solution'' to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would distract attention from realistic ways to satisfy the legitimate complaints of the Palestinian people in the territories. But for Jordan's king, the equation symbolizes nothing less than a demographic nightmare.

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