KING Hussein and the leaders of all major political groupings in Jordan have reached an agreement that officials hope will help ensure the survival of the country as a sovereign entity as it faces the prospect of increased regional turmoil. Agreement was reached this week on a National Charter that would legalize political parties in return for their unequivocal recognition of the legitimacy of the Hashemite monarchy.
This represents an unprecedented consensus, designed to unite formerly divisive factions in the kingdom and reduce the potential for subversion.
``National unity is at a peak and the king is enjoying unprecedented support,'' says Tahir Masri, the former foreign minister.
Jordanians have for some time feared the country could be endangered by the prospect advocated by some Israelis of making Jordan the substitute homeland for Palestinians. As the Gulf crisis has intensified, other fears have developed that the kingdom might be the target of an Israeli attack or incursion, or even that Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia might seek to divide up the country in the event of war, under the pretext that its historic role as a buffer state was no longer valid.
The Charter includes commitments by opposition groups to refrain from trying to infiltrate the armed forces and to take steps to demonstrate their independence from other Arab governments. In exchange, the king will provide legal safeguards for the freedoms of political organization and expression. Since the 1950s members of Jordanian parties have been influenced by the nationalist governments of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.
Political parties - with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose activities were permited by the government as a means of countering leftist forces in Jordan - have been banned since 1957. At that time, King Hussein accused the parties of plotting an Arab-backed military coup to end the monarchy. But since last year's general elections, political parties have emerged from decades of clandestine activities to gain de facto legitimacy.
King Hussein has secured overwhelming popular support by publicly opposing military action against Iraq. Crown Prince Hassan vowed in a television interview this week that Jordan would not allow US troops to use Jordanian territories to launch a military assault against Iraq.
The US State Department Wednesday ordered all US government dependents and nonessential personnel to leave Jordan ``well before'' Jan. 15.
Unity against the foreign military intervention in the Gulf has sealed the historic reconciliation between King Hussein and the radical Palestinian groups who had once vowed to topple him.
A combination of Jordan's relinquishing of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1988 and subsequent democratic reforms - involving parliamentary election and ending harassment of political activists - already had remarkably eased tension between Jordan and the Palestinians.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) of George Habash, who until very recently has been a arch enemy of King Hussein, was allowed to celebrate its 23rd anniversary in the Jordanian capital, Amman, earlier this month.
At the rally, which included fiery speeches and revolutionary songs, the No. 2 man in the PFLP declared the end of a historic feud which reached its peak in the bloody showdown between the Jordanian Army and the Palestinian commandoes in 1970.
``In 1970, we fought in opposite trenches,'' Abu Ali Mustafa told the rally. ``Twenty years later we stand in one trench.''
The National Charter, which includes a special chapter on Jordanian-Palestinian relations, implies that the state has no right to violate or encroach upon the legal and political rights of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and in return Palestinian groups cannot infringe on the king's sovereignty.
In clearer terms, the Charter recognizes Palestinians' rights to express their political commitment to the Palestinian cause and even support for the PLO. But intervention by Palestinian groups in internal Jordanian politics will not be tolerated.
Some politicians say that the Charter has not adequately addressed the complexity of Jordan's Palestinians ``dual loyalties.''
``This might give way to tension in the future,'' says political activist Mazen Saket, especially as most Jordanian groups historically have been extensions of PLO factions - with the exception of the Muslim Brotherhood - and have constituted the main organized movements in Jordan.
To avoid this duality, the Jordanian wings of Palestinian groups have declared independence, but are still widely viewed as part of the PLO and its factions. The status of these groups has been complicated by the Charter's stipulation that all parties should be autonomous, both financially and politically, from external governments and forces.
The Charter seems, however, to make a vague exception for Palestinian groups by asserting that the Palestinian struggle ``is a nationalist Jordanian cause.''
Officials and veteran political activists maintain that the vagueness was deliberate to allow flexibility in the evolution of a Jordanian-Palestinian relationship.
Others warn that, without clarifying the relationship, future divisions are likely.