Testing the Temperature of Jordanian-Israeli Peace

How "warm" is Jordan's peace with Israel? Three years after a peace agreement was signed, some of the long-standing malevolence that drove decades of conflict has hardly disappeared.

Witness recent "hate mail" received by the English-language daily newspaper The Jordan Times from a reader in Israel.

After a drive-by shooting last month that left two Israelis wounded - an incident unprecedented in "peacetime" Amman - the reader wrote: "The shooting of the two Israeli embassy guards in Amman is additional proof - as if we really needed any - that the Arab masses want all Israelis dead."

The peace, he wrote, was "sadly" only between King Hussein and Israel, rejected by Jordanians whose "Arab political culture is barbaric and will forever prohibit you from accepting us as your neighbors ... your intellectuals are no better than your fanatics," he wrote. "An Israeli has to be cuckoo to want to step foot in your countries."

Unmentioned was a series of attacks in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories in recent years, in which Israeli gunmen - some civilians, and some soldiers - have killed and wounded scores of Palestinian Arabs in mosques and markets.

There was also the assassination by a young Jewish seminarian of peace architect and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, with the express intent of bringing an end to the peace process.

Still, the reader wrote, the demand by the Amman attackers for the release of a Jordanian soldier who killed seven Israeli schoolgirls earlier this year "only demonstrates the thirst that the Arab masses have for Jewish blood."

George Hawatmeh, editor of The Jordan Times, takes a sanguine view of such letters. "I know these guys exist," he says. "There are extremists on both sides."

Such letters are normally unprintable, "because people would misunderstand them," he says. But the Times used the above letter in an editorial and replied with the text of an advertisement that appeared in The Jerusalem Post from the Committee for Sane Israeli Policy, based in Williamstown, Mass.

"Most of the media and many world politicians forget that Israel was born by the sword," it read. "We forget about the Hagana, the Stern Gang and the Irgun [Jewish extremist groups who used terror tactics to expel British troops from Palestine in the 1940s].... The Arabs probably learned from the actions of these Jewish groups."

"Jews could not control their own underground," it continues. "Why then should anyone expect an Arab government to maintain control?"

Xenophobia is not limited to right-wing Israelis. Recent incidents show that some Jordanians - more than half of whom are Palestinians, forced from their land when Israel was created in 1948, or by Israeli occupation of territory in the 1967 war - still couldn't countenance peace with Israel.

One man posted a sign on his store reading, "No Israelis allowed." Before his arrest, he declared: "My action is not against the Jews. The Jews are scattered everywhere. It is targeted against the Israelis who occupy our lands, who kill our children every day ...." The politicians' most difficult job on both sides will continue to be tempering such fiery hatred from extremists.

For now, the Israeli ambassador in Jordan is not taking any chances. Nor is the kingdom's Ministry of Interior. Ambassador Oded Eran travels in a bulletproof car sandwiched between armed vehicles manned by Jordanian - not ethnic Palestinian - soldiers. When he enters a restaurant in Amman, these guards go first, weapons drawn.

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