Hussein's Middle East Gambit

In international affairs, no less than interpersonal ones, you're known by the company you keep. Therefore, it is revealing to note that in the Arab world almost all of America's closest friends are hereditary monarchs of a distinctly medieval cast.

Take Jordan's King Hussein--please. Of the bad lot of Mideastern monarchs, Hussein is by far one of the more insubstantial. But he is also one of the most strategically placed, and thus his geopolitical meanderings and manipulations, such as his recent abdication of Jordan's claim to the Palestinian West Bank, bear special scrutiny.

Since 1948, Jordan has served as a repository for much of the inconvenient Arab population of present-day Israel. At least half of Jordan's current residents are Palestinian refugees. From 1948 to 1967, Jordan ruled the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, a state of affairs which pumped up the king's prestige and his strategic significance. And post-Watergate investigations of the CIA in the mid-1970s discovered that, for years, Hussein was actually on the agency payroll.

Since 1967, Jordan has continued to claim sovereignty over the West Bank. This claim has given Israel and America a convenient surrogate for the growing inconvenience of Palestinian national aspirations and national institutions. In Israel this surrogate role is sometimes expressed in the statement that Jordan is Palestine, meaning that Jordan, with its historic association with Arab Palestine and its large Palestinian population, is (or could be, or should be) the Palestinian state.

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