A wave of emotion swept the world’s press Monday following the death of King Hussein of Jordan, but nowhere more than in Israel. Maariv carried a huge picture of him under the headline “Shalom, King,” while Yediot Aharanot printed in Hebrew and Arabic the words “Shalom to a friend.” Eitan Haber, an aide to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, wrote in Yediot Aharanot, “If they lay a thousand flowers on your grave, one will be mine. … If a thousand tears soak your final resting place, one will drip from my eyes. … I want to thank you, first and foremost, for the peace. And I have no doubt that Yitzhak Rabin joins in these warm thanks. He is waiting for you with a soldier’s handshake.”
In Maariv, Chemi Shalev also dwelt on the king’s relationship with Rabin: “They were so different, these two, yet they were very close. An introvert and impatient general and a noble and generous monarch, whose objectives and souls joined.” He imagined them “up there” together, lighting cigarettes for each other and talking old soldiers’ talk. Also in Maariv, Yosef Lapid wrote that Hussein might have made two grave mistakes–in 1967 when he joined Egypt’s abortive attempt to destroy Israel, and in 1990 when he supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait–but he was nevertheless “the only Arab leader Israeli citizens saw as ‘an enemy who became a friend.’ “
In Ha’aretz, Danny Rubinstein, an expert on Palestinian affairs, contrasted Israel’s outpouring of grief over the king’s death to the relative indifference of the Palestinians. There are no special signs of mourning among the Palestinian public, he wrote, quoting a man in an East Jerusalem coffee house: “Netanyahu is sadder and more concerned than we are.” Rubinstein said that the merchants of East Jerusalem were principally concerned about the weekend’s fall in the value of the Jordanian currency, the dinar, in which they kept most of their savings. And he noted that in Gaza and Nablus in recent days there has been more pictures of Saddam Hussein on display than of the Hashemite king.
Other comment Monday in the Israeli press focused on the aftermath of Hussein’s death and Jordan’s prospects under King Abdullah. In Yediot Aharanot, Danny Rothchild, a former intelligence officer of the Israeli Defence Forces, predicted that the transfer of power in Jordan will take place “without many shocks” but that there will be hard times ahead for the Jordanian people. The Jordanian economy is in a deep recession, he wrote, and will get even worse unless the Jordanian government urgently tackles unemployment, the stability of the currency, and the trade balance. Another urgent problem is the country’s water shortage, he added, “If they do not solve it immediately, a drought in the summer will lead to intolerable dependence on Jordan’s neighbors.”
Rothchild wrote that the “external threat” to Jordan does not seem especially grave at the moment, though there is the risk of Iraqi subversion with so many Iraqi exiles on Jordanian soil and at its borders. But he said the new king will have to focus a lot of attention on preserving calm within the royal family, which until now has been kept in order by Hussein, with his absolute authority and “almost obsessive” concern for the maintenance of family unity. On Jordan’s relationship with Israel and the continuation of the peace process, Rothchild urged that King Abdullah be allowed to deal with other problems first. “All those with the welfare of the king and his kingdom, as well as ours, at heart would do well not to force him to confront these complex and sensitive issues at this time,” he wrote.
Writing for Ha’aretz from Amman, Zvi Bar’el noted that a Jordanian publicist had dubbed King Abdullah “a king for the Internet age” and suggested this might make his relations difficult with veteran Arab leaders such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Hafez Assad of Syria, and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. “Won’t he have to prove that his Arab credentials are no less solid than theirs?” he asked. But in the new king’s favor, Bar’el pointed out that he was the first Jordanian monarch not to be weighed down by the trauma of losing national territory, the first Arab leader not to have taken part in fateful decisions about Iraq, and someone for whom peace with Israel was a given reality that did not need to be justified.