(Central Israel) — One of my regrets in life is that I never had the opportunity to meet Jordan’s King Hussein, truly one of the most courageous and compassionate Arab leaders of the 20th century.
Twenty-two years ago today — on October 26, 1994 — Hussein made history by signing a peace treaty with the State of Israel. In so doing, Hussein became only the second Sunni Arab Muslim leader to do so.
The first, of course, was President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, another of the great Arab leaders of our age.
Which Arab state will be next? What Arab leader will follow the lead of Sadat and Hussein in making peace with the Jewish State? And when?
Admittedly, I’m not holding my breath. Nor should you. But as I’ve been writing about on this blog for some time, there are, in fact, signs of encouraging behind-the-scenes cooperation between Israel and the Sunni Arab world, including a number of intriguing public meetings between prominent Israeli and Saudi notables. Why? In part because a growing number of Arab leaders in the region now recognize that the true existential threat to them is not the presence of a sovereign Jewish State but rather Iran’s menacing nuclear program and the genocidal, apocalyptic ambitions of the Islamic State.
King Hussein knew full well that he was taking an enormous risk when he signed the historic peace accord with then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during an elaborate ceremony that was overseen by President Bill Clinton, held on the Israeli-Jordanian border, attended by some 4,500 guests.
Hussein had grown up in the bubbling cauldron that is the modern Middle East. As a teenager, he was standing at the side of his grandfather, King Abdullah I, when Abdullah was brutally assassinated by a Palestinian radical just outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in the summer of 1951. Over the next four decades, Hussein survived literally dozens of plots against his life, including the effort by Yasser Arafat and the PLO to overthrow him in 1970 (what became known as “Black September.”) Hussein also knew all too well how his friend, Sadat, was cruelly assassinated by Islamic jihadists in 1981, just two years after Egypt made peace with Israel.
Yet remarkably, twenty-two years ago today, Hussein made the decision to proceed anyway, knowing all the history and all the threats and all the risks. He thus demonstrated his extraordinary wisdom and impressive drive to bring peace and prosperity and stability and opportunity to the people of Jordan.
Today, seventeen years after Hussein’s untimely death from cancer, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty still holds. Why? Much of the credit goes to the equally-extraordinary leadership of his son, King Abdullah II, who continues to follow in his father’s impressive footsteps, steadily seeking to improve the quality of life for all Jordanians, while navigating ever-turbulent regional storms.
Indeed, Abdullah II seems born for this challenging moment. He strikes me as uniquely qualified to protect his kingdom from all threats foreign and domestic, and build on his father’s legacy of moderation, tolerance and strength, as a I wrote earlier this spring when Lynn and I had the humbling honor of visiting with His Majesty in Amman.
Today, thank God, Israel and Jordan are working quietly but closely on security, intelligence, agricultural, economic and energy matters. They are also working closely with other Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, the Saudis and the Gulf emirates on vital security issues, most notably the fight against ISIS and the effort to protect the region from emboldened Iranian aggression.
What’s more, just last month Israel and Jordan signed a 15-year, $10 billion agreement in which Israel will provide natural gas it is drilling in the Mediterranean to the kingdom at low prices. Some Jordanians are protesting the agreement, but it really is a win-win for both sides. Jordan is the first country to whom Israel has agreed to export its natural gas, and the deal will help the Hashemite Kingdom “$600 million a year from the state’s energy bill.”
Of course, the pressures on Egypt and Jordan to distance themselves from Israel, even to abandon their treaties, are enormous. Both Radical Islamists and Apocalyptic Islamists see Jordanian and Egyptian leaders as apostates, betrayers of the cause, and seek to bring them down as rapidly and violently as possible. Such are some of the themes in my most recent series of novels, The Third Target and The First Hostage. Such issues also play a significant element in my forthcoming thriller, Without Warning (though I’m not ready to go into any detail yet).
Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians have been enormously blessed by these peace treaties. Without continuous war amongst us, we have all seen our economies grow and our children pursue their education and their dreams in a far better way than they could have. True, a fair and compassionate agreement must still be forged between Israelis and Palestinians — and for this I pray every day. I hope you do, too.
But on this day when we remember the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty (and its predecessor between Israel and Egypt), let us be likewise committed to standing with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egypt’s President el-Sisi. Let us be praying for them and their governments and their people. Let us be praying for peace, stability, and economic growth for Jordan and Egypt.
For if the jihadists succeed and Jordan and Egypt become destabilized, this would have catastrophic consequences for the region and the world. Such is the nightmare scenario I pray we only read about in novels, not see play out in real life.
[PHOTO: Front page of the New York Times reporting on the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in 1994; and a photo of Jordan’s King Hussein sharing a smoke with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.]
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