In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, historical circumstances–namely Jordan’s isolation following its vocal support for Iraq–caused its king to remake himself and his country in the image of a (relatively) modern, (more) progressive state.
King Hussein, who died on this date in 1999, had a history of saying and doing some terrible things, but when he decided–in a fit of desperation–to normalize relations with Israel, he buoyed his pragmatic decision with a convert’s fanaticism.
The transformation was astonishing. Not since Anwar Sadat had an Arab leader thrown himself with such fervor into the cause of peace — real peace, not merely a frigid absence of hostilities. “I am determined,” the king said of the 1994 treaty normalizing relations between Israel and Jordan, “not to have … a peace between governments, but a peace between people.” It was a promise he kept.
An extraordinary moment occurred in March 1997, when Hussein visited the grieving families of seven Israeli girls shot dead by a deranged Jordanian soldier. He knelt before the mourners, tears in his eyes, words of comfort on his lips. It was an act of humanity and poignancy unprecedented in modern Middle East history.
The greatness of King Hussein was not that he devoted his life to peace. It was that he was able to rise above himself, to break through a mindset of violence and become an apostle of reconciliation. That is what the world has lost, and why Israelis lowered their flags to half-mast when their former enemy died last Sunday.
As fragile as Jordan seems today, it’s worth mentioning how important its stability is for the long-term health of Israel and the region.
A convert to peacemaking [Boston Globe]
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.