Leading article: A vital succession for Middle East peace

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The Independent Culture
THESE ARE anxious times indeed for Jordan. Yesterday King Hussein, its ruler for 47 years, flew back to America to receive urgent new treatment for a cancer condition. The prognosis cannot be good. In the six days he was in Jordan, however, the King did find time to make his untried son Abdullah his future successor instead of his brother Hassan, who has been the crown prince for more than 33 years. The shift, apparently, has not been universally welcomed by his own people. And all this at a time when his country faces grave problems.

Within Jordan, attempts at overdue economic and social reform have come to little, while unemployment, already high, is rising. Beyond its borders, the treacherous politics of the Middle East which King Hussein has skilfully navigated for so long - for which service we should all be grateful - look dangerous. His 1994 peace treaty with Israel has never been less popular among Jordanians. The isolation of neighbouring Iraq costs the country dear in economic terms. The forthcoming elections in Israel should revive the moribund peace process. But if not, and if Palestinian frustration boils over, the consequences will be dire. Small wonder so many worry about the stability - even the survival - of the Hashemite kingdom.

Now responsibility may fall on Crown Prince Abdullah, and soon. What we know of him is encouraging. As an army major-general, the son must be assumed to have the loyalty of the military. Born of a British mother, educated at Sandhurst, he is presumably as sympathetic to the West as is the King. But his politics are mysterious. Such are the hazards when power is conferred by blood, rather than by open elections. It is to be hoped that Crown Prince Abdullah's genes contain the judgement that has made his father the longest-serving executive ruler on earth.