The Royal Succession: Jordan's balancing act faces serious upset

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The Independent Online
IT WAS always a balancing act. Jordan is a buffer state between more powerful countries, notably Israel and Iraq. King Hussein's political career was spent playing his enemies off against each other.

It was not easy. The king needed to keep in with the great powers, but preserve his nationalist credentials. An early act of the young Harrow and Sandhurst-educated monarch was to fire his British military adviser "Glubb Pasha". In 1967 he joined Egypt and Syria to fight Israel only to lose the West Bank. In 1991 he won overwhelming popular support by maintaining a friendly neutrality towards Iraq during the Gulf war. But the king was also the man who crushed the Palestinians in Jordan in a bloody civil war in 1970 and three years later he secretly flew to Israel to tell a disbelieving Israeli premier that Egypt and Syria were about to launch a war.

He played both ends against the middle because he believed Jordan's weakness - 4.4 million people and no natural resources or defences - left him no choice. The king also knew any foreign policy failures would have immediate domestic consequences.

More than half the population of Jordan is Palestinian, largely excluded from power but dominating private business. He needed an Israeli guarantee against Iraq, but not at the price of permanently alienating the Palestinians.

He death, considered all but inevitable, comes at a bad moment for Jordan. In 1994 the King signed a peace treaty with Israel. It has produced no economic and few political dividends an is unpopular among Jordanians and Palestinians alike, although it got him back into the good graces of the US. A year later he broke with Iraq.

But negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are now stalemated and Saddam Hussein has survived. Both have felt free to send their assassination squads into the streets of Amman.

Washington is pressuring Jordan to turn itself into a base for action against Iraq, a policy wildly unpopular among ordinary Jordanians.

There is a much bigger question mark over the future of Jordanian policy than expected a month ago. This is because of the dismissal of Crown Prince Hassan, the king's brother and primary lieutenant. The new heir to the throne, the king's eldest son Prince Abdullah, is an unknown quantity.

For the moment Jordan is weaker, because part of its strength was the astuteness and prestige of King Hussein. Its neighbours are waiting to see if the house King Hussein built will hold together.