Israel playing with fire, King Hussein warns

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The Independent Online
Suddenly, King Hussein, the one Arab leader who seemed prepared to do business with Benjamin Netanyahu, is distancing himself from the Israeli Prime Minister.

In an interview with an Arabic newspaper this week, he said that if Mr Netanyahu did not make peace with the Palestinians, anything could happen, "including a revival of 1991, when Netanyahu wore his gas mask on television".

King Hussein's sudden belligerence and suggestion of a return to the days of the Gulf war is a nasty surprise for Israelis. The peace treaty signed with Jordan in 1994 was universally popular in Israel, if not in Jordan. Among Arab leaders the King was the least critical of Mr Netanyahu when he won the election in May.

Now, in an interview with the daily Ashraq al-Awsat, King Hussein has asked whether Israel wants to return to a fortress mentality and an arrogant feeling of power. "I just hope that he [Netanyahu] realises that he has to deal with Arafat and the Palestinians as equal partners," he said. "Those with limited perspectives" - presumably a reference to Mr Netanyahu - were putting the peace process into reverse.

King Hussein also complained that, although he had had a meeting with Dr Dore Gold, Mr Netanyahu's special envoy, just before the tunnel under the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem was opened, he was not told about it. Jordan has complained that the opening of the tunnel breaks the 1994 peace treaty, which gives Jordan a special place in protecting the Muslim holy places of Jerusalem.

Israel, too, appears to be alarmed by the change in relations between the two nations. "Israeli officials believe the sharp deterioration in the tight relations with Jordan is the most worrying aspect of Israel's relations with the Arab world," Israeli army radio said.

"The peace with Jordan is in a state of crisis - not just more tension, but a collapse of the entire fabric of trust, dialogue and discreet contacts between the two states."