Jordan's king wants referendum on peace

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The Independent Online
KING HUSSEIN of Jordan, on his way home from signing his historic declaration of non-belligerency with Israel in Washington, has floated the idea of a referendum before the signing of any full peace treaty.

'I have never felt as much at peace with myself as now', he said at his residence in Windsor Great Park, and his beaming face conveyed how much the accord on peaceful co-operation meant to him.

He acknowledged that there were those opposed to it in Jordan. They would, however, have a say. 'One thing that is possible and I have been thinking about it, is maybe a national referendum. I am confident in what they will say. I will stake my whole future on it.'

The referendum could take place after a draft peace treaty had been worked out and debated by parliament. Such a move would be unprecedented in Jordan. Floating the idea at this time seems a ploy to gauge public reaction, and also to demonstrate how much more accountable he is to his public than PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Jordanian officials have made no secret of their disappointment with Mr Arafat's progress in establishing Palestinian institutions on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip since the Israeli withdrawal.

The King tried to play down the row caused by the Jordanian-Israeli declaration ascribing to him a special role regarding Jerusalem's holy places. Mr Arafat, who claims Jerusalem as capital of the future Palestinian state, was angered by what he saw was a Jordanian attempt to pre- empt the outcome of the negotiations on the final status of the city. The King emphasised that the aim was 'to remove the religious dimension from the political one. There should be an effort to encourage inter-faith dialogue. What we claim is for the Muslim umma (community). We want to elevate this beyond the political. Sovereignty is for Almighty God.'

He said that he could go to Jerusalem any time. 'I feel it is my right, as a Muslim, as a Hashemite, and as an Arab to visit Jerusalem and Hebron . . . As to when, I don't know, but it will happen some time soon, God willing.' His whole tenor vindicated what the Israelis have been saying for years, that this was a man they could do business with, rather than the mercurial Mr Arafat.

The king was not surprised at the comments of the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, on Armed Forces Day which criticised the Jordanians and Palestinians for breaking Arab ranks.

He said that Jordan had provided Britain with information before the London bombings. He warned that 'we should brace ourselves for more of that.'