Treaty marks end of a 46-year war

Click to follow
ALONG Salah ed-Din street, where King Hussein of Jordan ruled until 1967, his former subjects seemed hardly to heed the momentous news of a peace treaty broadcast yesterday from Amman.

Crowds of schoolchildren, many of the girls in white Islamic veils, were going home. 'We feel we are Palestinians,' said Leilah, 16. 'I am too young to remember when Jerusalem was Jordanian.'

The peace treaty marks an end to Jordan's 46 years of war with Israel. But it does not conclude the political rivalry between the Jordanian monarch and the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat. Jordan has relinquished its claim to govern east Jerusalem and the West Bank. But the two men are still engaged in a contest of sympathies that Israel has exploited with skill, aiming to frustrate Palestinian efforts to make east Jerusalem the capital of their nascent state.

As if to symbolise King Hussein's claims, the newly burnished Dome of the Rock, washed by yesterday's first autumn rains, stood in glowing splendour above the slate- grey walls of the old city.

King Hussein sold his London mansion to pay for the renovation of the shrine and the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque. It was a sign of his undiminished role as custodian of the third-holiest place in Islam. This status enhances his authority among pious Jordanians and reinforces the Hashemite monarchy in its historic contest with the House of Saud, which rules over Mecca and Medina.

Within the Palestinian camp, too, the issue of Jordanian claims is of paramount interest. Mr Arafat, with one eye on his fundamentalist opponents, is keen to be the first to prostrate himself in prayer within the courtyards of Al- Aqsa. But it seems that King Hussein might get there first.

The King and Mr Arafat have nominated rival candidates for the post of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, according to An-Nahar, a pro-Jordanian newspaper which Mr Arafat has tried to suppress.

Jordan lost control of east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967 and the PLO filled the vacuum left by defeat and occupation.

Political allegiance to the Hashemite Kingdom is confined to a tiny minority.

Reality in east Jerusalem reflects the change in climate since Mr Arafat's deal with Israel. A few Israeli soldiers still lounge at the crossroads where young Palestinians would once hurl stones, prompting rubber bullets and live fire in return. Yesterday the men ignored them. The merchants and moneychangers of Salah ed-Din shuttered their premises in deference to a strike called by the fundamentalist movement, Hamas, to commemorate its 'martyrs' killed in last week's Israeli attempt to free a kidnapped soldier.

But most casually left open one shutter so customers could slip inside.

'There is no doubt that business with Jordan is booming,' said Gabriel Khano, director of a travel agency. 'Israelis with dual passports are going across to Jordan and many, many Palestinians are coming to visit relatives .

. . it is all changing fast - property prices, business investment, everything.'

The Jordanian treaty will reinforce this transformation and could hasten a possible confederation between Jordan and a Palestinian state.

Along Salah ed-Din the premises of the Ottoman Bank and the Cairo-Amman Bank vie in shabby splendour for traditional Arab custom. But hotels are full of World Bank men and advisers from a dozen countries keen to instruct the Palestinians on how best to disburse the inflow of funds. Palestinians who fled the Gulf in 1990 and 1991 are also investing.

To Israel, the treaty means its strategic eastern flank is more secure. The way is clear to its next great objective, peace with Syria. For Palestinians, the treaty boosts momentum towards a self-governed West Bank trading with Jordan and Israel. And for King Hussein, whose health has been poor, it represents a chance to pray in Al-Aqsa after 25 years. If he can do so before Mr Arafat, then his prayers will doubtless be all the more heartfelt.