West Bank history against Palestinians: Amid trumpet-calls of peace, Robert Fisk in Amman finds cause for concern that the Palestinians may lose the little they have won

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THE Jordanians understood the message long before the press. While CNN and the American networks were trumpeting peace, King Hussein's people were pondering the references to King Abdullah, grandfather of the present king and friend of Israel. King Hussein remembered his murder - 'I was by his side at the time,' he recalled yesterday - Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, talked of him as a martyr for peace, while Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, quoted Abdullah's brother at length.

The Jordanian press yesterday extensively reported Mr Peres' praise for the Hashemite monarch, who was assassinated at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in 1951. Abdullah's brother, Emir Faisal al-Hussein, Mr Peres recalled, had met Chaim Weizmann, who became first president of Israel, after the 1914-18 war. In March of 1919, Faisal had written that 'we feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in race, having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves . . . indeed, I think that neither can be a real success without the other.'

All that was missing this week was any reference - in Mr Peres' speech beside the Dead Sea or in the Jordanian press - to the fact that Abdullah annexed the Palestinian West Bank in 1950 and turned it into part of Jordan. Abdullah had been murdered by enemies of peace, we were told. Abdel-Salam al-Majali, the Jordanian Prime Minister, described Abdullah as 'the voice of reason', who sought 'peace and co-existence'.

Again, no mention of the fact that the Palestinians who plotted his murder - apparently backed by the old Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini - believed the Jordanian king had stolen Palestine's independence.

The message that many Jordanians received, however, was a simple one. Abdullah had sought the friendship of the Israelis. Now his grandson, King Hussein, had followed in his footsteps. Abdullah had expropriated the West Bank at a time of anarchy. So were the Israelis - and therefore the Americans - hoping that King Hussein might emulate his grandfather's example if Yasser Arafat's new borough council in the West Bank were to fall apart in chaos? In short - to quote the words of a Jordanian businessman this week - 'are the Israelis and Americans offering the West Bank back to the Jordanians, who lost it in the 1967 war?'

King Hussein, of course, recognised the PLO almost a quarter of a century ago as 'the sole legitimate respresentative of the Palestinian people'. But the PLO was then armed, with mass support in the Arab world. Today, Mr Arafat's rump statelets are a poor second to the Palestine he demanded in 1970. And the Israelis, who like insurance policies, have always trusted King Hussein more than Mr Arafat. The PLO leader's tiny West Bank city of Jericho was just visible across the Dead Sea, shimmering in the heat haze to the north, as Mr Peres landed in Jordan this week.

Mr Peres had earlier invited King Hussein to visit Jerusalem, because the monarch, claiming descent from the Prophet, has a traditional role in the management of the Muslim holy places on the Haram al-Sharif. At a press conference the King said he had no immediate plans to visit the city - but the invitation was a calculated snub to the PLO leader, who demands east Jerusalem as the capital of his new 'state'. Given the speed of Jordan's rapprochement with Israel, it looks as though King Hussein may pray at Al-Aqsa before Mr Arafat.

In the meantime, Jordan is preparing the ground for economic expansion with Israel. When Mr Peres visited Jordan this week, Jordanian officials began distributing a pamphlet to Israelis entitled: 'Investing in Jordan - Your Profit Centre in the Middle East.' Mr Peres waxed lyrical about future trade prospects, 'where waterways will cover the brown deserts . . . where the skies will be open . . . we can reclaim sea water to irrigate new fields, new gardens, new cities.' Only Mr Majali remembered that 'security cannot be achieved while millions of Palestinians are deprived of their human rights.'

Most non-Palestinian Jordanians are more interested in an immediate peace than justice for their Palestinian neighbours; and many would see little wrong in the 'return' of the West Bank to Jordan. 'The Americans talk about this new peace as if it's a train that must be kept 'on track',' a Jordanian journalist commented. 'But it's not a train - it's a bulldozer that is sweeping everything before it. The Americans promise to 'forgive' our debts and give us weapons, providing we do what Israel wants. And we are doing what Israel wants.'

It is not a view he is likely to publish in the Jordanian press, which Mr Majali proclaimed this week to be 'free and democratic'. Jordanian censors recently tore a page out of the Independent which reported Mr Peres' previous secret trips to Jordan.

(Photograph omitted)