OPINION: Why King Abdallah Acts As He Does

Dr. Yossi Nevo, Assoc. Professor in the Dept. of Middle East History and a veteran Jordan watcher, provides this analysis for Focus.

King Abdallah is different from his father, the late King Hussein, in many respects. Abdallah is more pragmatic, cynical, calculating. Hussein saw his rule as a real mission. His son is less concerned with tradition and ideological commitment and relates to it as a task to be carried out the best way possible.

When it comes to Israel, there is also a difference between the two. For Abdallah, normalization is an issue of domestic policy rather than a Jordanian-Israeli bilateral subject. This is the reason that he relates to it the way

he does.

Abdallah maintains a lower, chillier profile as one cannot help but notice. Hussein would talk about the commitment to peace, Abdallah talks about the peace process. This is not a matter of semantics, but a navigating of relations into a different channel. Hussein saw normalization of relations with Israel as a central subject of great importance. Abdallah pushes the subject to the side, an approach that stimulates those who object to normalization to give free rein to their views. [See story on Arab journalists’ visit to the University.—ed.]

What accounts for this difference? Abdallah is less enthusiastic about public manifestations of peace and normalization, a price he has to pay for having closer ties with Syria and other Arab states. At home, he is still courting public opinion and looking for public support. (The new king has a fine sense of public relations.) He cannot, therefore, afford to be too friendly (on the overt level, at least) toward Israel, as peace is not popular among the Jordanian public (or not among the elites, at least). Nevertheless, it is too early to tell whether Abdallah's attitude differs from that of his father only in style or also in substance.

Abdallah has created expectations in Jordanian society, but he knows well that the reforms he must execute to get the economy on track will demand many victims. He is therefore careful to show “who is the boss” and to shore up his standing. If he cannot deliver the goods, there is great fear of a radical change in the nature of Jordanian society—a change that will also impact on its relations with Israel.

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