Friday, June 2, 2006

Three bombs now threaten the very existence of Jordan — demography, poverty and the environment. So said Prince Hassan bin Talal, the former crown prince and King Abdullah’s uncle. He warned about “the increasing control by Islamist fundamentalists of the masses of poor people.”

Amman, the capital, is awash with 1 million Iraqis who have left since the U.S. invasion, many of them wealthy businessmen who made their fortunes in the U.N. oil-for-food rackets during the Saddam Hussein regime. They have driven up real estate prices to where even “comfortably off” Jordanians can no longer afford them. In an exclusive UPI interview, Prince Hassan said, “Our capital has become unrecognizable over the past two years and spreading urbanization appears to be out of control.” The rise in oil prices means higher food prices, he said, “which the poor cannot afford.”

The demographic bomb, coupled with the increasing gulf between rich and poor, the poverty bomb and the environmental bomb, Prince Hassan explained, “have brought us to ask how many people can Jordan absorb with acceptable levels of human dignity without one of those bombs exploding.”

Prince Hassan is known as the “intellectual” of the Hashemite kingdom. As the 63-year-old King Hussein was dying of cancer in 1999, bringing to an end a 46-year reign, he decided to transfer the title of Crown Prince from Hassan to his eldest son, now king Abdullah II.

In Washington last week, Prince Hassan also rang the alarm to warn about Jordan’s increasingly perilous situation in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plans for the West Bank. “While President Bush describes the unilateral process of resettlement [transferring some 60,000 Israelis from smaller settlements to larger ones behind the 420-mile barrier] as bold peacemaking,” Prince Hassan said, “Mr. Olmert says [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas is helpless and that he cannot wait beyond the end of this year to take further steps, which include the completion of the wall and the consolidation of the greater Jerusalem area and related urban settlements, thus blocking access for West Bank Palestinians.

“It is a different dimension of the demographic bomb when one considers that if Jordan were to open the floodgates [the Jordan River border] that a significant percentage of the Palestinian population would find its way to Jordan in a matter of months,” Prince Hassan said.

Mr. Olmert’s plans will bury the concept of a “two-state solution” for the Palestinians, Hassan added, which he believes should put Jordan back in play as a valid interlocutor for the Palestinians. “If Jordan sits back and accepted developments as they are and does not play a proactive role, it is conceivable that far from breaking the deadlock in West Bank terms, what is an ideological movement [called Hamas] could spread to Jordan and the rest of the region,” he explained.

Prince Hassan thinks it’s time to revisit the International Trusteeship Council to replace the now defunct two-state Palestine-Israel solution. He notes the Israeli-occupied territories were occupied from Jordan, which “invokes a great deal of residual sovereignty.”

“It is Jordan’s responsibility,” he said, “to address the question of free and fair elections whereby all Jordanians of Palestinian origin are invited to be included — inclusion, not assimilation — in Jordan…. We can then turn to the Palestinians and say, ‘You have found your safe haven and contributed to it. We have not put to rest your hopes and dreams about a right to return [to what is now Israel] — though this remains a pipedream — and we are not an alternative to Palestine,’ and to the Israelis we can say, ‘If you call it an alternative homeland, then you are the prehistoric homeland.’ ”

Prince Hassan recalled the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban advocated the Benelux concept (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg economic union) for Israel, Palestine and Jordan, or independence within a larger economic union.

The Olmert plan establishes Israel’s definitive frontiers unilaterally and thus buries the Benelux construct. But Jordan, according to Prince Hassan, still believes it is in his country’s “interest to promote a vital Palestinian community in the West Bank.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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