The Mideast without Hussein; New king: Jordan cannot be taken for granted until its stability has been tested.


IT IS unsettling for the world to lose King Hussein of Jordan. He has been a rock in the turbulent Middle East since 1952, the victim the assassins could not kill, the regime no coup could topple, in a kingdom as small as it was artificial.

And he was a force for comparative good, usually (not always) a friend of U.S. policy, an Arab leader with whom Israeli prime ministers talked, an autocrat whose fitful concessions to democracy were ahead of other Arab regimes.

King Hussein's absence is mentally destabilizing to other players in the Middle East, including Washington, that took his presence for granted. In the next crisis, he will not be there.

There can be a constructive effect from that. It will focus the mind, increase the Palestinian Authority's and Israel's need to accommodate each other, highlight urgency where a keener awareness of urgency was needed.

Of course there will be fears that Abdullah, the oldest son whom the dying king made crown prince in a fit of anxiety or paranoia, is not up to the task. He is not trained for it.

But Abdullah is far better equipped than 16-year-old Hussein was when proclaimed king by the parliament in 1952. Abdullah is popular in the officer corps, married to a Palestinian and known to movers and shakers in the Middle East.

However great the the envy of his uncle and half-brothers, they would lend their names to dissident movements at their peril. Destabilizing the new monarch would destabilize the monarchy on which they base their personal ambitions.

Stability in this transition is what Jordan needs and Jordanians crave. The word is already out from Amman that Jordan's foreign policy will not change. It is time for Jordan's neighbors, especially Israel and the PLO, to make the most of that.

Pub Date: 2/08/99

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