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Sunday, February 7, 1999 Published at 11:38 GMT

World: Middle East

King Hussein: Middle East peacemaker

King Hussein: His fate was indivisible from Jordan's

In his 46 year rule, King Hussein survived wars, assassination attempts and irresistible forces of change which swept over his small, vulnerable kingdom. His death at 63 leaves Jordan still struggling for economic and social survival, and regional peace.

[ image:  ]
To many non-Arabs King Hussein was the moderate, reasonable face of an Arab world they feared and did not understand.

He was schooled in the UK, at Harrow and Sandhurst, and of his four glamorous wives, one was English and one from California.

Many of his fellow Arabs viewed him less favourably. His reputation as a moderate was belied by the firm, sometimes ruthless way he ruled his country.

Nevertheless, he held a position of enormous significance as a peacemaker in a region that has been dogged by conflict and military occupation.

To Jordanians, "Al-Hussein" or "Abu Abdullah" was nothing less than the embodiment of the unity and survival of the kingdom.

Troubled beginnings

King Hussein had a sharp introduction to the violent world of Middle Eastern politics when he was just a teenager.

Diplomatic correspondent Brian Hanrahan looks back at King Hussein's life
He narrowly missed being killed when his grandfather King Abdullah was assassinated in 1951. A year later his father stepped down because of mental illness and the young prince assumed full responsibility as king at the age of 18 in May 1953.

From its establishment in 1921, Jordan was a country at risk, carved from the desert area between Palestine and Iraq.

The establishment of Israel in 1948, and Israel's victory in 1967, put Jordan under incredible pressures.

The question of Palestine

Since 1948, millions of Palestinians have found themselves on the East Bank of the River Jordan and today they make up a majority of the Jordanian population.

[ image: Hussein welcomed Arafat but then expelled him]
Hussein welcomed Arafat but then expelled him
In many ways King Hussein has done more than other Arab leaders to accommodate and support the Palestinian diaspora.

At times, King Hussein even saw himself as the natural protector of the Palestinian cause to the exclusion of Yasser Arafat. But his attempts to win influence in the West Bank ultimately failed.

And when the activities of Yasser Arafat's PLO started to threaten the position of the monarchy, the king ordered his army into action. This period of vicious inter-Arab fighting in 1970 became known as Black September.

The Gulf crisis

It was King Hussein's efforts to avoid inter-Arab bloodshed following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that led to another major crisis for king and country.

[ image: King Hussein embraces Saddam during Gulf crisis]
King Hussein embraces Saddam during Gulf crisis
He kept channels open to Baghdad, hoping to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, and he refused to join the coalition against Iraq.

He had little choice given the intensity of anti-American and anti-coalition feeling among the Jordan population.

This position earned King Hussein years of isolation from the Gulf states. Financial assistance from the Gulf treasuries dried up and Jordanian Palestinians were expelled from jobs in the Gulf that were not available at home.

Recently Jordan has been welcomed back to the Gulf but the jobs have not returned.

Hussein's warm peace

Rehabilitation in the West came with the king's support for the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Alone in the Arab world, King Hussein pursued a "warm peace" with Israel. In 1994, Jordan signed its treaty with Israel and the king's peace partnership with the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was sealed.

[ image: Hussein in Jerusalem at Rabin's funeral]
Hussein in Jerusalem at Rabin's funeral
But the following year Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist opposed to peace with the Arabs. Right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu won the subsequent election and the peace process has foundered.

As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations lurched from crisis to crisis, King Hussein often came to the rescue to help clinch a last minute deal. In the autumn of 1998, he left his chemotherapy treatment in Minnesota to come to the aid of the Wye Plantation talks that looked like ending in deadlock.

His frail appearance at Wye brought home how serious his condition was.

Last Journey

He returned to Jordan in January after six months at the Mayo clinic. He landed his plane himself and quickly demonstrated his grip on the affairs of state had not slackened.

Within days, he had deposed his brother, Prince Hassan as his heir, and installed his son Prince Abdullah.

But hours after the succession was secured for his own bloodline, he was on a flight back to the US and it was clear his battle against cancer was lost.

Over five decades the fate of King Hussein was indivisible from the fate of Jordan. He did not outlive the dangers threatening his kingdom during his reign. But he leaves it in the hands of a son who many have remarked is his heir in both appearance and character.

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