Courtesy Reuters

Is Jordan Doomed?

A KING WHO MUST DECIDE LIKE SOLOMON

During the 40 years King Hussein has ruled the tiny Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, many observers have predicted his downfall. Yet he has outlasted all his contemporaries and is now the longest-serving head of state in the Middle East. But will Hussein have the last laugh? The Palestinian self-rule agreement signed in September 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization is again raising speculation that both Hussein and Jordan may finally be doomed.

Despite such prophecies, the 72-year-old Hashemite monarchy has succeeded in creating enough interests vested in the survival of the state to assure Jordan's place in any new regional order. The foundations of the Jordanian state may be wobbling, but they have held. While Jordan's existence is not at stake, its political future is unclear: Will it be a Jordanian or a Palestinian state? Hussein rules over a country that has a large Palestinian population, and he must decide whether to accept a confederation with a Palestinian entity in the Israeli-occupied territories or sharpen the line separating Jordan and the Palestinians. Native Jordanians are arguing that they could become a minority in their own country unless Hussein draws away from the Palestinians. The king's decisions in the coming months will determine the identity of the Jordanian state into the 21st century.

JORDAN'S SHIFTING FOUNDATIONS

Jordan is not a nation-state in the sense that France or Germany are nation-states. There is no single ethnic or nativist group associated throughout history with the piece of territory created in 1921 by imperial Britain. Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill installed the Hashemite family from Arabia to rule. But the borders were artificial and encompassed a heterogeneous population: descendants of bedouin who had migrated from Arab lands before and during Ottoman rule as well as Christian and Circassian minorities. Refugees fleeing Palestine in 1948, and King Abdullah's annexation of the West Bank in 1950, added to the population with no strong affinity to the Hashemites.

This lack of a cohesive ethnic or

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