On Both Banks of the Jordan: A Political Biography of Wasfi Al-Tall

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On Both Banks of the Jordan: A Political Biography of Wasfi Al-Tall

By Asher Susser
Frank Cass, 1994
208 pp. $35.00
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Few Middle East statesmen have been the subject of good political biographies. Wasfi al-Tall certainly merits a book-length study of his remarkable political career. He served as King Hussein's prime minister and senior political adviser during crucial periods in the late 1960s, and was in part responsible for the showdown between Jordanian forces and the plo in late 1970 and early 1971. His life was cut short by an assassin's bullet later that year.

Asher Susser is one of Israel's leading Arabists. He first published a Hebrew version of this book over a decade ago. The availability of this revised English edition is welcome, for it advances our understanding of the solidity of the Jordanian political system. The king, unlike most Arab rulers, has consciously recruited and trained a cadre of capable men to assist in the governing of the country. At times, they have carried much of the burden of managing the many problems that beset the Hashemite Kingdom. Wasfi al-Tall stood out as a particularly shrewd, loyal, and charismatic Jordanian. That an Israeli scholar who never met the man and has been unable to interview many of those who knew him best can present a fair and convincing portrait is a testament to good scholarship. What is missing, not surprisingly, is an in-depth feel for the personality and anecdotes that might have come from the type of contact that is just now becoming possible between Israelis and Jordanians. Still, this will stand as a valuable account of Jordan and one of its most impressive statesmen at a particularly difficult moment in recent history.

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