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Behind the Headlines: This Week’s Rabin-hussein Summit Will Cap Decades of Secret Talks

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When King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meet publicly in Washington on Monday, Israel and Jordan will bring into the open a history of private summitry that dates back to the days before Israel and Jordan became states.

The record of more than two dozen Israeli-Jordanian secret summits in the last 30 years alone reflects a remarkable saga of diplomatic sobriety within a tempest of violence, of personal civility amid general hatred, of common interests overcoming the pull of public rhetoric.

Was Israeli-Jordanian private summitry able to prevent wars and bring peace? No. But it did establish a limit to enmity. It also built sufficient private confidence that one day conditions would be ripe for peace.

Media reports have made frequent reference to the secret summits of the past, but few, if any, details have been provided. Here are some of those details:

Abdallah, emir of Transjordan after 1922, engaged the Zionist movement at many points before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Between 1946 and 1948, on the eve of partition, Abdallah held several secret meetings with Jewish Agency representatives.

In November 1947, Abdallah met with Golda Meyerson (later Meir) at Naharayim, and met her again on May 11, 1948 at Abdallah’s palace in Amman. While there she was introduced to the king’s grandson Hussein, then 13 years old.

These meetings resulted in Israel acquiescing to the Hashemite absorption of Arab Palestine and, Jerusalem excluded, the Hashemites pledged not to invade Israel. Abdallah kept his promise.

Then, in the summer of 1948, Cols. Moshe Dayan and Abdallah al-Tal established a direct telephone line between the two countries.

TALKS WERE LEAKED. ABDALLAH WAS KILLED

Further meetings led on Feb. 28, 1950, to a “Draft of a Treaty of Peace Between Israel and the Hashemite Jordan Kingdom.” These negotiations were leaked by al-Tal, and Abdallah was assassinated at al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem on July 21, 1951 by a Palestinian gunman. Prince Hussein was at his side.

When Hussein became king in 1953, he remembered Meir’s visits to his grandfather. So did the Israelis, but attempts to arrange a secret summit with Hussein came to naught until 1963. In September 1963, the king met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s personal representative, Ya’akov Herzog, in London.

Hussein met Herzog again in July 1967 shortly after the June war, in which Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel.

This meeting took place after messages were sent to the king offering the return of territory for peace, but before the August summit in Khartoum, Sudan, when the Arabs rejected any accommodation with Israel.

While hopes were dashed for a quick diplomatic solution, Israel-Jordan summitry continued.

The highest-level meeting occurred in March 1970, when Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Jordanian Chief of Staff Zaid bin Shaker met in the Gulf of Aqaba; and in May, when Prime Minister Meir and the king met on the island of Jezirat Faron in the Gulf of Eilat.

There was civil war in Jordan and a Syrian invasion in September 1970, and Israel helped the king face down both. In March 1971, Hussein and Rifai flew by helicopter to the Foreign Ministry guest house near Tel Aviv to meet with Meir and Dayan. Meir proposed a detailed permanent settlement with Jordan. The king said no.

After the Kikud came to power in May 1977, Israeli-Jordanian secret summitry fell off sharply. Likud ideology sought to delegitimize the Hashemitces through its “Jordan-Is-Palestine” claims. Its “Greater Israel” ambitions left no room for Israeli-Hashemite reconciliation.

On Sept. 14, 1984, Shimon Peres became prime minister, heading a national unity government. New contacts with Jordan led to a Peres-Hussein summit in London on Oct. 5, 1985, which led, in turn, to a January 1986 tentative agreement on a temporary joint administration of the West Bank.

In October 1986, Yitzhak Shamir “rotated” into the prime ministry and Peres became foreign minister, but that did not stop Peres’ pursuit of a new so-called “Jordanian option.”

In January 1987, Peres traveled to Jordan with a sizable delegation. Between January and April, the two sides held several lower-level meetings.

SHAMIR REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE DEAL

These led to the so-called “London Agreement” between Peres and Hussein in April 1987, which was an attempt to finesse the Palestinian issue between Israel and Jordan, and which marked Israel’s provisional agreement to attend an international conference on Middle East peace.

But Shamir refused to accept the deal, so the deal went down and the summitry ebbed.

Summitry recommenced in the context of the Kuwaiti crisis.

In June 1990, Shamir and top officials flew to London and stayed there at the king’s personal residence.

Rabin’s return to power in June 1992 marked the final push toward this week’s public summit.

Following the signing of the declaration of principles by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Sept. 13, 1993, Israel and Jordan publicly signed a similar agreement.

Rabin and Hussein met on Sept. 26 on a boat in the Gulf of Eilat. A major agreement on future relations was struck.

Hussein and Rabin met again in London on June 1.

Six days later came the major breakthrough when Israeli and Jordanian negotiators meeting in Washington agreed to regional talks aimed at signing a bilateral peace treaty.

Last week, Israeli and Jordanian principals met publicly, straddling their border in the Arava.

On July 20, Peres met in Jordan with Jordanian Prime Minister Abdel Salam al-Majali and, on Monday — the long-awaited first public summit is set to take place in Washington.

(Adam Garfinkle is director of the Middle East Council of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.)

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