King Hussein’s New Middle East


Jordan’s King Hussein, addressing rumors about his sickness, declared himself to be “in good health, thank God,” and pledged to spend the rest of his days trying to transform the warring Middle East into a region of peace and economic cooperation that includes Israel.

The diminutive king, escorted by his wife Queen Noor, spoke Tuesday night at the Waldorf Astoria as he was honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center before an audience of about 700 tuxedo-clad guests including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Donald Trump and golfer Greg Norman, Olympic figure skating gold medalist Tara Lipinski and former football player Rosie Greer.

There were also representatives from Jordan’s Arab neighbors Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, but none from Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the Palestinian National Council.

During a 30-minute speech, King Hussein repeatedly mapped out his vision of a Middle East with open borders where people can live and work together in peace and “security” — several times mentioning the buzzword so important to Israel’s current position.

“I look forward to a time where barriers exist no more … and people understand we all have the same concerns, the same hopes, the same aspirations,” the King said.

But he stressed the severe difficulties in getting there and expressed frustration over the painfully slow progress being made in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — being careful not to blame either side.

He noted with pride how far Jordan and Israel have come in making peace and called for the peoples of both countries to get to know each other and work together for mutual benefit in such areas science, agriculture, and mineral resources. Hussein said he would continue to do “whatever we can” to help the peace process, so Palestinians can enjoy their rights on their soil. He also spoke against those who misuse the Islamic teachings in the Koran for terrorism.

Noting that he had ruled for 45 years, the king also asked for the help of the American Jewish community in promoting peace, which he said he wants to see in his lifetime. In an emotional tribute, he made special mention of his American-born wife, thanking her for staying by his side “at times of growing anguish, despair and illness.”

Eban told The Jewish Week he was very moved seeing his former enemy being honored by a Jewish rights organization. Israel’s legendary ambassador to the UN recalled annual secret meetings with Hussein starting in 1968, where he took risks with his life to discuss issues of mutual concern.

“He was a hostage of fortune,” Eban recalled.

The Wiesenthal Center, based in Los Angeles, is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and to fostering tolerance and understanding. The award given to the king was inscribed with the word “Shalom,” Hebrew for peace.