Prudence, and Pollard Too - Editorial

The Jerusalem Post - July 24, 1994

As Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres depart for the meeting with King Hussein in the White House, there is virtually no dissent in Israel on the usefulness of the trip. There is a national consensus on peace with Jordan, or - to be more accurate - on the desirability of converting a de facto state of nonbelligerency into a formal treaty. And though no one expects the first public meeting between an Israeli prime minister and the Jordanian monarch to result in such a treaty at once, the general assumption is that the meeting is the first step in that direction.

Most Israelis also assume that a formal peace with Jordan entails little in the way of Israeli concessions. The strips of land Jordan is demanding, although larger than the whole Gaza District, are not deemed important either strategically or economically. It is thought, too, that Jordanian demands for water can be met without endangering Israel's supplies. And Hussein's ambition to have control over the Jerusalem mosques is deemed far less threatening than Yasser Arafat's demand for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.

But it would be a mistake to treat Jordan's claims as trivial. First, it is not at all certain that all the territories Jordan wants are beyond Israel's international boundary, nor is it clear Israel is not entitled to them even if they are. The aggressor in the wars between the two countries was, after all, Jordan. That the Jordanians have already published maps showing these lands as annexed to Jordan is hardly encouraging, particularly since Peres has announced that even hawks like MK Ariel Sharon would be satisfied with the new border adjustments. It is to be hoped that the protest against these maps lodged by Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General Eitan Bentsur means that the negotiations have yet to begin, and that Israel has not forfeited the lands in advance.

Nor should Israel budge from its present position on water. While water projects that can benefit both countries are desirable, Israel owes Jordan nothing for unrealized past projects. It would be a travesty of justice and fairness if Israel had to pay for Arab refusal to cooperate for the last 46 years.

It is perhaps natural that Hussein's willingness to meet publicly with Rabin has made him an object of adulation in Israel. But it may be prudent to remember that Hussein attacked Israel in 1967 and ordered his troops to kill every man, woman and child in their way. To excuse that attack and exonerate Hussein - as former ambassador to Egypt Moshe Sasson attempted to do yesterday - by saying that Hussein had been misled by Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser into believing the Arabs were winning, is to give sycophancy a bad name. Nor should Israel forget that the very same Western-oriented Hussein identified with Saddam Hussein and the fanatic Jordanian fundamentalists during the Gulf War, and that Jordan helped Iraq in that war more than any country.

The very fact that the US is asking Israel to make concessions to Jordan because the king is weak and his regime needs bolstering should give Israel pause. Governments cannot afford to think only of immediate consequences. If the Hashemite court is weak now, there is no telling what will happen when the popular king departs the scene - particularly if a Palestinian entity claims the allegiance of Jordan's Palestinian population. Concessions to a gentlemanly monarch now may come to haunt Israel if Palestinian radicals or Islamic fundamentalists come to rule in Amman.

This does not mean, of course, that Israel should not use the new Jordanian openness to collaborate with Amman on trade and tourism, even before a peace treaty is signed. Free movement of Israelis in Jordan may serve to remove prejudices and antagonisms; open commercial ties may improve the Jordanian economy and reduce the impact of fundamental fanaticism, and contact with Israelis may encourage democratic inclinations among the kingdom's intelligentsia. The planned Amman-Akaba-Eilat-Sinai road is a welcome first step in this direction.

Hussein has made it clear that there is a price for normalization moves with Israel. In addition to Israeli concessions, he has secured American commitments for economic aid and military assistance. Israel, eager for recognition, has not publicly made any demands. As one commentator has put it, the government's policy used to be "land for peace;" now it is "land for handshakes".

There is some talk of asking Washington to foot the bill for the agricultural lands Israel intends to relinquish in the Arava and Jordan Valley. But it would be a shame if Rabin and Peres fail to use this opportunity to ask for at least one American gesture - the release of Jonathan Pollard. If Secretary of State Warren Christopher truly believes that the days of war between Arabs and Israelis are over, the Pollard chapter, a direct consequence of that war, should be closed.

Pollard committed a crime for which he had to pay, but he spied for Israel because he believed, correctly, that the US was not living up to its obligation to provide Israel with pertinent intelligence information. Spying for an ally, he did not commit treason or endanger the US in any way, nor was he ever charged with such crimes. As the arrest and investigation of super-spy Aldrich Ames, who betrayed his country for the Soviet Union, has made clear, reports that material transferred by Pollard to Israel reached Soviet hands were part of a vicious disinformation campaign.

Spies everywhere are enjoying the fruits of a new atmosphere. FBI agent Richard Miller, who did commit treason by spying for the USSR, has been freed after serving a small portion of his 20-year sentence. Israel has released an Israeli officer convicted of spying for the US. But Pollard is still serving the longest sentence ever imposed on anyone charged with a similar offense in the history of the United States. It is time Israel made an official request to end his incarceration, and there can be no better opportunity to do so than the meeting in the White House, signaling the end of the era of strife in the Middle East.