It Is Time to Listen To King Hussein

by James M. Wall

From time to time, just as the Middle East political cauldron reaches one of its major boiling points, the New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman sits down to write an open letter to the leaders of a particular Middle Eastern state, offering sage advice on what action Friedman thinks the leader should take.

Thus far, I have resisted following the Friedman letter-writing format. But the time has come for me to do my own version of Friedman speaking truth to the powerful.

I do not expect my communiqué to have the impact of a Friedman letter (his readership is larger), but I do have a suggestion that I think would be helpful to the six-member Palestinian delegation that will soon request full membership in the United Nations General Assembly.

I propose that they each read, very carefully, a new book, by Jack O’Connell, King’s Counsel: A Memoir of War, Espionage, and Diplomacy in the Middle East

Here is why I believe this book is important:

Jack O’Connell was a young CIA agent who was sent to Jordan by the agency to help preserve the monarchy of King Hussein, the father of the current King Abdullah. O’Connell was 37 and King Hussein was 22 when they first met.

This book was the memoir that King Hussein wanted to write. O’Connell relied on his own notes and records, and on long interviews with the King over the years that O’Connell worked as Amman CIA station chief.

Paul R. Pillar , a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA, wrote a review of King’s Counsel for the Washington Post. Pillar teaches at Georgetown University and is the author of the forthcoming “Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy.” He describes O’Connell’s role as station chief:

O’Connell was heavily involved as an intermediary between Hussein and senior U.S. officials in the negotiation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the framework for what was supposed to have been Israel’s withdrawal from territories it occupied in the 1967 war. O’Connell’s account makes it clear that the United States promised Hussein that withdrawal meant a full pull-out subject only to “minor reciprocal border rectifications.”

This paragraph alone should be marked and absorbed by the Palestinian delegation, before its members make its case to the 193-member UN General Assembly. In talking to other nations’ delegates, the Palestinians will want to insist that Israel’s claim to any West Bank land  along the 1967 borders must be rejected in any future agreement, except for “minor reciprocal border rectifications”.

Har Homa, for example, is not a “minor reciprocal border” adjustment.  It is rather, a colonial housing development that destroyed the forests which covered the Palestinian mountain once known as Jebel Abu Ghneim.

The 2011 General Assembly that meets to discuss a Palestinian request for membership should be reminded that on March 12, 1997, the GA passed the first of several resolutions by a margin of 130 to 2, with the two negatives votes cast by the United States and Israel. The initial resolution expressed “deep concern at the decision of the Israelis to initiate new settlement activity in the Jebel Abu Ghneim area,” using the Arabic name for Har Homa.

The initial resolution also labeled all settlement activity “illegal and a major obstacle to peace,” and urged that Israel “refrain from all actions or measures, including settlement activities, which alter the facts on the ground, preempting the final status negotiations, and have negative implications for the Middle East Peace Process.”

This Har Homa project, now a massive colonial housing development along the highway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, was built after King Hussein renounced any Jordanian claim to the West Bank and signed its peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

O’Connell makes it clear in his book that King Hussein was betrayed by both Israel and the US, as Israel continued “colonizing the occupied territory, and the Palestinians were left without a state.”

This betrayal was the price Hussein paid “to find out that the Israelis preferred land to peace and that the Americans didn’t care which of the two the Israelis chose.”

O’Connell adds that “in the king’s mind, no good would come” from this situation. He was right.

This book contains other remarkable examples of American resistance to Israel’s conduct. O’Connell writes at one point of a telegram from President Jimmy Carter to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in which Carter told Begin that unless he stopped using US military equipment to shell PLO units, he would stop US military aid to Israel.

O’Connell writes that he personally doubted that Carter could carry out his threat because of the congressional support behind Begin.  But the Israeli leader could not be sure, so he stopped the raids.

Then there was speculation from O’Connell that when Carter said in a speech that the Palestinians had “the right of self-determination”, Israel began immediately to link all things Palestinian to “terrorist”. The label worked with the American media and the American public.

I will write more about the “self-determination” incident in a later posting, but for the purpose of this Friedman-style suggestion to the Palestinian six-member delegation that travels to the UN General Assembly in September, I will save that story for a second installment on O’Connell and King Hussein.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian delegation should listen to King Hussein and acknowledge what has long been obvious: Israel has never wanted to negotiate for any fair agreement with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  Israel wants it all.

The UN General Assembly should recognize this reality and give Palestine a proper statehood with contiguous, realistic borders that will not hand over large Palestinian land masses to Israel.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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17 Responses to It Is Time to Listen To King Hussein

  1. Don Wolf says:

    Well written and accurate! The time is long overdue!
    It has been patently obvious that Israel wants the land and peace only if they get the land.

  2. It’s obvious. It’s blatant. It is without question. Israel wants all the land (at a minimum) from the mediterranean to the Jordan River – and peace is a non entity for them. It is a long standing lament from West Bankers: “Israel wants to make life so miserable for us that we will just get up and leave.” Israel’s perpetual land confiscation, evictions, destruction of farm crops, sequestering of water, settlement expansion, and non judicial execution of Palestinian political leaders are affirmations of the incipient ethnic cleansing that barely evades world wide condemnation, boycott, divestment, and sanctions. Their deeds speak louder than their non declaration of the obvious.

    James Wall’s revelation of the betrayal of King Hussein as related by Paul Pillar and Jack O’Connell adds further credibility to the case that Israel truly is the evil empire builder’ that has little or no regard for international law or basic morality adhered to by the reat of us.

  3. Thomas Chisholm says:

    I will read the book and forward this to others. Needless to say, the revelations comes as no surprise but the recent response to Netan Yahoo’s speech to Congress indicates who controls the US. We are the Yahoos and we keep on paying. Will anyone ever shout NO!!

  4. kamalchassan says:

    Israeli leaders are war criminals with Palestinian blood on their hands every single one of them. Israel was created on a big lie, the premise of “Land without people, for people without land “. and the whole world went along with it instead of stopping Israeli aggression and slaughter of indigenous Palestinians and still happening to this day. Israel has no intention of any peace with Palestinians. The only way that is going to happen is a forced and imposed settlement by UN. I as a Palestinian refugee would accept a fair and equitable settlement, meaning full equality and human right for ALL. Equality Respect and Freedom then comes PEACE….

  5. Lorrie Hall says:

    It is time for the rest of the world to act together to force Israel to live within its pre-67 borders. Because “the right of return” is so important to Palestinians and a non-starter for Israelis, the only light at the end of this tunnel is for the Israelis to return home and the settlements used for returning refugees.

    Come on World, go for it!

  6. This is a nice article, though I think the final conclusion, “The UN General Assembly should recognize this reality and give Palestine a proper statehood with contiguous, realistic borders that will not hand over large Palestinian land masses to Israel,” is missing something. It would have been good to add, “and the immediate right to return of displaced Christian and Muslim Palestinian families.”

  7. Patricia says:

    US history is one of betrayal of treaties and its word. Just ask the Native American & Hawai’ians.Is the US in its poorest leadership period? It appears so! Taking Palestinian land, dislocating over 750000 Palestinians, destroying whole villages by Zionist to establish the state of Israel by UN resolution, is an appalling mistake. I agree with Gandhi in the 1930’s on this subject.The US people must insist that the US Government do the honorable act, support the Palestinians petition in the UN, and demand the ceasing of funding etc. to Israel.

  8. Great post, Jim, as usual. I sent it on to Phil Weiss and hope he’ll use it. Best, Andy

  9. Fred says:

    Very interesting post Jim. As usual Israeli disregard for the rights of others and US support of this disregard, are the reasons Israel can defy International law at will.

    Our congress and middle east policy is controlled by those who give the most amount of money to candidates, and AIPAC, with it’s web of PACs, is by far the group that calls the shots.

    The rest of us, concerned with justice, will have no voice because we have no money invested. Except for a few Christian Leaders like yourself Jim, the Christian silence and timidness in the face of the extraordinary injustices done daily by Israel, to our fellow Christians as well as Moslems, is fostering Israeli expansionism.

    American Jewish support of Israel “right or wrong” is a blight on concepts of justice, but seems to be working very well in establishing Israeli control and settlements over all of Palestine, and the creation of an apartheid state. This is clearly what they want. Any religious groups who support these policies, are not deserving of the lable religious, but shoud have the lables of religious supremists, and religious oppressors. The acquiecense of Judaism and some Christian groups to Israli apartheid is shameful. And our governments support, is the most shameful of all.


  10. UmerSultan says:

    This is surely better than Friedman’s letters!

  11. Bob Hannum says:

    Amen! No doubting it whatsoever!

  12. Helen says:

    Thank you for your ‘friedman-esque’ letter. I’m going to read the book. Twelve years ago I saw the settlements first hand and was appalled, calling it silent brutality as they loomed above the Palestinians’ homes. That it has become so much worse and that US, and Canada under Harper, continue to be supportive of Israel with little criticism is more than disturbing.

  13. Bill Gepford says:

    Is the present economic situation in Israel (read today’s Free Press, “250,000 Israelis protest in the streets”) an opportunity for leadership change in Israel? Thre is no doubt in my mind that our economic crisis is connected to the present economic crisis in Israel. Where is the prophet Jeremiah now that we need him? How many people in Israel and in this country have been making tons of money at the expense of the poor, the widows, the unemployed and underemployed, and those without much needed medical care. One wonders.
    Thanks, Jim, for your calling a spade a spade.

  14. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    Jim, Thank you for raising an enormously important point and “reading material” really for all of us. Unfortunately, our Palestinian leaders have been psychologically mugged, isolated, and surrounded by ultra-rightist Israelis and Zionist agents carrying the US flag. I have no doubt that the Zionist mission has been to drain any hope from the Palestinians to drive them to grab on to any floating log in the toxic swamp into which they were pushed. They need to know by heart that Israel only wants the land, without its people, regardless of any illusion of an agreement reached.

    The “Number 194” is illusive of Justice. It is the UN Resolution # 194, which is The Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees to what became Israel ’48. And now, we anticipate # 194, to be the number allocated to the State of Palestine upon joining the UN.. Will this number finally unlock the door for “Justice”, or will it fortify Israel’s apartheid entity?

    The Palestinian delegation should feel confident that they do not have to sign anything that is less than just and fair. No “land swap” whatsoever, except for very,very minor spots. If pushed, it should go back to its people who can then decide to push full speed ahead for a One-State solution, which makes more sense, anway.

  15. Rev. K Berns says:

    Not only the Palestinian delegation, but our President and Congress must read this and begin to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly, as the prophet Micah wrote.

  16. paabrhm says:

    AMEN to Rev. Berns’ comment. I know the Presdient can read, but I’m not so sure about the members of Congress.

  17. Sam Khalil says:

    Obama must now alert the US Congress that the time is here, once and for all, in regards to the Palestinian issue.The US Congress must stop speaking with a forked tongue. Members of Congress need to search their souls , begin to recognize the truth,respect themselves as well as international law .The Congress must begin to respect the United Nations resolutions in their entirety. The Congress must uphold the truth.
    Sam Khalil

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