As titillated as if their leader had been caught in a tryst on a party yacht, Israeli media alleged Tuesday that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin held a secret meeting on a boat on the Red Sea last weekend with Jordan’s King Hussein. Rabin even slept at the king’s palace afterward, newspapers asserted.
Israeli Radio said that the clandestine meeting was held to assure the Jordanian monarch that Israel’s peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization would not harm his interests. The prime minister’s office denied the reports but without much energy.
The mystery began Sunday night when Rabin inexplicably disappeared. He later said that he had gone to a military exercise, but Israeli military officials said they knew of no maneuvers that he could have attended.
Instead, according to Israeli newspapers, he and several staff members caught a plane to Eilat, a resort town in southern Israel.
From there, they reportedly took a gray van with covered windows across the border to the Jordanian town of Aqaba, where King Hussein has been staying with his brother, Crown Prince Hassan. Jordanian officials have acknowledged that the king was in Aqaba but not that he met with Rabin.
Although Jordan and Israel have not yet signed a peace treaty, they are well on their way. Agreement has been reached on most points of the document, and there are plans for a signing after the autonomy program for the West Bank and Gaza Strip gets under way in coming months.
Rabin has reportedly met at least three times over the past year with Hussein and conferred with him secretly in the past as well. Such meetings are traditionally denied by both parties, because they are so politically sensitive, only to be confirmed afterward.
This time, the leak came much faster, a reflection of the more relaxed attitude in Arab-Israeli relations. And although the Israeli media had fun with the story, they were somewhat unimpressed.
“What’s the big deal? The only secret meeting that could excite us is between Rabin and (Syrian President Hafez) Assad,” who remains Israel’s most hostile and powerful neighbor, said the Tel Aviv newspaper Hadashot.
Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin refused at a news conference to address the rumors of Rabin’s visit, saying that after Rabin shook hands with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Washington, such a meeting would be no surprise.
“What is important at this point is the continuation of the formal negotiations with Jordan and its real willingness to sign a peace agreement with us,” Beilin said.
What is important for Jordan, however, also includes major worries about how the Israeli-PLO agreement will affect it. Hussein is reported to be concerned about whether Israel will hand control of the bridges that cross the Jordan River to the Palestinians and about the fate of enterprises on the Dead Sea.
Most of all, with Israel appearing to move toward recognition of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, Hussein “wants to know whether Israel is still committed to his existence,” the Jerusalem Post said. Israel had always maintained that Jordan, with its Palestinian majority, should be considered the Palestinian state.