King Hussein & Shimon Peres (Photo: The White House)

On January 10th, 1996 Jordan’s King Hussein made his long overdue first public visit to Israel, more than a year after the peace agreement was signed with Israel and just a few short months after the Rabin assassination, which he claimed to have been deeply affected by. 

The king, who is a licensed pilot, co-piloted his own Jordanian army helicopter to the Sde Dov airfield just 20 minutes north of central Tel Aviv, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Shimon Peres. The two leaders' first stop on their way to the official public visit was to the hospital in which Yitzhak Rabin had passed and where two Jordanian soldiers were being treated by Israel’s leading medical experts. King Hussein was then joined by Rabin’s widow, Leah, in dedicating a trauma center at the hospital in the name of the late prime minister.

Jordan’s prime minister, Zeid Ibn Shaker, and foreign minister, Abdul Karim al-Kabariti, joined the king for the visit, which also included other stops, including the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv and Beit Gavriel on the Sea of Galilee, where a ceremony was held to honor the Jordanian Ambassador Fayez Tarawneh, the chief negotiator of the Israeli-Jordanian treaty.

It is known today that Israel and Jordan were in close relations as early as the late 60s, including visits by Israeli diplomats to the royal palace in Amman and even a secret visit of the king himself to Tel Aviv in the late 70s. Nevertheless, the formalization of these relations through a peace treaty, in front of a global audience, was an extremely emotional milestone for both the Hashemite kingdom and the State of Israel.

In honor of the king’s first official visit Tel Aviv was decorated with Jordanian and Israeli flags, and thousands turned out to greet the king. During this first public visit, Hussein expressed hope for peace in the entire middle east.  “Not only between our two countries and people but hopefully for this entire region in the very nearest possible future.”

Peres, who like Rabin was a close friend to the king, referenced Israeli peace talks with Syria, and added, “By the end of the century, which is a matter of another four years, I do believe that the Middle East can reach a comprehensive, full peace.”

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