What does a man seek in this world? A position or a throne?... All what we hope for is that a day will come, when we have all gone, when people will say that this man has tried, and his family tried. This is all there is to seek in this world.
Quote by King Hussein a year before his death.
Israeli writer Avi Shlaim sees that the assassination of Hussein's grandfather I in Jerusalem was the most formative event in Hussein's life, as he had witnessed the event personally at the age of 15. Two years later, the 17-year old schoolboy would become King. Hussein inherited the throne to a young Kingdom, whose neighbors questioned its legitimacy, along with the Jordanian-controlled West Bank. From an early age he had to shoulder a heavy responsibility. The Kingdom had few natural resources, and a large Palestinian refugee population. He was able to gain his country considerable political weight on a global scale despite its limited potential. Hussein was able to survive through four turbulent decades of the Arab-Israel conflict and the Cold War, successfully balancing pressures from Arab nationalists, Soviet Union, Western countries and Israel. In 1980, an Israeli intelligence report described Hussein to be as "a man trapped on a bridge burning at both ends, with crocodiles in the river beneath him."
Hussein inaugurating a police station in Amman with Prime Minister Suleiman Nabulsi to his right, 24 December 1956
Hussein considered the Palestinian issue to be the overriding national security issue, even after Jordan lost the West Bank in 1967 and after it renounced claims to it in 1988. Initially, Hussein attempted to unite both banks of the Jordan River as one people, but with the formation of the PLO in the 1960s, it became difficult to maintain such a policy. He was relentless in pursuit of peace, viewing that the only way to solve the conflict was by peaceful means, excluding his decision to join the war in 1967. The decision cost him half his kingdom and his grandfather's legacy. After the war he emerged as an advocate for Palestinian statehood. After renouncing ties to the West Bank in 1988, he remained committed to solving the conflict. His 58 secret meetings held with Israeli representatives since 1963 culminated in the signing of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty in 1994, which he considered to be his "crowning achievement".
Hussein's policy of co-opting the opposition was his most revered. He was the region's longest reigning leader, even though he was subject to dozens of assassination attempts and plots to overthrow him. He was known to pardon political opponents and dissidents, including those who had attempted to assassinate him. He entrusted some of them with senior posts in the government. One one occasion before his death, he gave his fiercest critic a ride home from prison after having ordered his release. He was described as being a "benign authoritarian".
During his 46-year-reign, Hussein, who was seen as a charismatic, courageous, and humble leader, became widely known among Jordanians as the "builder king". He turned the Kingdom from a backwater divided polity into a reasonably stable well-governed modern state. By 1999 90% of Jordanians had been born during Hussein's reign. From the very start, Hussein concentrated on building an economic and industrial infrastructure to stimulate the economy and raise the standard of living. During the 1960s, Jordan's main industries – including phosphate, potash and cement – were developed, and the very first network of highways was built throughout the kingdom. Social indicators reflect King Hussein's successes. Whereas in 1950 water, sanitation, and electricity were available to only 10% of Jordanians, at the end of his rule these had reached 99% of the population. In 1960 only 33% of Jordanians were literate; by 1996 this number had climbed to 85.5%. In 1961 the average Jordanian consumed a daily intake of 2,198 calories; by 1992 this figure had increased by 37.5% to reach 3,022 calories. UNICEF statistics show that between 1981 and 1991, Jordan had achieved the world's fastest annual rate of decline in infant mortality – from 70 deaths per 1,000 births in 1981 to 37 per 1,000 in 1991, a drop of over 47%.
Hussein established the Al-Amal medical center in 1997, a clinic specializing in cancer treatment in Jordan. Renamed in 2002 to the King Hussein Cancer Center in honor of the late King, the center is a leading medical facility in the region, treating around 4,000 patients each year.
The King disliked paperwork, and had no solid view for the economy. He was dubbed the "fundraiser-in-chief": throughout his reign he managed to obtain foreign aid from different sources, leaving a legacy of a foreign aid-dependent Jordan. British aid in the early 1950s, American aid from 1957 onwards, Gulf aid in the 1960s and 1970s, Arab League and Iraqi aid in the early 1980s, and, after formalizing peace with Israel, American aid in the 1990s. He was also seen as too lenient toward some ministers who were alleged to be corrupt. The price of establishing peace with Israel he had to pay domestically, with mounting Jordanian opposition to Israel concentrating its criticism on the King. The recognition of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians was also criticized since half of Jordanian citizens are Palestinian. The King reacted by introducing restrictions on freedom of speech, and changing the parliamentary electoral law into the one-man, one-vote system in a bid to increase representation of independent regime loyalists and tribal groups at the expense of Islamist and partisan candidates. The moves impeded Jordan's path towards democracy that had started in 1956 and resumed in 1989.
"He won the respect and admiration of the entire world and so did his beloved Jordan. He is a man who believed that we are all God's children, bound to live together in mutual respect and tolerance." – United States President Bill Clinton
"He was an extraordinary and immensely charismatic persuader for peace. At the peace talks in America when he was extremely ill, he was there, talking to both sides, urging them forward, telling them nothing must stand in the way of peace." – British Prime Minister Tony Blair
“King Hussein was a leader of international prestige, who contributed greatly to all efforts towards finding a solution to the Middle East problem, he was an exceptional figure, who spoke his mind and dealt with matters in such a way that Jordan, despite its many enemies, managed to survive as an independent state. He also contributed greatly to preventing war in the region” — Cypriot President, Glafcos Clerides
“King Hussein was irreplaceable, someone who would have a very distinguished place in history, How can one pay tribute that is adequate? He was a unique person. He had wonderful qualities as well as being a very great monarch.” — former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher