By: Randa Habib
For: Agence France Presse (AFP)
15 March 2006
AFP: Yesterday, Israeli forces besieged a Jericho prison, forced their way in, and kidnapped Ahmad Sadat, secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and his colleagues. How do you view what happened?
King Abdullah: Yesterday's events were a threat to the future of the peace process and the security and stability of the region. We consider this a regrettable escalation. The concerned parties should have found another way to handle it. What happened caused tension and diminished the chances of establishing a proper environment to proceed with the peace process.
AFP: What is your position regarding Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declaration awhile ago that if he wins Israeli election on March 28, he will proceed with a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, and the establishment of Israel's final borders?
King Abdullah: One-sided solutions that do not win regional and international consensus will not fully succeed. There are internationally legitimate resolutions and commitments made by Israel through the agreements it signed with the Palestinians, and we call for their implementation. At the same time we urge the Palestinians to deal with reality, and to recognise that there is no way to realise peace or the return of their rights except through negotiations. This is the only and best way to establish a just, comprehensive peace in the region that will restore rights and create a state of coexistence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Unilateral solutions do not serve the peace process, nor do they serve coexistence in the region. Jordan will always be firm in urging the Israelis, the Palestinians and the international community to return to the negotiating table so that a just and comprehensive peace between two states -- a viable Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel - can be realised. If we are going to keep throwing the ball to each other's court... the reality of the situation is that we will find, two years from now, that we have no homeland to talk about. A lawyer once told me that a good deal is always brokered when both sides are unhappy because both sides have had to give something.
AFP: Your Majesty, do you consider the diplomatic embroilment with Israel over after Olmert apologised for the statements made by general Naveh? Is there still room for concern, particularly that the “Jordan Option” is a recurrent topic among Israelis?
King Abdullah: There is no reason to be concerned about these statements, because we are sure of our steps. We believe that we are on the right track. Jordan is strong; it is not shaken by occasional statements.
We have clarified our position on the “Jordan Option” several times, saying that Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine. There is only a “Palestinian Option”, and the Israelis and the world should deal with this reality.
AFP: Is the Hamas victory and the success of Egypt's Islamists in the latest elections a sign of a surge in Islamist power in the region?
King Abdullah: Elections in Egypt and Palestine showed a surge of Islamic movements because the Islamists organised themselves well, while other parties were set back by a number of factors; primarily their inability to organise and a lack of leadership, in addition to corruption among some of their leaders.
We in Jordan are not concerned about the possibility of an Islamist victory, as long as they respect the Constitution, our laws and regulations; and as long as their allegiance is to Jordan, their priorities are Jordan and Jordanians' interests, and their national economic, social and political programmes serve the Jordanian people. There would be room for concern if these organisations had an external agenda unrelated to that of Jordan and its people.
AFP: Must Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal give up his Jordanian citizenship in order to be welcomed back in Jordan after his expulsion from the Kingdom? Are there any other conditions for the return of Hamas to the country?
King Abdullah: Khaled Meshaal's case took on dimensions bigger than it should have. Meshaal is not the central issue; our main concern is how to support the Palestinians and help them regain their legal rights. Hamas is a Palestinian organisation. We deal with it as we have dealt with Fateh or the Popular Front or any other Palestinian organisation - through the Palestinian National Authority. We urge Hamas to deal with regional and international realities, just as we call on the international community to respect the Palestinians' will, to give Hamas a chance, and not to judge it before it presents its programme and vision for dealing with commitments and agreements signed by the PNA, Israel and the international community.
The international community bears a huge responsibility in supporting the peace process, because I fear that the Palestinians will not find anything to negotiate over a year or two from now. All the Arabs, the Palestinians included, launched in Beirut in 2002 the Arab Peace Initiative. This initiative has met international acceptance, and all of us, including the forthcoming Palestinian government, should aggressively re-activate this initiative and hold onto the peace option.
AFP: Are you confident that the international community will not punish the Palestinians because of the Hamas victory?
King Abdullah: I am optimistic that the international community will continue to support and aid the Palestinian people. We still insist that the Palestinians' will must be respected and that a whole people should not be punished because of opposition to Hamas. Those who will be hurt by the suspension of aid are the Palestinian people, who already suffer from difficult living conditions. So, I am sure that the international community will not desert the Palestinians.
AFP: What do you think is the best way to contain the situation and help Iraq out of this quagmire?
King Abdullah: We should all help Iraqis in the formation of a strong national government. Here, I call on our brothers in Iraq to recognise the gravity of the situation, and not to listen to those who promote division, internal discord and the division of Iraqis into Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and Turkman. Iraq should be for all Iraqis, not just for one faction at the expense of others. The truth is that those who bombed the holy shrines of the two imams at Samara and who desecrated the mosques, do not represent Islam. They aspire to ignite internal discord in Iraq.
We in Jordan are concerned with Iraq's security, unity and stability. Hence, I called for a conference in Amman at which Iraq's religious leaders would convene to come up with a religious consensus so that Iraqis could reach a political consensus concerning the many challenges facing them.
AFP: Will Jordan continue to train Iraqi security personnel on its soil? How else can it help?
King Abdullah: Yes, we will continue to train Iraqi security personnel; anything that the Iraqis ask for, we are ready to deliver.
AFP: Close to one million Iraqis have sought a safe haven in Jordan. Many Jordanians feel these guests have exacerbated inflation in the country. Do you agree with this?
King Abdullah: I disagree. It is true that Jordan's resources are limited, but we welcome the Iraqis. We will share with them our bread and welcome them until Iraq is healed, and becomes a strong Iraq effective in its regional surroundings and in the international community.
AFP: How safe are Jordan's borders? What is Jordan doing to protect itself against any repeat of the hotel bombings?
King Abdullah: The truth is that security chaos in Iraq placed a huge security burden on Jordan. Many terrorist movements found in Iraq a fertile ground to achieve their goals, especially Al Qaeda, which has adopted a strategy of using Iraqis to strike Jordan, as happened in the Amman hotel bombings, and other attempts to hit vital Jordanian establishments, which were foiled by our security forces. Yes, we have a security problem at the borders, and since the beginning of the year, a number of terrorist and arms smuggling operations that intended to target Jordanians have been foiled, so we are working now on preparing the infrastructure and adding the necessary structures and establishments on our borders with Iraq. These aim at achieving two things: the first is to ensure the comfort of passengers crossing the borders through quick handling of formalities, and the second is to supply the border area with modern, up-to-date equipment to uncover any smuggling operations of explosives and arms.
AFP: Iran is at the centre of an international debate concerning its nuclear activities. How serious is this situation for regional and international stability?
King Abdullah: The threat to regional security and stability will be grave if force is utilised to resolve this problem. Dialogue, patience and diplomacy are the only solution, because a strike against Iran would cause the whole regional situation to explode. So we hope that we do not get to that stage.
AFP: The Arab Summit will convene in Khartoum at a time of renewed tension in the Middle East. What should Arabs do to meet the challenges?
King Abdullah: The Arab Summit will convene at a very critical time for the Arab world, whether in Iraq, Palestine or Darfour, and other economic and political challenges that face our world. This imposes upon us huge responsibilities. Participation in this summit should reflect the magnitude of the challenges facing the Arab world. Arab peoples want action not talk and they don't want oratory that is unrelated to reality. We hope that the agenda will be defined by the real, major issues, and that efforts will not be distracted by peripheral issues.
AFP: Some domestic and foreign critics of Jordan are saying that the country has not accomplished enough in terms of democratic reforms. What is your answer to that?
King Abdullah: Any reform plan must be comprehensive. The evidence concerning political reforms and democracy clearly demonstrates that successful political reforms do not happen autonomously from the other areas. So we are focusing on opening up our economy and deepening Jordan's global integration. We are simultaneously working on reforms in our educational programme. Today, there are a number of laws that relate to political and economic reform that are being completed: a press law, a political parties law, an ombudsman law and a law to establish an independent anti corruption commission. Recipes for reform that are imported wholesale from outside and that contradict the specific, distinctive features of our society would be difficult to apply.
AFP: Your Majesty, Hamas and Islamists in Jordan are questioning the decision taken by the Kingdom in 1988 to sever administrative and political ties with the West Bank, what is your answer to that?
King Abdullah: The decision to sever administrative and political ties was taken in response to our Palestinian brethren's demand to have the right to represent the Palestinian people. Reversing the decision to sever ties does not serve the Palestinian people or their ambitions to achieve an independent state on Palestinian soil.
AFP: What is your comment on the National Guidance Committee's refusal to cancel the jail penalty in the amendments to the Press and Publications Law?
King Abdullah: I am opposed to jailing any journalist in connection with publishing issues. We respect the freedom of the press and media, and I have said before that the limit is the sky for press freedom. I recently urged the government to amend the press law to annul prison sentences for journalists in publishing cases. The government's amendments were rejected by the National Guidance Committee in the House of Deputies. This highlights the challenges we face. I have a clear vision of the importance of development, modernisation and reform for the future of our people, but in some instances, reforms have been resisted.