By: Samir Hiyari and Samir Barhoum
For: Al Rai and The Jordan Times
5 December 2012
(Translated from Arabic)
Question: Your Majesty, the government’s decision to lift fuel subsidies triggered protests, some of which were marred by vandalism and assaults on public and private property, an unfamiliar phenomenon. How do you view what happened?
King Abdullah: The decision was definitely very difficult for citizens amid real economic challenges. I realise how much people suffer, especially the limited and medium-income segments.
I am proud that the majority of the rallies were peaceful and abiding by the Constitution and the law. They reflected a civilised manner of expression, proof that Jordan’s Arab Spring is different. They also signalled that our people have a high level of awareness, especially as reflected by the spontaneous initiatives taken by citizens themselves to prevent riots and sabotage of public and private property. Such actions proved how united the people and the state were in their keenness to preserve assets and achievements.
At the same time, I regret that a small group carried out acts that are utterly rejected and that wasted others’ chances to express their opinions in a civilised and peaceful way in a safe environment. I totally believe that if we want to entrench democracy, people should be guaranteed their constitutional right to express themselves freely. It is not a favour granted to them by anyone, and no one has the right to deprive them of that.
Ours is a democratic and tolerant society, but there is a small group that takes advantage of such climate to infringe upon the state’s authority and harm people’s interests. A democratic society upholds law and order and protects public interests. In this context, it is imperative to commend the civilised conduct of the security agencies, which have exhibited discipline, professionalism and determination to protect citizens and their constitutional right to express themselves. With their great performance that has earned them unanimous praise, they have ensured that demonstrations remained peaceful.
I know that citizens’ main concern is to meet the needs of their families and provide them with the essential means of livelihood. The concerns of Jordanians are always on my mind; what worries them worries me. In light of the worsening financial situation of the state budget, due mainly to the disruption in Egyptian gas supply, which has cost us around $5 billion so far and added to the budget deficit and public debt, and in light of the fact that the lifting of fuel subsidies was coupled with a plan to re-direct subsidies to those who deserve them - namely, the limited and medium-income segments - it would have been unreasonable to continue supporting those who are well-off, non-Jordanians and major profitable businesses. Besides, all Arab countries experiencing the same challenges have taken similar measures. It was obvious, as the government explained that there were no alternatives but to take the side of the country and its interests to survive the crisis in a way that serves the interests of citizens in the long-run.
Jordanian citizens have for decades made sacrifices for the sake of building Jordan as a modern state. They have shown patience, dignity, awareness and sense of responsibility as they shouldered the burdens associated with each stage, out of their belief in and love for their country, at all times and under all circumstances. I am fully convinced that Jordan’s people and leadership will continue the process of building, developing and improving people’s quality of life.
On the other hand, the government is required from now on to make sure that the mechanism for redirecting subsidies guarantees the highest degree of social justice and enroots the value of social solidarity. It should also ensure that substantiated complaints are taken into consideration, the support mechanism undergoes continuous review and that real efforts are exerted to ease the burden on all segments of society.
Despite the difficult situation we are in, I am optimistic about the future. God willing, we will overcome this crisis. The road ahead is clear: Controlling government spending, solving the crisis of public finance, rationalising consumption in general, and energy consumption in particular, delivering support to those entitled to receive it, stepping up efforts to counter corruption and enhance accountability, ending and preventing waste of public funds. Furthermore, efforts should be focused on the development of the governorates, by adopting a decentralisation mechanism that is integrated with central government performance. Such approach will make local governance more democratic, which will, in turn, help achieve economic development and improve citizens’ living standards and quality of life. All such measures are essential to realise self-reliance and financial independence.
We have the brains, the ability and the willpower to remain achievers, regardless of the challenges. Most importantly, we need in the coming stage to provide a positive climate to stimulate creativity and innovation in all fields. Therefore, there should be continuous evaluation of policies to detect and address loopholes. All this is at the core of the mandate of the coming Lower House and the government that will emerge from this House.
Current economic conditions require that everyone manages state resources transparently and responsibly. Citizens should be assured that the patience they have shown in the face of difficulties and challenges translates into a higher sense of responsibility on the part of the state in terms of prudent management of public funds. To reflect such keenness, a national integrity system will be launched and a binding code will be drafted to entrench integrity, in words and deeds, in public service and ensure the highest degree of responsibility, transparency and accountability in managing public funds. It should also guarantee justice in the distribution of resources and that anti-corruption efforts are expedited. Those who are proven involved in graft should be tried before the judiciary. I would like to clarify that corruption has exacerbated the socio-economic crisis we are facing. Combating corruption — which is a top priority we are handling with uncompromising resolve — alone is not enough to solve the crisis as some think or say, for there is a need to take concrete measures related to public policies. However, I reiterate that we will not turn a blind eye to corruption or spare any effort to combat and uproot it.
Question: Your Majesty, political reform goes hand in hand with economic reform. Everyone is keeping an eye on the economic challenges. How do you read the economic situation today and its impact on the political reform drive?
King Abdullah: In the Letter of Designation, I directed the government to respond to the economic challenges with a package of measures. Above anything else, it is essential that the government and all public institutions apply the highest standards of financial discipline and optimal use of resources. It is similarly important to protect the poor and limited-income segments by enhancing the social safety network and additional mechanisms to re-direct subsidies to those who deserve them.
We should also expedite the economic reforms necessary to improve the investment environment, in order to attract quality and job-generating local and foreign investments, capitalising on our political and security stability in a turbulent region.
We have yet to meet another prerequisite; that is, to implement economic and fiscal reform programmes to address imbalances and distortions in the economic and financial structure and increase investments to stimulate economic growth. It is also essential to create financial facilities for small and medium enterprises in the governorates, encourage entrepreneurship through soft loans and launch initiatives to provide empowerment, training and business incubators, as part of public-private sector partnerships. The Governorates Development Fund will play a key role in this regard.
We will not allow economic challenges and the priority given to reforms addressing these challenges to be used as an excuse to delay implementation of political reforms required under the Constitution. We have met a significant part of these requirements, including constitutional amendments, the establishment of the Constitutional Court and Independent Elections Commission (IEC), the development of laws governing political life, and early elections that will be held on their set date, 23 January 2013, and that will lead to a Parliament for the next four years, paving the way for the evolution towards a parliamentary government system.
Question: Your Majesty, political reform is today’s hot issue. Are you satisfied with what has been achieved in the reform process so far?
King Abdullah: No one can ever be 100 percent satisfied. My role is to make sure that we achieve the highest degree of consensus that serves the country and the people, and that set goals receive majority support, while the views of the minority are respected. To build and maintain consensus is the challenge in the reform process.
I look at the reforms achieved so far - the constitutional amendments, Constitutional Court, IEC, key-political laws, early elections slated for January, and then starting to pilot parliamentary government in line with the people’s aspirations and the nature of Jordan’s political structure... All this is part of phase one, which will give us a boost but is not in itself the end of our democratisation course.
Question: When Jordan’s reform performance is compared to that of other Arab countries, some claim that some countries have been faster in implementing their reforms. Do you agree with that?
King Abdullah: There has always been criticism about the pace of reforms in Jordan, in comparison to that of other countries in the Arab Spring. Comparisons have been drawn between Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, in terms of the pace and scope of reform. What is being overlooked here is the essence of reform, along with its sustainability and steadiness. Some countries rushed to hold elections, but the pace of reforms slowed down after that, due to difficulties in the process of amending constitutions and building consensus over major issues, even in the presence of elected legislatures. Other countries suffer from fragile political party structures - a matter that leads to difficulties in forming representative governments that uphold pluralism.
Naturally, every country has its own specifics. In Jordan, the pace of reform has been consistent with our national political priorities. These reforms stemmed from constitutional institutions and channels. Substantial constitutional amendments involved one-third of the Constitution, a package of political laws was enacted, new monitoring and democratic bodies were set up, leading to parliamentary elections on January 23. In my opinion, this package of reforms will bear fruit when a new parliament is elected according to the highest standards of integrity and transparency, to enroot the evolution towards parliamentary governments that are accountable to the people, which is a fundamental step to instil such a political approach and build on it in the future.
Question: So, how do you envision the final outcome of the reform process?
King Abdullah: The future of reform is in the hands of the Jordanian voters as they go to the polls early next year. They are the ones who will decide the composition of the coming parliament and government. What we seek to establish is a process whereby voters hold deputies and the government emerging from the coming House accountable, based on their platforms and the solutions they suggest to the various challenges. Voters need to understand that accountability and political participation do not end at the ballot boxes. It is an open-ended and continuous process under which voters constantly monitor deputies’ performance and put them before their responsibilities.
There is no final destination on the reform path. Reform is a process. For example, we have the Elections Law that was developed to a certain level at this stage of reform and was enacted through constitutional channels. However, it will be open for debate, development and change by future parliaments. I call on all Jordanians to ponder this law and think of how to change it under the Dome, considering the following aspects: Should the number of national list seats be increased, or should districts be re-drawn? Is there a formula that incorporates both suggestions? Should we keep one vote at the local level or raise that? Should we adopt a proportional list at the local level?
What is important is to keep developing the law in a democratic manner through constitutional institutions to reflect the wish of the majority, so that it becomes fairer and more representative, empowers political parties, is more conducive to the formation of parliamentary governments and preserves pluralism.
Regarding the aftermath of elections, I see it as a new stage of reforms to be implemented through the new Parliament. Then, we will move from the Jordanian Spring into the Jordanian Summer, the harvest season when the coming Parliament will start responding to several reform priorities and new issues of national concern. These include empowering constitutional institutions and improving their performance, expediting legislative changes to fine-tune laws to the recent constitutional amendments, reinforcing the rule of law, entrenching judicial independence, enhancing the national integrity system, and protecting responsible press freedoms. We also need to streamline the public sector and accelerate economic, administrative and social reforms in a way that brings about a national revival, which entails that building and renewal are consistent with the requirements of the coming stage. These are collective responsibilities that voters and civil society institutions should hold Parliament and government accountable for, and monitor the performance of these two branches of government in order to assess their achievements.
Question: Your Majesty, we notice that you constantly link the formation of a parliamentary government to the upcoming parliamentary elections. How will governments be formed after the polls? Will frequent government changes be history then?
King Abdullah: Reaching parliamentary government at such a transitional stage requires a two-phase approach: The first is the elections phase, whereby political blocs compete in the elections starting from the moment of the announcement of candidacies; the second phase, which follows the elections, sees the emergence and consolidation of parliamentary blocs and consultations with the Lower House to select a prime minister and form a government.
In the first phase, I will work to urge would-be candidates to form political blocs comprising national lists and local candidates. We hope that such blocs will adopt political orientations representing the right, centre and left and be built on the basis of platforms that suggest solutions to the challenges Jordan is facing.
Regarding national lists particularly, I have felt through my constant conversations with various sectors and forces that national lists are required to represent all of the country’s regions. There is a specific detail I want to explain in this context, an idea brought up lately during my political and outreach meetings. Some questions are being raised about the mechanism for the formation of lists, especially that they are a new feature in our electoral process. People ask about how to reach consensus over the ranking of list members, as the names at the top of the list stand better chances to win. The arrangement of the names on the list could define the candidates’ future roles: Those who are expected to win will top the list, while the others will be figures that the bloc nominates to represent it in the government in case these figures do not win at the ballot boxes. This is based on my outreach and discussions, as I sensed during my meetings that Lower House members should not join the government for several reasons, including to avoid the reoccurrence of past negative experiences when ministerial and parliamentary posts were combined. Most importantly, avoiding such a duality enhances the principle of separation of powers, especially between the executive and legislative authorities, and Parliament’s monitoring role during the transitional stage that will follow the upcoming elections.
At the end of the day, our vision for parliamentary government relies on the maturity of partisan life, including the principle of pluralism. We seek to reach a stage where a parliamentary coalition that enjoys House majority forms the government, while a rival coalition assumes a monitoring role, within the concept of “shadow government” in advanced parliamentary democracies. Coalitions based on partisan programmes would be competing for government at the ballot boxes, under a process of power rotation.
Some might consider such a vision far-fetched, but, in fact, it is not. We genuinely want to reach such a stage as soon as possible by the minimum number of parliamentary cycles. The essence of such a vision is to institutionalise the process of opposition and rotation of power, which should evolve into full-fledged parliamentary governments through institutional bodies and channels.
Today, as preparations for candidates registration and coalition formation are under way, I urge all active political forces to expedite the process of building political alliances that step up to the practice I have just outlined, so that we make a leap in political reform.
I also urge citizens to participate in the process and build political blocs to form national lists based on platforms. This is how we serve the higher interests of Jordan at this critical time in our history. I would like here to point to an essential issue: Parliamentary government is our priority, and we consider elections a milestone on this road. Therefore, holding the elections and the timing of the elections should be seen as a means rather than an end in itself. We shall always keep an eye on the elections momentum, review our performance and adjust the trajectory to make sure that this milestone - early elections - will actually lead us to achieve such a decisive national goal. We shall remain open and committed to the path that will lead us to representative parliamentary governments. There will be no steps backwards, because there is nothing to fear about continuing and deepening the reform approach.
Question: This is your vision for the pre-election stage and some of its future prospects. What is your vision for the parliamentary government that will emerge from the next Parliament, as you have asserted?
King Abdullah: Our vision for parliamentary government and the next Parliament is based on the assumption that there will be parliamentary blocs and groupings with platforms to address the issues and challenges facing citizens. They are expected to be able to agree on a prime minister and a government to implement such programmes. This is not so easy, and I am expected to play a conciliatory role, urging deputies to join blocs until partisan life reaches the required maturity, and I will urge them to come together into blocs because this is part of their national responsibility at this stage. We very much rely, of course, on the national list in this regard, as I have just explained.
The mechanism of consultation with the Lower House entails consulting over the selection of the prime minister with the blocs that will emerge in the aftermath of the elections. Following that, the premier-designate will consult with the House blocs and the other political forces to form a government that enjoys parliamentary majority. He will seek a confidence vote on the basis of a policy statement, which will also be the outcome of consultations, founded on a four-year programme.
Of course, norms to institutionalise the process will develop. The vote of confidence will mark the beginning of the executive’s term, which will run in parallel with the legislature’s term. Both authorities will be working to implement programmes to solve pressing issues in the fields of energy, education, unemployment, social security. They will also develop political laws, foremost of which is the Elections Law, which, as I have said, is not perfect and should be improved. There will also be room for further constitutional amendments, if they are deemed necessary and warranted by the higher national interest.
Question: It is obvious that Your Majesty is optimistic about parliamentary governments. However, what if divisions occur among the majority party or House coalition? Are we going to see a new stage of government instability because of divisions among deputies?
King Abdullah: This is possible. We will deal with it and adapt to it. We will develop our performance in line with developments in our democratic experience. The maturity of such an experience hinges on our concerted efforts. Each politician should place the country’s higher interest before personal or partisan interests. This is democracy. The government derives its legitimacy from the Lower House, which in turn derives its legitimacy from the voters. This is the constitutional principle we want to entrench.
What we really aspire to is to have governments that enjoy enough stability to implement the programmes on the basis of which they have been elected, or will be re-elected. However, the final say on whether a government should stay or go belongs to the people, through their elected representatives. This is what happens in emerging and well-established democratic systems, and we are no exception. Reform means that the people have a say in government, through their representatives in the political system. In line with the latest constitutional amendments, the new government must win the House’s confidence based on a policy statement that outlines its political, economic and social programme and objectives for the following four years. The government is responsible for maintaining the confidence of the House majority during this period. These four years are the duration of governments and Parliaments, the interval between each rotation of power. This means that Jordan practically relies on the coming House and government to implant the four-year rule in our political system and culture.
As the parliamentary government experience settles and matures and partisan life develops into one based on platforms and a democratic approach, political parties will be motivated to align along a more distinctive right, left and centre and their number is expected to drop. Subsequently, parliamentary blocs will be replaced in Parliament by political parties. This will enhance the stability of governments that are hoped to progress into truly partisan governments. Immediately after the elections, the Lower House will have to handle an urgent and pressing national responsibility: To immediately update its by-laws to establish the parliamentary practices necessary to form parliamentary governments. The rules of procedure will define the criteria for forming blocs and the process of joining or withdrawing from these blocs, along with decision-making mechanisms within the House. They will also stipulate the establishment of research centres to conduct studies that will help blocs discuss, analyse and evaluate policies and develop alternatives reflecting each bloc’s opinion. The studies will also help lawmakers evaluate and discuss draft laws and build blocs’ capacity and tools to monitor governments.
This is a national priority that we expect to see incorporated in candidates’ programmes. Citizens should hold the coming Lower House responsible for any failure to implement this task, which is essential to the establishment of the parliamentary government approach.
This is my vision and opinion based on a practical understanding of our political reality, and the history and evolution of the Jordanian state, and a thorough study of international political and democratic experiences. It is also a vision derived from ideas proposed by Jordanians during my conversations and outreach meetings, which constitute a pillar in our approach. Naturally, this vision is open for debate and development by all political and social forces. I am optimistic about the level of citizens’ awareness. God willing, we will achieve the model that will help us realise our aspirations.
Question: Your Majesty, the elements of the vision you have just outlined rely heavily on the coming Lower House. In fact, the next round of reforms hinges on the House and the quality and performance of its members. Some observers are already warning that the next Parliament will be a carbon copy of the previous one. How do you comment on that?
King Abdullah: It is up to the voters to decide the shape and quality of the coming Lower House and government. I would like to emphasise here that no one has the right to pressure voters. After all, we cannot boast about the high level of maturity, freedom of expression and accountability we have reached, and then act in the opposite way when it comes to selecting our representatives. We trust voters’ awareness, respect their choices and have no doubt that each is keen on serving the national interest. It is the duty of political forces, candidates, and the media, to reach out to voters and communicate to them their workable platforms offering solutions to the problems people face. The scale of change depends on the size of participation and on whether voters make the right choices.
Each voter has a historic responsibility to contribute positively to electing a capable Lower House by making the right choice, which will affect the formation of future governments as well as policies and programmes.
Regarding the upcoming polls, citizens should be aware that the coming House, due to the structure of our political system and reform requirements, represents a turning point in the decision-making mechanism that will apply to Parliament and the governments that will emerge from it.
To formulate a more accurate idea of the scope of the issues and laws awaiting the coming Parliament and government, and their impact on the present and future of voters, let us have a close look. They include significant laws such as the law on the disclosure of assets, which is essential to deterring corruption. Another is a tax law that adopts a progressive taxation system consistent with the Constitution. There is also a social security law that ensures justice and a secure livelihood for subscribers and guarantees sustainability for present and future generations. The Landlords and Tenants Law should maintain the balance between economic interests and social needs, while the Elections Law is expected to develop into a piece of legislation that advances partisan representation and entrenches the parliamentary government experience. In addition, there is a consumers protection law that helps alleviating the impact of price hikes and a package of investment promotion laws capable of attracting quality investments that generate jobs for Jordanians and boost the national economy.
These are decisive pieces of legislation. There are also pressing national issues that require sound policies to address them with responsibility and decisiveness, starting from national policies on employment and job-generation, along with policies to improve the quality of educational services through various reforms and health and sanitation services. We also need policies that encourage and facilitate investments in the energy sector, especially in clean and renewable energy. We need to come up with immediate initiatives to solve public transportation problems and overcome related challenges in a way that leads to building a highly efficient nation-wide public transportation network. One of the priorities is to have sound investment and planning in agriculture, eyeing further self-reliance, food security, rationalised public expenditure, water and energy consumption and optimal utilisation of resources.
In light of all these national priorities, I tell you that those who vote in these elections are voting on their future and the future of Jordan. Voters are urged to participate in the polls without hesitation and to make sound choices so as not to miss this chance to contribute to crucial decisions in the history of our country.
In this context, allow me to use the platform provided by Al Rai and The Jordan Times, which are among the best established media institutions in Jordan, to address all media and all those involved in the media industry, regardless of political affiliations: You have a national duty to launch a dialogue on elections that builds bridges between candidates and voters. Offer all candidates, tickets, blocs and parties a platform to present their programmes to voters. Such a process should be interactive. Responsible media outlets are expected to highlight citizens’ concerns and questions, and launch a serious national dialogue on what voters want and what candidates have to offer, so as to enable voters to select those most capable of translating their ambitions into facts on the ground and tangible results.
Question: In your latest speech, you spoke extensively about the opposition. In recent political events, its focal role was obvious. How do you describe the relationship with the opposition, especially the Muslim Brotherhood? How do you view the future of this relationship?
King Abdullah: In fact, I find this approach odd. Political opposition should not be reduced to the Brotherhood alone. It is diverse, multi-faceted and of various political orientations.
However, the common denominator between all Jordanian opposition groups is that they have always been and will remain an integral part of the regime, which encompasses all individuals and the entire society with all of its components. In the case of the Brotherhood specifically, the group has historically been a key component in the political spectrum and social fabric. All throughout, it has been part of the political system, not persecuted or alienated. In fact, they have held top official posts at different stages. At one point, they had close to one-third of the House’s seats.
Our vision for the opposition is based on the need to institutionalise its role in Parliament, after they participate in the elections, which determine who makes it to the House and who does not. We want the opposition to compete seriously for government and to play an active role in the Lower House in monitoring governments. Opposition forces need to actually serve as a “shadow government” as in parliamentary democracies, and compete with incumbent governments in offering visions, programmes and solutions and monitor their performance, instead of isolating themselves and play the role of theorists from afar.
I say it clearly that those who want change should step forward and participate in the process. There is no alternative to that, and all political and social forces should realise that building as much as possible of national consensus through constitutional channels is my top priority. Therefore, I call on all to avoid inflexible stands and shun special interests and immediate gains. Again: The scope of change is proportional to the size of participation. The larger the participation, the greater the change. Those who seek change must propose programmes that can effect that change, take part in the elections, and the ballot boxes will determine who will make it to the Lower House. Those who want change should seek to achieve it under the Dome.
The real challenge facing the opposition today is voters’ reluctance to join political parties. More than 90 per cent of Jordanians refuse to join political parties, a matter that requires serious efforts on the part of the opposition and other powers to develop platforms that respond to the interests of voters and encourage them to take voting decisions based on party platforms.
The immediate solution, as I have said earlier, is to have blocs take shape during the candidates registration period, that these blocs include national list and local candidates. Moreover, parliamentary blocs will emerge in Parliament after the elections and they will reflect the blocs that won the elections. We greatly rely on this solution to expedite the political and partisan development process. This is a significant element in the equation, along with, as I have explained, a commitment to continue developing the Political Parties Law to increase parties’ participation.
Question: Thank you for this thorough explanation of your vision for political reform. Regionally, there is much about the relationship with brotherly Gulf countries having been affected by different approaches to the Syrian crisis. Is there any form of Gulf or international pressure on Jordan with regard to the Syrian crisis?
King Abdullah: There might be different approaches to the nature of the relationship with the Syrian opposition and how to deal with it, but there is an understanding of the singularity of each approach. Security, geographic and demographic realities shape our decision-making regarding the Syrian crisis. These factors are of concern to Jordan in the first place. No one can overlook the reality of the Syrian refugees in Jordan, whose number nears a quarter a million and counting. The cost of hosting them is high, let alone the pressures placed on the infrastructure, other services and our already meagre water resources.
Our stand on the Syrian crisis is built on the following elements: Doing our utmost to stop the bloodshed in Syria and exerting efforts towards that end at the international and Arab levels. Second, working for a solution to restore security and stability in Syria, safeguard its territorial integrity and the unity of its people, end the ongoing violence and ensure a political transition which every party accepts and engages in.
Regarding the relationship with our brothers in the Gulf Cooperation Council, it will always remain historical, strategic and complementary. We are absolutely eager to constantly develop these ties to serve our mutual interests. Jordan’s leadership and people always appreciate the honourable stands of the Gulf states, especially their continuous support for the Kingdom under all circumstances.
Question: You had predicted a long conflict in Syria. Do you believe that a political solution is still possible? Is the military solution the only option on the horizon? Are you worried of the consequences of a military solution?
King Abdullah: A political solution is the best way out of the Syrian crisis. The element of success in this effort is to create a climate of understanding at the Arab and international level in support of a solution that would end the escalation and deterioration of the situation, leading to a political transition, democratisation and national reconciliation that help end the violence and focus on the future. All powers and sects must agree to a political solution so as to preserve Syria’s cohesion, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of its people.
Failure or delay in forging a political solution might lead to more complications on the ground, with catastrophic consequences. This is the basis of the call that we keep reiterating to all parties in Syria, who should place the interests and unity of Syria above anything else. Jordan will not be a part to any military intervention because that contradicts our stands, principles and higher national interests.
Having said that, we consider our security a top priority and protecting the lives and safety of our citizens our primary duty. The security and safety we enjoy is a blessing that has not come by chance or as a gift from anyone. It is a success that came from God in the first place, and was then a result of good planning, vigilance and a security creed that is never compromised when the interests of the homeland are on the line. A responsible state plans for the worst-case scenario. And we never stopped planning and preparing to be ready to protect our citizens. If Jordan finds itself before an imminent danger, we will do our best to protect our citizens. This is a duty we will never shirk.
Question: As observers, we have sensed that the consequences of the Arab Spring have gripped the region’s agendas at the expense of the central Arab cause: Palestine. Nevertheless, the 138 votes that the Palestinians obtained at the UN to upgrade their status have revived hopes for a boost to the peace process. How do you read these developments, especially in light of US President Barack Obama’s re-election?
King Abdullah: First, I would like to congratulate again the brotherly Palestinian people for this historic achievement, which came as a result of their steadfastness and struggle, and the efforts exerted by the Palestinian National Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas to win international support for a status upgrade to non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly. In fact, such success proves that the world recognises the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause and the grave injustice that Palestinians have historically suffered. It is also a message of international support for the peaceful approach to a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East under the two-state solution.
Undoubtedly, such resolution has diplomatic and legal ramifications that come in favour of the Palestinian cause. It is a historic and strategic achievement, as it entails an advanced level of international recognition and respect for the Palestinian state, while Israel is singled out to face international responsibilities as an occupying power, in light of an international recognition of the borders of the future Palestinian state on Palestinian national soil. We rely on this decision to advance Palestinian reconciliation efforts and unity.
As far as Jordan is concerned, it will work, as always, to build on this Palestinian achievement in its diplomatic endeavours to draw international and regional attention to the just Palestinian cause. We will build on this achievement and enhance it with the Arab Peace Initiative to restore momentum to the peace process and urge the Palestinians and Israelis to embark on negotiations on final status issues and come up with courageous and historic solutions.
Let us not ignore that this diplomatic and legal achievement comes as a decisive answer to the so-called alternative homeland, or Jordan Option.
As Arabs and Jordanians who share with the Palestinians their pain, we should use all possible diplomatic means to press for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Question: What about the US administration, which is preoccupied with Arab Spring developments that have imposed themselves on the regional agenda at the expense of the Palestinian cause?
King Abdullah: The US deals with the peace file in an institutional manner. We have at hand a good chance to restore the focus on the Palestinian issue after President Obama won a second term, who is abreast of all details of the conflict and prospects for settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is similarly important to build on the support of the International Quartet on the Middle East and work in a positive spirit with all international and regional partners.
We will work with President Obama during his second term in office to ensure immediate and serious US engagement in the peace process in line with the two-state solution. The problem we previously had was that the US was preoccupied with its internal priorities due to economic challenges, and was busy this year with the presidential elections. Amongst the problems we also face is that there is still a group in Israel still thinking along the lines of the “Fortress Israel” mentality and seeking to impose a new reality and continue settlement activity, which means that the chances of the two-state solution will weaken, while the one-state solution is gaining ground in practice. But a one-state solution would entail a state with a persecuted Palestinian majority. This would be an apartheid system, anything but democratic. This dangerous path is undermining the two-state solution.
As for the region, some Arab states have been looking inward, either because of their reform priorities or because they are preoccupied with democratic transformation as a result of the Arab Spring. This reality will change in favour of the Palestinian cause with the rise of democracy in the Arab world.
This means that fading interest in the Palestinian cause is temporary. We have to work so that it regains centrality and build on the international momentum created by the PNA at the UN General Assembly. This will be a key factor in garnering further global support for the rights of the brotherly Palestinian people, which Jordan will keep supporting in various arenas. Our role as Jordan will be to restore Arab and international momentum so that the Palestinian cause will remain on the regional and international agendas, and revive the negotiation process because it is the sole means to reach a peaceful, just and lasting solution according to the two-state solution and solve all final status issues. Meanwhile, Jordan’s rights will be secured in any final settlement, and the Palestinians will be able to establish their independent state on their national soil. This is both a Jordanian and Palestinian interest.
We should be aware that the recent Israeli military escalation and aggression on the Gaza Strip underscores the need for all parties to accelerate and intensify efforts to revive the peace push towards a just and comprehensive settlement to pre-empt Israel’s systematic settlement activity and attempts to impose a new status quo on the ground that would undermine the two-state solution.
Question: Finally, how do you see the entire internal and regional situations? Are you optimistic?
King Abdullah: Despite the complicated and serious regional scene and the difficulty to foresee what comes next, in addition to the great expectations on the domestic level, which require time and sincere efforts from everyone, I am optimistic because I believe in our people’s ability to overcome all internal and external challenges.
Jordan will go ahead with its comprehensive revival based on the principles of the Great Arab Revolt - freedom, unity, social justice and equality - and on the values of co-existence, tolerance, moderation and respect of human dignity.
This country, which has crossed the 90 years mark, and these noble people, who have always hosted their Arab brethren at times of need and shared with them their bread despite all hardships, have defended Palestinian soil and offered several martyrs, will always emerge stronger from each crisis. Jordanians will, God willing, remain a success story despite all challenges.