Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Oded Granot
Israel TV
Channel 1
28 August 2010

Channel 1: Your Majesty, Ramadan Kareem. Your Majesty in a couple of days you will be leaving for the Washington summit, and you know the peace process has witnessed many ceremonial events which ended up in frustration and disappointment. Do you think this one is going to be the same?

King Abdullah: I hope for the sake of all our peoples it is not the case. Obviously there is, has been, a sense of frustration over the years that we have not been able to achieve the ultimate dream of coexistence between all our peoples. Having met with Palestinian and Israeli leadership, and having had discussions with President Obama and the Americans, they all realise how important it is to move the process forward, so we’re there in Washington keeping our fingers crossed that the two sides can actually sit down once and for all and solve this problem.

Channel 1: So since you mentioned that you are in touch with President Obama, do you foresee much more active or dominant role for US administration in the next round of talks.

King Abdullah: I think the whole point that we are all going to Washington and this meeting is being hosted by Obama, I think, is a very clear signal of American determination to move the process forward. But at the end of the day all of us don’t want a photo opportunity. So, the first day we all meet, the second day Israelis and Palestinians sit down with the Americans to move to direct negotiations. It is the willingness of the leaders on the second day to really solve this problem, which is really going to be the deciding factor of how the Middle East is going to shape itself over the next ten years.

Channel 1: Will the US administration come with its own proposals to advance the talks?

King Abdullah: I believe that we all know what the issues are. This is the sadness of this problem. We’re not starting from scratch. Everybody knows exactly what needs to be done on all issues to move forward. The problem is over the past several years, both the Israelis and the Palestinians have not sat at the table to be able to move forward. I think this has been at tremendous cost to security and stability, not only to Israelis and Palestinians but to the whole region. I am hoping that the leaders know what is at stake, but equally important is, do the peoples know what is at stake? And will the people support their leaders and empower their leaders to solve this problem once and for all?

Channel 1: Yeah, but would the administration jump into the cold water?

King Abdullah: I hope so, because again, I think you have to understand that today, it is in America’s national security interest that the Israeli-Palestinian problem is solved.

Channel 1: It has always been, no?

King Abdullah: It has never been discussed. It has been discussed by generals and by intelligence people that they have to solve this problem, but this is the first time, towards the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration that this ongoing conflict is no longer good for America. It never has been. But people are now beginning to realise, the politicians, that it is in America’s national vested interest that the two-state solution be solved as quickly as possible. I think that is an interesting dynamic that all of us have to be aware of.

Channel 1: Is the one year target date for concluding the peace agreement too ambitious?

King Abdullah: I don’t think we should put a one-year target date. I believe the words are coming out of the United States is within one year. Why wait for one year? The longer we wait, the more we give people a chance to create violence? And again, we have seen this happen so many times before. Whenever people of peace come together to try to move the process forward, there are so many people out there on all sides that will want to destroy this and so many people have suffered and so much loss of life has happened to our people over the past several decades, we have to have the strength of our convictions to take the tough steps over the next couple of weeks and hopefully that will lead into a process that is not just between Israelis and Palestinians – and I think when we are talking about what is happening in Washington, let us not forget the Arab Peace Initiative.

What we are trying to achieve is Israelis and Palestinians moving the process forward so that the Arab Peace Initiative can be activated. Israel’s future is not just to the Jordan River or to Lebanon or to Sinai or to the Golan Heights. I think what we are talking is, the long term, the bigger picture for the Israeli people is, Israel’s integration in the Arab/Islamic world. That’s the prize. But we need to start it in Washington.

Channel 1: Your Majesty, what role Jordan can play in promoting the upcoming talks.

King Abdullah: I think from the time of His Majesty the late King Hussein, and I think this is a legacy that I am proud to carry on, Jordan has always wanted to play the role of being able to bring peoples together and solve the conflicts and the problems that have plagued this region. I think as honest interlocutors we have, Jordan has proven to be an honest broker that tries to look at opportunities to bring people together. And I think that is the reason we are in Washington, because we are trusted by all and people know that we believe in peace and prosperity for all our peoples into the future, and we will continue to play an active role whenever we can.

Channel 1: Your Majesty in recent interviews you raised some fears that if things don’t move forward we might be on the verge of a third intifada.

King Abdullah: Look, when I grew up, conflict between Israel and the region happened every decade or so. Since His late Majesty passed away, we are talking about a conflict that Israel has had in the region almost every other year. If we don’t move the process forward, then something is going to happen. Either on your borders from threats further away, or internally. I think this is the sadness. It is people at the end of the day who pay the price with their lives, with the insecurity of their future, when politicians don’t have the courage to step up to the plate. That is the danger.

Channel 1: So you are talking general feeling, not necessarily hard information.

King Abdullah: No, no, not hard information. But we know that there are others out there that don’t want, on all sides to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians and therefore peace between the Israelis and the Arabs and all the Muslim nations, 57 nations is what we keep saying. So the minute we get into the status quo mentality, and sort of accept what we have now, eventually someone is going to push the right buttons and there is going to be a conflict. I think the dynamics have changed over the past several years. Conflict in Israel in the old days, obviously if somebody went into conflict somebody wanted to win. Today the dynamics have changed. Conflict with Israel today is not necessarily to win against Israel but to survive. Therefore that opens the dynamics to a completely different threat towards Israel. Unless we move the political aspect along, then I think the Israeli people will be under threat forever. So it’s a decision that has to be made. Is it going to be fortress Israel, with you looking over the walls at the rest of the Middle East, which by the way, we are moving on with our regional cooperation, economic integrity, or are we going to have the courage to break down those walls and bring peoples together and eventually bring full security to the Israeli people?

Channel 1: By the way, since you mentioned the dangers of somebody pushing the button… a unit from the military wing of Hamas targeting Eilat, hitting Aqaba, causing causalities. What would Jordan’s reaction be to that?

King Abdullah: Well, again, as I said, every time we move to peace, there are always going to be elements out there that try to destabilise it. We have to understand that and keep our eyes focused on the bigger picture. There’s always casualties in the pursuit of peace, and we have lost in our countries, I think, two great leaders – both His Majesty King Hussein and the late Prime Minister Yitzhaq Rabin, who fought for a vision that I believe we can all buy into. I think that is where the bigger danger lies.

The fight for peace is what is going to guarantee our future. Actions against Israel – that’s why I am trying to say – is if we accept the status quo then we will always be on the receiving end of violence. If the Israelis and Palestinians solve their problems, then why should countries have conflict with Israel? This is your future stability.

Channel 1: But we are having, when we talk about Hamas, we are talking about having an Islamic extreme organisation which is committed to the destruction of Israel, never recognised Israel and playing as a tool within the Iranian regime.

King Abdullah: There is a sense of belief in Israel that we can live with what we have today, we have been doing it for so many decades. But the future does not look brighter. And I would put the argument to you that I don’t think Israel will get stronger over the years because I think that these issues and these challenges that face the future of Israel’s security are going to get more, not less. But if the Israelis and Palestinians are sitting at the table and solving their problems, then all of those elements that are trying to work for the destruction of Israel will have no longer a justification, not only those in the region but even further afield. Why would I challenge Israel when Israelis and Palestinians are at peace? The first people that are going to stand up and stand by your side will be the Palestinian people themselves. If we achieve the two-state solution.

Channel 1: You know that recently you’ve made a very interesting observation. You said that you sat with Israelis and nobody could come up with an answer to your question how does he see Israel in ten years time. Did you allude to the demographic element?

King Abdullah: I think if we take the question as you put it. First of all, the overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians, I believe, do want peace. But the same amount of people are so frustrated that they’ve given up. They don’t think that’s ever going to happen. So you get people into the mentality of living with the status quo. But what does the status quo mean over the coming years? There is people that say that Jordan should be Palestine. But how does that work? The Palestinians don’t want it; we sure as hell don’t want Jordan to be Palestine. The only way that you are going to be able to achieve it is an exodus of Palestinians. And the only way that’s going to happen is through force and violence. And would the international community and the Israelis endorse that? But even if you did that, let’s say that there was a magic wand that was waved and the Palestinians are out of the West Bank, have you still solved your long-term problem?

The Arab-Israeli population after many years is going to be a challenge demographically. So the way I look at the future of Israel, unless we solve our problems today when you are in a position of strength, the options that you have in the future become less and less and therefore more difficult. So this concept of kicking this problem down the road – let’s solve it in a year, let’s solve it in two years – I think the dynamics that affect the challenge of Israel become far more dangerous. Today you have 22 Arab Muslim countries, total of Muslim and Arab countries, 57 nations that want to have this problem solved.

Channel 1: Since you mentioned Jordan and Palestine… do you still have some concern whether the Likud party has really taken off the table the idea of Jordan becoming the future Palestinian state?

King Abdullah: I don’t think it is, because if I can be very honest, it’s such an idiotic idea. In the past I never used to react to it. I used to say, it’s crazy and move on. But as I described to you, how physically are you going to achieve that, and will the international community accept it. And even if it did for some strange reason, which I don’t think will ever happen, does it solve the long-term problems of Israel. It doesn’t.

Channel 1: The reason I came up with this question is that I am asking myself… you recently said the relationship between Israel and Jordan has reached its lowest ebb since your father signed the peace agreement. And I wonder, is it all linked to the peace process?

King Abdullah: A lot of it is linked to the peace process because we’ve never been able to get the vision of regional integration. You could have a peace but if our peoples are not able to communicate at each other, if we can’t have free movement because of the Palestinian issue, then really it’s a peace where we’re looking across the border at each other. And again, as I alluded to earlier on, if you look at just the economic dimension, over the past ten years I have seen regional projects bypass Israel. People are looking now at alternative energy, nuclear energy for this electricity grid, new water projects, railroad projects. Your government has just started investment in railroads, but your railroads – how are they going to provide for the future of Israel if all they can do is come to the borders of the country and go no further? So we are moving on with our lives, is what I am saying, and this is the sadness of accepting the status quo. This ability to have this true peace will never happen unless the politics of it are solved.

Channel 1: I am not sure I have understood why the relationship has reached this lowest ebb? Why is it so?

King Abdullah: Because it is difficult to have photo opportunities for economic integration when there is no solving of the political situation. President Peres has some very ambitious ideas of major regional projects but how can we bring Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and others to come to a flag ceremony to launch these projects when politically we are all at each others’ throats? I think this is why the relationships have suffered.

Channel 1: But if I am not mistaken, even your personal relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu went sour. You mentioned a year ago that the overlap between you and Netanyahu was very unpleasant, if I quote correctly.

King Abdullah: Having said that, we had a meeting here, as you alluded to, last month. It was a very honest meeting. I think that it was an atmosphere where we all expressed our views strongly. We explained to each other our views about the future. So I am holding my judgment, again I think a lot of what happens in Washington will dictate whether Jordan and Israel can move forward. The challenge now is to move from what we have said into action, and if we can achieve that, then I think the relationships between our countries will improve dramatically.

Channel 1: You are in touch with Abu Mazen, with the Palestinians. We’re not in the business of putting the blame on anybody, but often I ask myself whether the Palestinians bear some responsibility for the lack of progress in the peace process in the last decade has been presented twice, at least twice, with what I see as a most generous far-reaching Israeli proposal to end the conflict. I mean, Camp David 2000 and during the Olmert government term. And yet, they were reluctant.

King Abdullah: Well, I want to be very careful, especially going to Washington, of pointing fingers on either side. From what I have seen is politicians on both sides don’t feel the empowerment of the people. Not that people don’t want peace, it’s just that the people are so frustrated it’s never going to happen. Whatever happens in Washington, and I hope this moves direct negotiations forward, it is so important for the Israeli public and the Palestinian public to believe that they can achieve peace. Because politicians get very nervous, and we want politicians with backbone and that backbone is the support they get from their people. All the issues that are going to be raised are going to be debated inside our societies until we turn blue in the face, and I don’t believe that any leader can come back with the perfect solution, and I think we have to be very, very understanding of that, and I think that the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership will come back to their people hopefully if we’re successful in moving the process forward, to say to their people, the people of Israel, the people of Palestine, this is the best I could get for us: will you vote for peace or will you vote for the status quo? And I think that if we look at the future for our children, this will be the deciding factor of whether or not we will support our politicians.

A Palestinian mother and an Israeli mother have the same concerns, the same fears, the same insecurities. It is the job of the politicians to bring the best that they can for their people, and I believe in humanity and I believe that all of us want the same for each other: we want our friends to be protected, we want prosperity, we want good lives, we want to look after our children and care for them. Politicians have to be able to provide that to the people. So Washington, really is the deciding day of: are we going to provide the future we want for our people or are we going to resign our people to another decade of violence.

Channel 1: As we approach the summit in Washington, what message do you want to carry to the Israeli people?

King Abdullah: Well I think the message I would have would be a collective message and a wish and a hope for all of us. This is, I think, the final opportunity for all of us to create the future for ourselves and for our children that we can be proud of. Don’t look at Washington as a discussion between just Israelis and Palestinians. The ability of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to be able to move forward in a discussion of a two-state solution that creates an Israeli secure state alongside a Palestinian state allows the opportunity for the 57 other nations to integrate itself with Israel.

My father I used to hear all the time say: I work for peace for my children and their children’s children. How sad would it be for all of us if we have to mention the same thing, that we all strive for peace for our children and their children’s children. We don’t have that luxury today. We want peace today for us, for our children.

Channel 1: Before I wish you and everybody and us success in Washington, I must ask you, Jordan has improved its relations with Syria, and I’ve been myself an advocate of opening a channel to Syria. Nevertheless, Assad is giving us a hard time. No gesture, no soft words, and even worse aligning himself with the staunchest enemies of Israel, Hezbollah and Iran. Could you help me in reading Bashar?

King Abdullah: With my discussions with Bashar, Syria is, I believe, truly committed to a comprehensive approach to the peace process. So again, when I look at the Israeli public, what’s happening in Washington is not just about the Israelis and Palestinians. It’s about Israel’s future with the Arabs and Israel’s future with the Muslim world, and from what I have seen, I think the Syrians will want to move forward if we are actually honest with each other and believe that the process is in the vested interests of all sides.

Channel 1: Your Majesty thank you very much for this interview. Looking forward to seeing you in Washington: although you will be inside, I will be outside.

King Abdullah: Look forward to seeing you there. Thank you very much.