Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Akiva Eldar
09 October 2009

Haaretz: When I interviewed Your Majesty in 2007, I wrote that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the voice of sanity in the Middle East. When I crossed the bridge, I saw the picture of Your Majesty's father and Prime Minister Rabin. What has changed since then?

King Abdullah: That was an iconic period of our history. There was so much promise then of achieving the peace that all of us need. I remember my father watching the news when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated and how disturbed he was because of losing a partner for much bigger things than just friendship between Jordan and Israel, for achieving comprehensive peace for all of us. It takes two hands to clap. The peace we have today with Israel is not as warm a peace as some people believe.

Haaretz: Most of the Israelis are quite content with the status quo. Even the media declared victory when Netanyahu came back from the trilateral summit in New York without having to freeze the settlements.

King Abdullah: It's a victory for what? What kind of status quo? We're sliding back into the darkness. As for settlements, they are not just illegal and an obstacle to peace, but - if we all believe that the end game must be the establishment of a Palestinian state - then where is the sense in continuing to build settlements on the land of that state, and risk losing the opportunity to end the conflict?

Haaretz: How do we move forward?

King Abdullah: We can only go forward if we solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem and achieve comprehensive peace. If we keep the status quo, as you say, then we have a cold peace. I don't think that is what Israelis want; I don't think that is what Jordanians want and I don't think that is what the region needs.

Haaretz: People in Israel will tell you that in the last elections they decided in big numbers to have a right wing coalition that doesn't believe in dividing the land and freezing settlements.

King Abdullah: There is a difference between voting for short-term security as opposed to peace, which is long-term security. I keep saying, and people may not like it on the Israeli side: Is Israel going to be fortress Israel or is it going to be part of the neighbourhood? Because if there is no two-state solution, what future do we all have together?

Haaretz: A one-state solution?

King Abdullah: Well, the one-state solution, using your words and not mine - I think most people would feel that a two-state solution is the better of the two. But there is no third alternative. I've asked many Israelis: Show me the future of Israel ten years from now. Where do you want Israel to be vis-à-vis its relationship with Jordan and other Arab countries? I understand that you tend to live in the here and now. You are worried about the next threat. It is difficult for an Israeli to look into the future because of the security aspect. But if there is peace and stability, then people can look into the future.

Haaretz: What would you tell those Israelis about their future, ten years from now, if we don't reach a settlement on a two- state solution?

King Abdullah: That we all will continue to be hostage to conflict and tension. We have no alternative but to pursue a negotiated settlement that will meet Israel's security needs and ensure it has normal relations in the region, and fulfils the Palestinians' right to freedom and statehood. The Arab Peace Initiative offers an unprecedented opportunity to resolve the conflict and build a better future for all of us. We have made our choice, a peace that meets the legitimate needs of all. The initiative is not just about the two- state solution. It is about a 57-state solution, 57 nations, a third of the world, that still do not have a relationship with Israel, will have normal relations with Israel within the context of a comprehensive peace.

Haaretz: What needs to be done now, in light of the results of the New York summit between Obama, Abbas and Netanyahu?

King Abdullah: We must tackle the issue head on within a clear action plan. That means engagement in serious negotiations that tackle all final status issues, borders, refugees, settlements, Jerusalem, and build on the results of previous negotiations, within the framework of the already agreed terms of reference. We need to get to the end game: a two-state solution and comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbours.

We do not have time to engage in yet another open-ended process that does not achieve results. There is an opportunity to move forward and I believe that the commitment of President Obama to peace offers all parties a unique opportunity that we all must seize to achieve peace that will ensure security and stability to all of us. The challenge is to stop looking at short-term solutions that will only get us into more problems. I think there is much more anger on all sides. Do we want to see this anger trigger more war and more conflict or do we want to reach peace?

The world is changing. In the European Union as well as the new American administration, there is more courage to stick their necks out to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. But time has always been overriding.

Haaretz: In few days we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Will it be a happy celebration?

King Abdullah: Not as happy as it was when the peace treaty was signed. Our relationship is getting colder. There is always discussions and contact between governments and officials. But what about the people to people peace? The vision of His Late Majesty and Prime Minister Rabin?

Let's remember that the peace treaty was signed as part of a process to achieve comprehensive peace. And the full potential of not just Jordanian-Israeli relations, but the whole region, will not be realised unless comprehensive peace is achieved.

I remember that in his first meetings with me, Prime Minister Barak was talking about getting 30,000 highly educated Jordanians to go work in the high tech sector because we were talking about projects on either side; we were talking about our economies moving forward. There was still a momentum. Today for a Jordanian to go into Israel is almost impossible. We have only about 150,000 Israelis who come and visit us a year and most of these are Israeli Arabs. Trade is almost non existent, if you take the QIZ (Qualified industrial Zone) out of the picture.

The fifteenth anniversary is a reminder that when there is commitment to respecting the rights of the other, when there is leadership with the courage to make difficult decisions in the interest of the people, peace can be achieved. But it is also a reminder of the missed opportunities in the absence of regional peace. Imagine what we could have done together, what we could have achieved for our peoples if the regional environment was conducive for cooperation on economic development, the environment, water resources, and more.

Haaretz: I understand that you are extremely concerned about what's happening in Jerusalem. Why is Jerusalem so crucial to Jordan?

King Abdullah: We are very, very concerned. Jerusalem has tremendous significance for all three monotheistic religions and has the ability to unite all of us together. Unfortunately, we are seeing actions trying to change the realities on the ground. We have raised Jerusalem with every single Israeli prime minister. I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu: you have to understand the sensitivity and sanctity of Jerusalem. We cannot afford, at this time to make unilateral actions in Jerusalem that are going to jeopardise all these efforts. I have also raised this with the American administration.

Jerusalem is a tinderbox. At a time when we have been working very, very hard with Arab and Muslim countries, with the American administration and the European Union to get Palestinians and the Israelis to the peace table and solve this problem once and for all, we are seeing problems in Jerusalem that will directly destabilise not only the relationship with Jordan, which has a special concern and role in Jerusalem that is recognised in the peace treaty, but will also create a tinderbox that will have a major flashpoint throughout the Islamic world.

Haaretz: Prime Minister Netanyahu tells us that Jerusalem is united, and that Israel has applied its law.

King Abdullah: There is West Jerusalem, and there is East Jerusalem, which is part of the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel should stop all unilateral actions that threaten the holy sites and the identity of the holy city. Jerusalem is a city that unites Muslims, Christians and Jews in equality.

Haaretz: Do you support bringing back the physical wall to Jerusalem, as part of the final status settlement?

King Abdullah: I don't believe in walls. We don't want to see walls anywhere. Walls eventually do come down. Putting up walls has never helped societies.

Haaretz: How can you convince the Israelis, who supported the disengagement from Gaza, that the West bank will not also turn to "Hamastan", once Israel pulls out from there?

King Abdullah: The disengagement from Gaza was a unilateral decision that was implemented with a lack of coordination. When it happened, I remember being very angry because it looked almost as if it was meant to create a problem. And then Gaza was isolated. So of course it is going to start to bubble over. Now if what happened in Gaza is to happen in the West Bank, it will only happen if again you create a virtual prison. But if you move to peace and prosperity you are not going to have that problem.

We are all human beings. We want what is good for our children. We want to have better education for our families, we want health care, we want to have a good life. If we get hope into the peace process we can bring Israelis and Palestinians to the table to solve their problems.

Haaretz: Many Israelis were disappointed that President Obama was not able to deliver more normalisation with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

King Abdullah: A lot of Arab countries believe that Israel does not want peace. There may be a lot of Israelis who say Arabs don't want peace. Until we break that rut and move forward in negotiations towards the solution, we will not have breakthroughs. Remember that we were expecting the Israelis and the Palestinians to be sitting together back in June and July for serious and effective negotiations. But that did not happen. So it's not that the Arabs don't want peace- it's the problem of how to move forward.

Haaretz: You've got a report from the foreign minister of Egypt on the reconciliation negotiations between Hamas and Fatah. Do you see an opportunity for that?

King Abdullah: You can move Hamas and Fatah together but you cannot keep it in isolation of what goes on in the bigger picture. As we move, God willing, to the peace table, it is far easier to have reconciliation because at the end of the day, Hamas or Fatah, they get their power, their raison d'être from the people. And if the people feel that there is going to be an ability to achieve the two-state solution, then there will be much more pressure internally for these groups to sort out their differences.

Haaretz: What is your vision regarding the nuclear regime in the Middle East?

King Abdullah: What Jordan is going to do through its peaceful nuclear energy program is show the region how a country that wants to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes should do it right. I think we are trying to be the model of how to do the process correctly. I know that there is concern. The reactors we are looking at are Generation III Plus, which is by far the safest and most capable technology. It is safe from earthquake, natural disasters, terrorist attacks. The technology we are looking at is one, if not two, generations ahead of what you have. We will, and we all should, be transparent when it comes to nuclear energy.

Haaretz: When you talk about transparency do you have in mind Israel?

King Abdullah: Everybody. The problem that we have when it comes to nuclear issue is that there is no transparency. It's sort of a dark subject. And that applies to Israel as it applies to other countries.