Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Petr Pesec
Lidovy Noviny
06 April 2009

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, what message are you bringing to the Czech Republic?

King Abdullah: This is my first official visit to the Czech Republic, and the members of the Jordanian delegation and I are eager to discuss with President Klaus and other officials the areas where we can advance our bilateral cooperation, as well as the cooperation between our two regions.

I am here because the Czech Republic also has an important role to play today in the Middle East as president of the European Union, and I will be discussing with President Klaus the future of Middle East peace-making.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, it has been exactly 10 years since you ascended to the throne in February. What do you consider as the biggest success of your ten-year rule?

King Abdullah: Our priority has been to provide Jordanians with the best life they can possibly get. Our human talent has always been our greatest asset, so my focus has been to improve the quality of life for all Jordanians, equipping youth with the education and skills they need to compete and achieve and open new horizons, reduce poverty and unemployment and keep the country on a steady course towards progress and development. Much has been done and more needs to be realised. We want to involve all Jordanians in the process of deciding their future.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, is there something that you – from today’s perspective – would do differently?

King Abdullah: I can only wish that there were more hours in a day so that we can accomplish more in terms of national development.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, Jordan plays an extremely important role in the Middle East, especially in the regional peace process. Your country has also signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. After 15 years, what are the positives - and negatives - this brave step brought to your country?

King Abdullah: We have always viewed the peace treaty with Israel as part of our efforts to bring about comprehensive peace to the region. We have tried to use our relations with Israel to encourage them to move forward towards this comprehensive peace whose main requirement is a settlement with the Palestinians on the basis of the two state solution.

Our peace treaty with Israel was concluded after Israel agreed to return occupied land and rights in joint water resources. But the full potential of the treaty cannot be realised unless there is a comprehensive peace. No country in the region, including Jordan, can realise its full potential as long as there is conflict. It’s still very much a barrier to trans-border cooperation, knowledge exchange, investment, trade – all the elements of a sustainable, dynamic regional economy. And it is frustrating – especially when I consider the millions of young people in our region who deserve opportunity, security and stability in their lives – that their bright future is being undermined by the failure so far to achieve peace.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, if you compare the situation in the Middle East in 1994 and now, the picture is not so good. Dozens - or maybe hundreds - of terrorist attacks, a few open wars and a frozen peace process. What can change this gloomy picture?

King Abdullah: Political will and hard work. I think that the political will is there in the international community – the US and Europe, especially, and most importantly in the Arab world. We need the international community to continuously encourage the parties back to the negotiating table, to throw its full weight behind negotiations aimed at resolving the conflict on the basis of the two-state solution, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative. This offers Israel normal relations with All Arab states in return for withdrawal from occupied Arab lands and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The international community must emphasise to Israel that a Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest – it is the only solution to the conflict and the catalyst for comprehensive peace.

In Jordan we‘ve done whatever we can to help end the conflict on the basis that we believe will ensure lasting and comprehensive peace. And we will continue to do so. We have worked closely with Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, to advance the Arab vision for peace that is detailed in the Arab Peace Initiative. We are supporting Egypt‘s efforts for Palestinian reconciliation. We have supported Palestinian institution-building and worked to alleviate human suffering in the Palestinian territories. We use our international contacts to encourage the international community to engage in peace-making.

But in the end the parties must do their share too. The Palestinians have to put their house in order and end their differences. And more importantly, Israel has to make a strategic choice for peace. Israel has said that it is committed to the peace process and committed to negotiations. But at this point, there has to be a commitment to something more than an endless “process” and negotiations for the sake of negotiating. There has to be a commitment to ending the conflict according to the only solution that is known and internationally accepted, even by many in Israel: a two-state solution – an independent Palestinian state, living alongside Israel in peace and security.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, the Czech Republic as European Union president exerted great efforts to settle the situation following the conflict in the Gaza Strip, but with mixed results. Is there anything that such a small country as the Czech Republic can achieve in Middle Eastern conflict, when even the USA is unable to solve it?

King Abdullah: Yes. The Czech Republic does have an important role to play, especially right now as the country holding the EU presidency. As I said, the international community, including the EU as the region’s near neighbour, can start focusing minds on where things need to go by speaking frankly to the parties about what needs to happen and what the consequences are if they don’t live up to their responsibility to solve this conflict.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, one of the most controversial issues in the West is the question of whether or not to deal with Hamas. During your recent visit to Rabat, you and King Mohammed VI of Morocco called for a “united Palestinian government”. If there will be no such government, should West deal with Hamas alone?

King Abdullah: What the Arab states want is for the Palestinians to end their internal divisions, because we see that their internal conflicts are undermining their dream of an independent Palestinian state. These internal differences also are coming at a high cost to the Palestinian people in their day-to-day lives.

As far as whether or not countries should deal with one party or another, in Jordan, we conduct our international relations with governments, not parties. We do hope that reconciliation efforts, led by Egypt, succeed in forming a Palestinian government capable of serving its people and realising their rights, and that government will have our full support.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, now back to Jordan. You are praised as promoter of reforms, especially in the economic arena. Do you have any limits on political liberalization? Last year a new law on political parties went into effect. How do you see the common danger to the whole Arab world that liberal political reforms can bring to power not-so-liberal forces – e.g. Islamic fundamentalists?

King Abdullah: We view our reform as a holistic process, where reforms in one area support and reinforce reforms in another. And we need much more participation in decision-making to make our development process more effective. Many years ago I said that political reform is essential for the success of economic reforms.

But reform is also a process. We recognise that we still have much more to do but in the meanwhile we have made major legislative reforms to ensure there is a political environment that encourages the emergence of effective, competitive political parties that represent the array of opinion in the country and that have clear platforms. We are also working on transferring some of the decision-making capability to more local levels, through decentralization plan that started last month.

As for your question on the Islamists, they are integral part of our social fabric and body politic. Like all Jordanians, they exercise their political rights and participate in public life. We are a stable country governed by our Constitution and our laws. And we encourage all Jordanians to contribute to the political life in the country.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, another common issue is the development of nuclear power, especially because of fears concerning Iranian nuclear program. Your country is also planning to develop nuclear power, even through strictly for energy purposes. But, don’t you see danger of “nuclearization” of the Middle East? Sometimes there is little distance between civilian use of nuclear energy and nuclear military power.

King Abdullah: There is a danger of nuclear weapons proliferation in general in the world today, not just the Middle East. But as far as it concerns my region of the world in particular, Jordan has always called for a region free of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, everywhere in the world, countries are looking for alternative energy solutions, and this includes Jordan. So for the sake of global peace and security, it is becoming more important than ever before to ensure that nuclear programs are declared and that they adhere to international treaties and conventions. And this is the first rule of our own nuclear energy programme.

Lidovy Noviny: Your Majesty, final question: If you hear Czech Republic, what is the first thing you think of?

King Abdullah: I am sure I am not alone in recalling the dramatic images of the Velvet Revolution that ended two decades of foreign occupation of the former Czechoslovakia. It was a powerful example of peaceful change. And when I observe the incredible growth and development of the Czech Republic in such a few short years, its rapid integration into Europe and the world… well, it is an example of what we in the Middle East are missing out on by failing to end conflict. And I cannot help but admire what you have done and wish for such a happy scenario in the Middle East.