Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Ayman Safadi
Al Ghad
01 July 2007
(Translated from Arabic)

Al Ghad: Your Majesty participated several days ago in the four-way summit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli prime minister in Sharm El Sheikh. Has the summit achieved what you hoped it would?

King Abdullah: I would have liked to see more achievements for the Palestinians. The atmosphere of meetings was positive to a certain extent. We had wanted to revive the political process, but regardless of what we do as Arab and Islamic or Western states, without a clear Israeli plan that outlines what it hopes to achieve in the next few months, whatever is done will be ineffective. Unless Israel commits to required procedures to achieve peace, our own efforts will lead nowhere. Our message to Israel, whether before or during the summit, was that they needed to show us their intentions towards the Palestinian people. The peace that everyone aspires to can't be achieved unless Israel outlines specific timelines from now into the coming months. This comes as we are working internationally to gain support for the Palestinian people and resume negotiations. This has been the thrust of my recent talks with American officials, with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is EU president and president of the G-8, and with the new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and this will be the main message of my talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy when I visit France next Wednesday, and in Portugal, which will hold the rotating EU presidency next. We do not aspire to just an effective American role but also a powerful European participation, where all eyes will be on the peace process and how to bring back the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table, according to a clear plan.

Al Ghad: Is there any way to pressure Israel to convince it of the need to move towards peace, and distance Olmert from his tactical calculations towards practical or actual steps towards peace?

King Abdullah: Don't forget that there was movement before the summit. There were contacts between Jordan and Egypt, and coordination and cooperation among the moderate Arab states, with the aim of pushing Israel to take real steps towards peace. I went to the quadrilateral summit despite the fact that I was not necessarily convinced that we would achieve everything that we wanted. But our duty is to do whatever we can to support the Palestinians. Over the coming days we will see how Israel moves on issues like prisoner release, releasing Palestinian funds and organising meetings between the two sides. There has to be specific, measurable criteria according to which the world can evaluate Israeli policies towards the peace process.

Al Ghad: The latest events in Palestine which led to Hamas asserting control over Gaza and the dissolution of the national unity government have been an unprecedented blow in the history of the Palestinians. To what extent does Your Majesty think it is possible to control the situation and how can it be done?

King Abdullah: We feel sorrow and anger about what has happened. The Palestinian arena is sliding down a dangerous path, and the repercussions of these events threaten the unity of the Palestinian people, who have fought for decades to restore their legitimate rights and establish an independent state on their national soil. We are concerned about the situation in the Palestinian territories, and we are calling for a return to Palestinian legitimacy and for maintaining the unity between the West Bank and Gaza as one entity in order to preserve Palestinian interests. The status quo exposes the Palestinian situation to chaos, which is absolutely unacceptable and weakens the position of Arabs and Palestinians. This situation serves the enemies of the Palestinian people and constrains Palestinian aspirations to end the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state. We call on our brothers in Palestine to exercise reason and fix the situation, and urge them not to adopt a policy of imposing the status quo. On-the-ground "victories" that are not of a Palestinian nationalist nature, amid continued occupation, are definitely not in the Palestinian interest. We warn here that the separation of Gaza from the West Bank will have catastrophic consequences for the Palestinians, especially those in Gaza who are exhausted by the siege.

Al Ghad: What is the solution, in Your Majesty's opinion?

King Abdullah: As I mentioned earlier, the Palestinian cause must supersede all other interests. We do not want to give Israel or any other party a pretext to say that the Palestinians are divided and they do not know with whom to negotiate. Continued in-fighting and the collapse of Palestinian unity exacerbates and sidetracks the problem and will set it back by years. Here, we call for commitment to the legitimacy of the Palestinian National Authority that represents the Palestinian people. There should also be a concerted effort to break the deadlock in the peace process and re-launch real and serious negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel that will result in a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue, and move towards a Palestinian state that will provide the Palestinian people with security, freedom and stability. Undoubtedly, the threat to the Palestinian cause is tremendous, and efforts to address it should be rapid and responsible. Those who want to deny justice to the Palestinians should not be given the chance to do so. This can only be done by returning to Palestinian legitimacy and the formulation of a Palestinian position that gives the Palestinians' friends and supporters the ability to push for a revival of a peace process that will end the injustice.

Al Ghad: How concerned is Jordan about the repercussions of the Gaza events? Does Your Majesty fear that these events will affect Jordan?

King Abdullah: We are not concerned about Jordan. Our confidence in our people is tremendous. Jordan has been for years surrounded by regional, sectarian and ethnic conflict and tension. Thank God, our unity and our people's awareness of the dangers surrounding us has fortified our country against the repercussions of the conflicts surrounding it. Our concern is for the Palestinian people, who alone pay for what is happening in the Palestinian territories in terms of siege, hunger, infighting and loss of hope. In addition to our brotherly position and historic ties to the Palestinians, Jordan has political, strategic and security interests in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Al Ghad: Does Your Majesty think there is a real chance for serious peace negotiations in light of the Israeli government's weakness, especially now that with events in Gaza, it can negate an independent Palestinian state and push towards the so-called West Bank first, which would give Palestinians their daily rights but close the file of political rights.

King Abdullah: There is no doubt that the situation is difficult. But Israel will not achieve the security it seeks unless it responds to Palestinian political rights. Briefly, the security of Israel is hostage to the security and stability of the Palestinians. That is why we will continue to pressure Israel directly and through the international community to commit it to implementing international resolutions that correspond to the establishment of a Palestinian state as a prerequisite for the region's stability. It is necessary to end the suffering of the Palestinian people and to improve their living conditions. Nothing but the establishment of a Palestinian state can solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Slogans have lustre, and many people thrive on them. But the reality is that the Palestinians face a solid enemy that works according to programmes and plans. This reality must be dealt with objectively, and we must work on achievement instead of appealing to emotions, which will only lead to even greater harm to the Palestinians. There is Arab consensus on the Arab Peace Initiative, and there is an international position that supports the restoration of Palestinian rights. The Palestinians are obligated to put their house in order so that we may exert more effort to help them.

Al Ghad: Does Your Majesty fear a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and is there any way to protect the residents of Gaza from any plans to isolate them and Hamas' control over Gaza?

King Abdullah: We have done and will continue to do our duty in Jordan towards our people in Gaza, and in our conversations and discussions with international powers, we emphasise the need to help the Palestinian people in Gaza by ensuring the flow of aid and other assistance. There is no difference between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. All Palestinians are our family, and whoever thinks that he can distinguish among the Palestinian people is plain wrong. The cause is one, the struggle is one. And we will stand by them and for them.

Al Ghad: The events in Palestine have revived the issue of confederation with Jordan, or the administrative annexation of the West Bank to Jordan as a way out of the crisis. Despite Jordan's emphasis that confederation before independence is not an option, there are those who speak of Israeli and American pressure on Jordan to accept this arrangement.

King Abdullah: We've grown tired of discussing this issue. Our position is clear and has been made public. No one can do anything to change it. We refuse the notion of confederation or federation. This proposal at this stage is a conspiracy against both Palestine and Jordan. Our position is clear and principled. We cannot accept these solutions, no matter what the pressures are. As for the future relationship with Palestine, it's premature to discuss it. This will only be done after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on Palestinian soil. The Jordanian and Palestinian people will decide the form of this relationship. Jordanians refuse any settlement of the Palestinian issue at their expense. I say clearly that the idea of confederation or federation, or what is called administrative responsibility, is a conspiracy against the Palestinian cause, and Jordan will not involve itself in it. Despite that, and as we have stressed earlier, once the Palestinian decision is sovereign and once a state of law and institutions is established west of the river on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the form of relationship between Jordan and Palestine will be a decision of the people. Everyone knows that the only solution is the establishment of a Palestinian state, and Israel should clarify what it wants. If it wants permanent and lasting peace, it has to move quickly towards that solution. It must explain to the Palestinians, the Arabs and the rest of the world what it wants. We will continue to monitor the situation, and we will not hesitate to confront any plan, whether from Israel or elsewhere, that evades the condition for peace: the establishment of a Palestinian state. We will continue to work, discuss and exert pressure to achieve that. Whoever wants peace should not circumvent its conditions by advancing alternative proposals, such as confederation and federation. Those who want peace should exert every possible effort to reach a two-state solution.

Al Ghad: Your Majesty, is this a message to Israel?

King Abdullah: This is a message to Israel and to everyone who tries to solve the issue at the expense of Jordan and the Palestinians.

Al Ghad: There are those who accuse Jordan of siding with one party against the other in the Palestinian arena, who argue that Jordan is biased towards President Abbas in his conflict with Hamas. How does Your Majesty respond to these accusations?

King Abdullah: We are biased in favour of the Palestinian right. We deal with the PNA and support it with all our might in order that it can achieve its objective to end the injustice on the Palestinians and establish the independent Palestinian state. We deal with governments, not parties. We do not accept, just as no country in the world would accept, that a state establishes ties with a particular party in another state. The PNA is Palestinian legitimacy, and we deal with that. And let's be frank. States that deal with parties are those that want to exploit these parties to advance their own interests and agendas. History is replete with such examples. No state has ever supported a party within that state just because it has beautiful eyes. We have no agenda but to help the Palestinian people restore their rights, and we believe its legitimate institutions represent this nation, and hence we support those institutions and their programmes that seek to achieve independence and dignity for the Palestinian people.

Al Ghad: Some voices say that international support for President Abbas may cost him his credibility, because there is a prevailing impression that international support is against Hamas, not necessarily to achieve Palestinian rights. What is the support that Abbas needs?

King Abdullah: Once again let me emphasise that whoever seeks to divide the Palestinian people is exposing this nation to more catastrophe. Despite the existence of states and other actors who would use Palestinian suffering to serve their own agendas, there are many who work in earnest to help the Palestinians. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and most Arab and Muslim states do not want the Palestinians' suffering to continue, and many world countries know that there can be no security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East without a solution that delivers justice to the Palestinians. We are aware that the support that President Abbas wants and needs is support to re-launch the peace process and advance it towards a solution that ends the occupation. We realise the causes of the crisis and the conditions for its resolution, and in all our efforts we stress that supporting President Abbas is to support a just cause and the conditions that enable him to serve his people, improve their living conditions and respond to their political rights.

Al Ghad: Does Your Majesty expect progress in resolving regional crises in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, or do you expect tensions to escalate this summer?

King Abdullah: It all depends on what is achieved over the next few months. The problem is that each party fears the other side. That is why we are witnessing an unprecedented state of mobilisation. We will intensify our efforts to alleviate these tensions, but the parties directly concerned are the only ones capable of resolving these conflicts. We support our brothers in Iraq with all our ability to achieve security and stability and to overcome the chaos there. We support Lebanon's stability and stand by those who seek to preserve the country as a secure and stable country where no one interferes in its affairs. We stand by its legitimate institutions and call on the Lebanese to put the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese first. Naturally, our message to Israel is to end the occupation and end the suffering of the Palestinian people as the only way to achieve its own security and regional stability.

Al Ghad: Does Your Majesty think that regional tensions are partly a result of conflicts between two agendas: one supportive of radical forces and the other supportive of moderate forces? What can moderate forces do to strengthen people's acceptance of its programmes?

King Abdullah: I will speak here about our programme and will not discuss those of others. The issues are clear for anyone who wants to see them. We want to build a model nation that is capable, secure and democratic; one that opens horizons so that its sons and daughters may achieve. We realise that the security and prosperity of the region are interconnected. Those who believe in the people's right to freedom and a life of dignity should work to promote the culture of life and confront the powers that promote a culture of violence and intolerance. We believe that economic reform is inevitable and there is no alternative to it, and we will continue our reform programme until the end. Those who undermine people's intelligence and arrogate to themselves the right as custodians are wrong. Our objective is reform that flows from renaissance and enlightenment. We are confident that with the awareness of our people and their sense of belonging, our project for Jordan's future will triumph, God willing. Moderate forces in the region are many, and they are making tremendous efforts to entrench our programme, which aims to build a better future for people. Voices of moderation should be raised because they want the best interests of their people and to serve their causes. Moderate states should remain effective and continue to move and coordinate and meet in order to reach their objective of reaching regional security and prosperity for the region's peoples. Any regression in the effectiveness in moderate states will be in the interest of those who stoke tension. I assure you that we will remain effective.

Al Ghad: What is the fate of the Arab Peace Initiative in light of the escalating conditions in the region, and what are the possibilities of achieving its objectives?

King Abdullah: The initiative, to which the Arab leaders renewed their commitment in Riyadh, aims to revive the peace process and establish a just solution to the Palestinian question and the Arab-Israeli conflict that has gone on for decades now. We worked diligently after the Riyadh summit to revive the initiative and promote it both regionally and internationally. I met with Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals and opinion leaders to encourage them to explain the initiative amongst moderate forces in their communities and to emphasise the need to adopt it in order to achieve peace and end the state of conflict. We knew that there would be others who would try to derail this initiative and to create circumstances that would obstruct any movement forward. We warned our Palestinian brothers about the dangers of internal strife and division and the ramifications this would have on our ability to find a permanent peace settlement and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. We are determined, in spite of the critical conditions, to achieve a breakthrough in the peace process that will restore to its owners their rights and spare the region an escalation and expansion of conflict. There must be an urgent revision of the Arab position, and intense efforts among all parties to prevent the current deterioration in the Palestinian arena.

Al Ghad: How does Your Majesty view Jordanian-Saudi relations, particularly in light of the visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to Jordan? Has this relationship reached the level to which you aspire?

King Abdullah: Thank God, the relationship is strategic, and the trust between the Custodian of the Mosques and me is extremely strong. God willing, the Jordanian-Saudi relationship will be a model for other Arab states. I am extremely comfortable with the quality of our relations. Coordination between moderate Arab states is at its best levels. The visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques was successful by all standards. We discussed all problematic files, including the Palestinian issue and the situation in Iraq and Lebanon. Our points of view are similar on all issues, to a large extent. We both oppose regional interference in these issues. Here I would like to extend our appreciation and gratitude to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for his honourable and principled stand in support of us. Saudi economic assistance we receive has contributed to the Kingdom's economic and financial stability, and enabled us to initiate several development projects in different regions of the country. Once again, our relationship with Saudi Arabia is a model for Arab ties. We are confident that this relationship will develop and improve and will be in the service of Arab and Islamic issues.

Al Ghad: There are views that say the current elections law will result in a parliament that is similar to the current legislature. What does Your Majesty think?

King Abdullah: We are constantly striving to foster the democratic process in Jordan. And we continue to aspire to political parties that have clear programmes and policies addressing people's social, economic and other concerns and that win the admiration and support of the voters and that strengthen democracy, inclusion and pluralism. We anticipate having real and effective party life where parties produce candidates who are elected on the basis of the party's political programmes. Unfortunately, many parties are still unable to act effectively on the political scene or convince the people of the importance of participating in party work. In the end, we want a parliament that is strong, and meets the expectations and aspirations of our people and that is able to address the challenges that we face. We count on the awareness of the sons and daughters of our nation to participate in decision-making by electing the person they see as the most capable and appropriate for this phase. Elections will happen this year. I have said from the beginning that there will be municipal and parliamentary elections, and that is what will happen. We want the elections to push Jordan in the right direction. Jordanian citizens are able to distinguish between those who can deliver progress and advance the project of renaissance and those who obstruct it. We want the votes of Jordanians to overcome the challenges the country and the region face. Here, I would like to say to Jordanian youth, I count on them to participate en masse in the elections and give their support to those who can achieve our aspirations which are theirs, and our vision for building Jordan, which is their vision. I meet them regularly and every time I do, they raise my morale. I count on them, and when I sit with them, I am optimistic about Jordan's future. Jordan's future requires that words, vision and ideas are translated into tangible actions. Participation in elections is a key step towards translating this vision.