Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Nik Gowing
World News Today
21 May 2007

BBC: Your Majesty, welcome to “BBC World.” What is your analysis of what is happening in Gaza and the deterioration there?

King Abdullah: What is happening in Gaza now is very worrying to all of us, and it comes at the worst time possible where we're actually trying to get all sides together.

BBC: Do you have a clear analysis of what really is happening, because it's two months since the Mecca Agreement, which was designed to end all this factional fighting on the streets?

King Abdullah: Yes, I think it's again, it's an issue that just erupted between both parties, but I do know from all our accounts that both sides Fatah and Hamas are trying to bring calm as quickly as possible, because I think they realise that it's very easy for this issue to spin out of control. And so, there are efforts by both parties and by all of us in the region to try and calm the situation as quickly as possible.

BBC: Is this about a power struggle at the top of Hamas and Fatah, or is it street-level power?

King Abdullah: I think it's a bit of both. I would say that at least the leaders are being very responsible on both sides now, because whatever's happening on the street now can get out of control. Our reports indicate that leadership on either side are trying to bring calm as quickly as possible.

BBC: Think about that language from Mecca. Remarkable. When you had both sides sitting there, saying, “It's an end to fighting. It's an end to factionalism.” Why, though, has that not endured? Here we are just two months on.

King Abdullah: Well, there is, I think, quite a wide ideological difference between both groups, and that's one of the challenges that the Palestinians have. They have to keep in mind that overshadowing their difficulties is really this final opportunity for peace and the final opportunity for a Palestinian state. My concern is that this infighting or this civil disorder at the moment will affect the future of Palestine. And this is why I think for all of us it's so urgent that we bring stability back to Gaza and to the Palestinians as quickly as possible.

BBC: You've been down this road before where you've had agreements and it's very difficult to keep to them. You had this incredible agreement in Mecca two months ago, yet it appears that this has been disregarded by those on the streets. What does that tell you about political power?

King Abdullah: Well, it's very difficult to keep the leaders and the people focused on the larger picture, and our messaging to the Palestinians is: keep the bigger picture in mind. There's a finite window of opportunity for a two-state solution, which I think is diminishing very, very quickly, and if we don't keep our eye on the prize, then we'll all be in trouble. And this is the message that we give to the Palestinians.

BBC: How fragile therefore, how testing, is it for the unity government, which has brought together Hamas and Fatah?

King Abdullah: I think this is a big test for them. And our major concern is that if they don't get past this phase, then this could be a tremendous blow to the future integrity of the unity government. This is why we want the situation resolved as quickly as possible.

BBC: What's your analysis of the power play going on among the ministers and officials, quite apart from the problem of then filtering down that message to the street?

King Abdullah: I think the leadership at the level that you're talking about is aware of the dangers, or becoming more aware of what is there to lose for the Palestinians. And again, as you're saying, it's just going to take some time until the word filters down to the street. But again, everyday that we lose is going to be tremendously damaging for any process that we're trying to launch at the moment.

BBC: There is another new development of course, which is not just about Fatah and Hamas on the streets targeting each other. Now you've got targeting, once again, of Israel. This is an escalation and you know very well the way the Israelis are reading this. Is there a dramatic return to where we were probably a year ago?

King Abdullah: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think that the leaders realise on all sides. Again, the Israelis and the Israeli leadership [are] mindful of the Arab peace proposal that I don't think is back to the drawing board. We see a spike of tension and crises, and I think that's why everybody's scrambling to restore calm as quickly as possible, because we don't want to lose the next month or two due to the instability that allows the extremists to call victory against the peace process.

BBC: What do you think, then? What's been your reaction when you've had Israeli warplanes targeting, very specifically, Hamas headquarters?

King Abdullah: We want all sides to be a positive element of bringing stability back. So, we're reaching out as Arab countries to Fatah and Hamas. Also, Jordan and Egypt are reaching out to Israel. We need cooler heads to prevail at the moment, because if one element is involved in targeting all violence, then it's very easy for the other elements to get into it. We just need anybody to sort of back off, understanding that Israel has some major concerns of having rockets fired at their country.

BBC: But do you fear what some might consider an impetuous move by the Israelis to assert themselves in Gaza, given what's happening internally, but for domestic Israeli political reasons?

King Abdullah: That is always a concern, and again, we keep reminding all the players to keep their eye on the prize, the larger picture, which is trying to launch the peace process. By the way, whenever we come close to launching a process, this is when extremists on all sides want to destabilise the issue and create arguments not to move forward. So, whenever we come closer to getting the parties to resolve their differences and take that step forward, these things happen. We just need to keep our eye on the bigger prize.

BBC: I'm tempted to therefore put to you the remarkable progress that was made in Northern Ireland two weeks ago. Now, you could have said, there were equal moments of despair over many years, including in the last decade, when people thought it was impossible to get any kind of deal. Do you think there's something in what we've seen in Northern Ireland, which one day could be applicable here, which would end what we're seeing in Gaza at the moment?

King Abdullah: Having studied in England for many years, I always see many comparisons of the complications of Northern Ireland and the difficulties that the British and the Irish face to what we have here; there are a lot of similarities. But, what it comes down to, I think what history shows, is that people with the right conscience do not give up. As difficult and as dark it gets, we have to keep trying, and this is what we're saying, specifically on the Palestinian issue, because physically in a year or two we may not have much left in a Palestinian state to talk about. Therefore, if we don't have a Palestinian state, can we ever have pace between the Arabs and the Israelis? This is why we are trying our hardest to launch the process now, knowing that it is not the right time, but it is really the only time that we have left to us.

BBC: Can I finally ask you about the implications of what is happening in Iran. Because you're trying to still keep the crisis here focused on the Palestinian question, yet there are those who say that Iran is really creating enormous challenges.

King Abdullah: We have always understood in this part of the world that everything in this part of the world is interconnected. That's the difficulty I think that the West has, of connecting the dots, and we're looking at all these regional issues as big pieces of a puzzle. And I say that the most critical piece of the puzzle for the future of the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian one.

BBC: So Iran does not broaden the issue. Iraq does not broaden the issue.

King Abdullah: They're all interconnected. But if we want to start pushing the Middle East back into the light, we need to start getting some wins. I keep saying that the core issue, all the issues that we have in the Middle East, the central issue at the heart and the emotional centre of all Arabs and Muslims is the Israeli-Palestinian one. If we can move that in the positive direction, it allows us much more flexibility in dealing with the others.

BBC: Your Majesty, thank you very much indeed.