Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Saad Silawi
07 May 2006
(Translated from Arabic)

MBC: Your Majesty, let's start with the terrorism that threatens people's security, especially in this region. Please allow me to be frank. You announced after the attacks on Amman last November that you would draft a new, firm security strategy to deal with terrorism. Frankly, there are fears that standing up to terrorism would be a pretext for restricting freedoms in a country where you regularly proclaim that the sky is the limit for freedom.

King Abdullah: First, it is important to stress that terrorism does not threaten one country or region alone. It is a danger that threatens any country in the world, and we should not allow terrorism to change our way of life or affect public freedoms or citizens' right to live in security, freedom and dignity. As I've said in the past, we, in Jordan, will not allow terrorists to transform our democratic country into a police state. Terror cannot be fought with only straightforward security measures, but with a comprehensive strategy to foster a culture of dialogue that rejects violence and [denounces] the exploitation of democracy or religion to justify terrorist acts. Jordan has started to draft such a strategy and put in place an anti-terrorism law. This law will not be at the expense of democracy or public freedoms.

MBC: Your answer is reassuring, Your Majesty. For there were fears that the Jordanian state would turn into a police state but I understand from Your Majesty that there are those who support and agree with acts of terrorism, especially those in Jordan who adhere to takfiri thought and view terrorists such as Zarqawi, Ben Laden and Zawahiri and others as heroes?

King Abdullah: Not just in Jordan, in many countries. There are some writers in the press and some satellite stations and some preachers in mosques who promote a culture of violence who justify terrorism or portray these crimes as heroic or as being a sort of jihad. It is important to remind everyone that the terrorists who kill people in Islam's name and in defence of Muslims have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, or the ones they consider to be enemies of Islam. Therefore, we need to put an end to those who promote the culture of violence and those who justify terrorism, because those who justify it are terrorists' partner in crime. I am sure that the majority of our people are united against terrorists.

MBC: Yes, maybe so, especially after the latest Amman tragedy targeting a Jordanian wedding. I will go beyond this tragic issue as many Jordanians have and move to another hot issue, Iraq, which is witnessing political organisation. Your Majesty, what is your evaluation of the situation in Iraq now?

King Abdullah: Hopefully, the developments in Iraq over the past days concerning agreement on a president and prime minister and president of the Iraqi National Assembly are positive signs and a step towards building institutions in the Iraqi state and the empowerment of the Iraqi people to achieve sovereignty throughout Iraqi territory. We also hope that this government will represent all sectors of the Iraqi people, and will not be dominated by one sect or group in order to ensure security and stability and a free, dignified life for all Iraqis, in which any differences, sectarian, ethnic or political, are alleviated.

MBC: From Your Majesty's wishes to Iraq and Iraqis, let's go on to your efforts in another hot area, Palestine. Your Majesty what is your forecast for the peace process after Hamas' victory in Palestinian elections and its formation of a government and the formation of the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert's leadership?

King Abdullah: It is necessary for everyone to realise that the Middle East peace process is not tied to parties as much as it is to governments and states. It is also the right of people of the region and future generations to live in peace and stability. [The realisation of this right] is an international demand articulated in UN resolutions and international legitimacy. The peace process today has become hostage to the agenda of the new Israeli government and the new Palestinian government's programme. All the peace supporters in the region are required to work to maintain the momentum of the peace process and build upon what has been achieved in order not to lose an historic opportunity - one that may be the last for a peace settlement and the emergence of a Palestinian state.

MBC: The Palestinian state is an historic opportunity, and I recall a previous meeting I had with President Hosni Mubarak where he said that the Palestinian cause is that of lost opportunities. Your Majesty, will there really be a Palestinian state, especially if you consider that the peace process is almost at a standstill, with no serious steps since the withdrawal from Gaza and Hamas' electoral victory, which led to the international community's decision to pressure Hamas by refusing to deal with it. The question today is: isn't Hamas' presence in government the choice of the Palestinian people?

King Abdullah: First, the world has to respect the choice of the Palestinian people and their right to choose their leadership. We in Jordan are keen to support Palestinians until they achieve their rights and a Palestinian state is established. We will deal with the new Palestinian government according to our national policy. We hope that the Palestinians, especially Hamas, will apply the utmost realism in dealing with all that concerns the Palestinian cause, bearing in mind the position of the world around us and the many new realities that cannot be ignored or changed. Everyone must bear in mind that the window of opportunity for a settlement is two years, and I fear that if this short time passes without reaching a settlement, the Palestinians will have nothing left over which to negotiate. I also urge the Middle East Quartet to reactivate the Roadmap to push the peace process forward so we do not lose this opportunity and everyone returns to the point we started years ago.

MBC: Just two years? If the two-year period expires without reaching an agreement that realises a Palestinian state (with a reminder that 2005 was the date for statehood which never happened). Will Jordan have a role in the West Bank and what is the form of the future relationship between Jordan and Palestine, presuming that the state never materialises?

King Abdullah: First, I must stress that Jordan has no special agenda and no ambitions in the West Bank. Despite the fact that many Palestinians in West Bank towns and villages are aware of and appreciate the huge sacrifices that Jordan made in order to preserve the West Bank and Palestinian rights, there nevertheless remains a whole generation of Palestinians who were raised under occupation after 1967. They may not be aware of Jordan's real role or what it has done for the Palestinian cause, since many of this generation were frequently influenced by certain Palestinian organisations and some Arab regimes that made unwarranted accusations against Jordan, cast doubt on the sincerity of its policies and blamed Jordan for actions that undermined the Palestinian cause when those actions were actually done by some Arab regimes and some Palestinians.

MBC: Your Majesty, you speak of unjust accusations against Jordan and scepticism about its role. Why don't you discuss this issue frankly with the Palestinians and agree on the form of this relationship in case a Palestinian state never emerges?

King Abdullah: This is a very sensitive and extremely complicated issue. If we were to raise this issue now, Jordan will be accused of having an agenda or ambitions in the West Bank. If we were to leave it solely up to the Palestinians, Jordan will likewise be accused of not doing enough to help the Palestinians. The only way out of this dilemma is for a Palestinian state to be established on Palestinian soil. After that we can see what will be.

MBC: But Your Majesty, the faltering peace process is harmful to Jordan, or at least that is the opinion of some people. Is it true that Jordan would be harmed by a lack of progress? And what is Jordan's role in final-status negotiations? At the same time, the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship… a strange thing… Keraki-Hebron marriage, Nabulsi-Salti, strange combinations that have a unique unity.

King Abdullah: We in Jordan are the closest to Palestine and the Palestinian people. The economic, social and political interests of both peoples are intertwined. Many Jordanian families have relatives and friends in the West Bank. That's why everything that happens in the Palestinian Territories affects Jordan. Frankly, Jordan is concerned about what is happening with regards to Jerusalem and the settlements, which is why the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is our primary objective, as well as a necessity and legitimate right of the Palestinians. As for final-status negotiations, Jordan should have a role on the issues of Jerusalem, refugees, water and borders.

MBC: Your Majesty, let's move to domestic issues, particularly reform and development. Is Jordan serious about reform? Some are of the opinion that reform is a programme that is meant to appease the US and Western countries? Not just in Jordan, but also in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco. Is reform being promoted just to appease the US?

King Abdullah: Jordan started the process of development and progress several years ago. During the past six years, I have become more convinced that our future vision for Jordan should have a regulatory framework identifying plans, programmes and objectives that we want to achieve during the next ten years. The National Agenda has several components, including organising political life, institutionalising the development process, addressing the problems of poverty and unemployment with solutions. But implementing the agenda also requires the faith, conviction and support of the legislative authority through the enactment of legislation that fosters the reform process.

MBC: We've become accustomed to addressing Your Majesty, Abu Hussein, frankly. Months ago there was an impression that you'd begun to abandon the reformists and have returned to the old guard. Is this true?

King Abdullah: I reject the categorisation of people into reformists and old guard. These classifications are inaccurate, and I don't know where the press got them from. For, all Jordanians agree on the necessity of reform and development. They may differ on the best way to do that and on how reforms should be prioritised. But as for the objectives, there are no differences, and I naturally listen to all points of view, because I am for all Jordanians, no matter their views on reform. It is important for everyone to realise that development needs concerted and continuous efforts, and the involvement of the largest number of people possible. In Jordan, there are those who believe that political reform can be realised simply by changing the elections law. That is not true. Political development cannot exist without national parties with political, economic and social programmes and a wide public support base. First and foremost, political parties should not be subject to guidance or connections or finances from outside the borders of this country. To be more frank, the problem is not the one-man, one-vote electoral system; the problem is that we need foster the culture of democracy so that people would know that neither democracy nor political development are complete without a mature national parties system.

MBC: Some time ago, in the 1960s, people refrained from joining parties based on their experiences in the 1950s. This persists today, and the base of “rejectionists” has expanded, and I'm not talking here about the Muslim Brotherhood, but about the vast majority of Jordanians who do not join political parties…

King Abdullah: People are hesitant to join parties because of the negative image they acquired in the 1950s and 1960s when they were directed and financed from abroad persists today. Some of those parties used to seek to change the identity of this country. These parties still exist and have not abandoned their agendas or their external links. The new Jordanian parties are unknown to citizens beyond the names of the individuals running those parties. So they are just names to some people or slogans without content. That is why citizens hesitate to join parties, whether old or new. I ask here why these small Jordanian parties don't join together to form a larger party with a majority that stands in the middle between left and right. I am confident that such a party will have a wide popular base.

MBC: In the event that Parliament convenes for an extraordinary session, what in your opinion, would be the legislation that should be given priority in discussion and endorsement?

King Abdullah: We are now at a new stage of our national march. This stage requires a number of laws that must be completed quickly. For example, the anti-corruption commission law, political parties law, the municipalities law, the anti-terrorism law, the national ombudsman law - all require the presence of the Lower House of Parliament to enact these, along with others, quickly.

MBC: Your Majesty, you have made significant changes at the Royal Court and the government. Now we have the government of Dr. Maarouf Al Bakhit. Your Majesty speaks of important legislation: the anti-terrorism law, the anti-corruption law. Will you consider dissolving Parliament if the Lower House does not finalise these laws? I ask this question in light of previous instances since 1989 in which the Lower House was dissolved before completing the legislation on its agenda.

King Abdullah: The deputies realise the need for these laws, and [know that] any delay in finalising them would pose an obstacle to our national march. I believe that the deputies are up to the responsibilities and the challenges that we have to face. In my national responsibility and commitment to achieve dignified life for each citizen in this country, I will not accept any obstacles to be placed in the way of our national march.

MBC: Your Majesty, I would have liked not to bring up the issue of Hamas bringing weapons into Jordan, because I know that there is a habit of not discussing this issue in the media and instead leaving it to the relevant authorities. Allow me as a journalist to ask, because there are some who doubt the government's story about Hamas' violations, including bringing in and storing weapons in Jordan and planning to target vital Jordanian institutions and personalities. [Those who doubt the story] believe that this is a government ruse in order to not receive the foreign minister of the Hamas government.

King Abdullah: When Jordanian security services arrested the terrorist Sajeda, there were some who doubted the [truth]. This doubt probably exposes support and sympathy for those who commit such violations or for these terrorist operations or whoever stands behind them. In any case, we have given all the information to the Palestinian president, and it has been agreed that a Palestinian political and security delegation will be dispatched to Jordan to follow up on this issue and disclose this information and details to everyone.

MBC: My final question… The rise in fuel prices in Jordan and around the world has affected everyone. Even our working trips in Al Arabiyya's Amman bureau are being meticulously regulated. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has offered oil grants to Jordan. Is the renewal of this grant, at least until the end of this year, under consideration? Are there any contacts with the Saudis?

King Abdullah: There has been some discussion of this issue, and you know the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, and our brothers in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia have never been anything but generous, God grant them prosperity.