Jordan’s King Abdullah on Egypt, Syria and Israel
By Lally Weymouth,
During the World Economic Forum he hosted at the Dead Sea over the weekend, Jordan’s King Abdullah II spoke with The Post’s Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:
Q. How do you see Egypt’s future?
A. I went to Egypt after visiting the U.S. in May. I had a message from the administration for General Tantawi. [Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is head of Egypt’s military ruling council.]
How did your visit to Egypt go?
With Tantawi — fantastic. We had a very good meeting.
It is astounding that Tantawi did not take President Obama’s call for hours the night the Israelis were trapped in their embassy in Egypt.
The feeling I got from the Egyptian leadership is that if they stick [their] necks out, they will just get lambasted like [former president Hosni] Mubarak did. So I think they are playing safe by just keeping their heads down, which I think . . . sometimes allows things to get out of control. . . . Tantawi thinks there is too much pressure on him.
From the streets?
No, from the West.
Do you and other leaders in this area believe you cannot rely on the U.S.?
I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West. . . . Looking at how quickly people turned their backs on Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way. I think there is going to be less coordination with the West and therefore a chance of more misunderstandings. Egypt is trying to develop its own way of moving forward.
Two things make Jordan stand out. One is that we reached out to everybody and got a national dialogue committee. The other thing that made a major impact is that we have had demonstrations for the past 11 months but . . . nobody has been killed. It was a decision taken [from] Day One that we disarmed all our police. In other countries . . . their solution was to pull out their guns and shoot.
Do you think President Bashar al-Assad of Syria can last?
We have been very careful to keep all channels of communication open with the Syrians.
Does that mean you have talked to President Assad?
I spoke to Bashar al-Assad twice in the springtime. . . . Basically, they were not interested in listening to our advice. They basically told us that there are a bunch of thugs in Syria and they had everything under control. A couple of times I have felt that I should reach out to him, but I really don’t know what to say. I think he does have reform in his soul but I don’t think that type of regime allows for any potential reformist.
People are asking about an alternative to President Assad — can another Alawite or a Sunni overthrow him?
Nobody has an answer to Syria. . . . The regime seems to be quite strong. I think you are going to see continued violence for the time being.
In the West, you hear over and over that Assad’s days are numbered.
My view is when you use violence on your people, that never ends well. But anybody would be challenged to say if that’s [in] six months, six years or 16 years.
What is your assessment of Libya?
It took everybody by surprise. We were committed to the transitional council from Day One.
So you think the death of Colonel Gaddafi is a good thing?
There is an old saying that peace is going to be much harder than war. I think the challenge for Libya now is how to make this transition peacefully.
I heard that Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal, is coming to Jordan.
Because of the loss of Egypt’s political leadership, the rest of us are having to step up. On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Jordan’s relationship with the Palestinians has had to take a step forward.
You support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s request for U.N. membership?
Yes, we do. It is out of desperation and frustration that they are going to the U.N. I think part of the problem is that in the U.S., you have your other [domestic] priorities. . . .
I think the [Obama] administration would be very wary to step out front without guarantees on the Israeli-Palestinian process, which is a shame because it is desperately needed now.
[The Arab Spring] is a disaster for Israel, isn’t it?
You have seen what has happened in Egypt [and] Turkey. We are actually the last man standing with our relationship with Israel.
The Israelis are worried the Egyptians will break the [peace] treaty.
That is a very, very strong possibility.
Do you intend to support Jordan’s treaty with Israel?
We have a peace treaty with Israel and will continue to do so because it helps both parties.
A lot of Israelis think your recent statements have been hostile.
What I am saying is they are missing an opportunity here and I am very concerned. This is the most frustrated I have ever been about the peace process. I think a lot of us have come to the conclusion that this particular [Israeli] government is not interested in a two-state solution.
What did you think of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deal with Hamas to release an Israeli soldier ?
It is politics at the end of the day.
It was strange for Israel to be negotiating with Hamas.
I think all of us have been asking each other, what is the Israeli government’s true intention right now? Since I am not convinced there is an interest in a two-state solution, the question I am asking is: What is Plan B?
You just appointed a new prime minister .
The new prime minister, Awn al-Khasawneh, has got an impeccable record; he is the ideal person to get us to national elections as quickly as possible.
If you look five years down the line, do you see yourself relinquishing some power to the parliament?
Probably sooner. We haven’t shut any doors on relinquishing power. My mission is as quickly as possible to get Jordan to have a prime minister elected from a political party. . . . We need to create new political parties based on programs. . . .
The Arab Spring didn’t start because of politics; it started because of economics — poverty and unemployment. . . . What keeps me up at night is not political reform because I am clear on where we are going. What keeps me up at night is the economic situation because if people are going to get back on the streets, it is because of economic challenges, not political.