Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who meets with President Obama on Tuesday, discussed Middle East peace and regional security issues during a conversation with The Washington Post. Here are some highlights:
On current, low-level talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators:
An opportunity presented itself where Israelis and Palestinians were confident with the Jordanian umbrella to start throwing their initial passes at each other. . . . We needed to get the two sides to talk. Both [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas — I do believe they want a way out, a way to get to negotiations. We all know the positions in which they have entrenched themselves. However, the intent, I believe, is there—from both sides. It is little baby steps, right at the beginning.
There are a lot of people who look at these negotiations negatively. My answer to that is: For them to at least try to talk to each other is better than nothing. If you understand the region, you realize how important that is.
U.S. role in the peace process:
Because of American elections — because of America looking at its own challenges — we can’t expect for the Americans to wade in, full-weight, unless we have enough of a package where the outcome is somewhat predictable. So the responsibility is on all of us to bring the parties close enough together so the Americans can step in and finalize the deal. I’m not here expressing demands of the president at this stage. . . . The presidential card can only be played once, and we are nowhere near the position at this stage where the presidential card can be played. It is up to us to do the heavy lifting, not the president.
Israeli settlements as an obstacle:
We hear great discussions about peace from the Israelis, but what we’re seeing on the ground is something completely different. Negotiators are trying to overcome these problems, and again, it’s going to take strong work from the international community on both sides, and particularly from the Israelis on settlements, to allow enough common ground. . . . What we’re trying to achieve in the short term is to try to get the Palestinians and Israelis to talk about security and borders. I think once you’ve defined the issue of borders, then you’ve solved the issue of settlements, and you can go straight into security talks.
On the perils of delaying peace:
Waiting is the worst mistake the Israelis can make. It wasn’t until the elections in Egypt that suddenly Israel awoke. . . . Now I think there has been a big shift in the way the Israelis look at the issue, and it is imperative for them . . . [to] get the Israeli-Palestinian issue off the menu.
If we haven’t crossed that line, we’ll cross the line sooner or later where the two-state solution is no longer possible, at which point the only solution is the one-state solution. And then, are we talking about apartheid or democracy? The more the Israelis play with kicking this down the line, the more they are in danger of losing what they think is the ideal future Israel.
The conflict in Syria and its regional impact:
You are going to continue to see violence and demonstrations and conflict in Syria for the time being. I don’t see anything that is going to change what we’ve been seeing over the past couple of months unless there is an unforeseen situation where the international community gets more involved. Here I have my concerns. Jordan, first, is with the Arab consensus. But at the same time, we have been on record, historically, of saying we have a policy of noninterference. And when people go for the armed option, I believe that is a dangerous Pandora’s Box.
On political reform in Jordan:
I think luckily in Jordan, we’re going from Arab Spring to Arab summer, which means we’re rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of reform. I think the Arab winters that we’re beginning to see around us has had impact on Jordanian society, to invigorate [us] to make sure we continue into the Arab summer and not into the Arab winter.
I think people understand the process. . . . Compared to a lot of other countries, it is a technical issue now, as opposed to an emotional issue. Now you certainly have elements in Jordan that, no matter what you do, are not going to be happy. If everybody is happy, then something is wrong with the democratic process.
On Jordanian contributions in Afghanistan:
For Afghans to see Arab — and, more importantly, Muslim — troops operating at the level that we’re operating in, based on moderate Islam, has had a tremendous impact. You need only look how many imams we’ve had working with our coalition partners in preaching moderate Islam in Afghanistan. This is driving the Taliban crazy. We go into villages and say, “Hey, this is what Islam is all about.” It drives the opposition completely nuts.
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