Chicago Tribune
April 16, 2010 - 12:00am,0,7819337....

King Abdullah II of Jordan visited the Tribune's editorial board Thursday to discuss challenges in the Middle East and the peace process. Excerpts:

Tribune: What should the United States be doing to advance the Middle East peace process?

Abdullah: There needs to be a U.S. umbrella that brings the two parties together. At this stage, people are not talking to each other. The challenge that we have is there are countries in the Middle East that do not believe in the Arab peace proposal. The Arab peace proposal is 22 Arab nations, plus the rest of the Muslim countries. That's 57 nations that have basically all agreed that they want to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, but in return, a two-state solution, therefore a future for the Palestinians. The challenge that we've had at the last two Arab summits is that there are countries saying, "Look, the Arab peace proposal doesn't work, dialogue doesn't work with Israel, and we should take the Arab peace proposal off the table." The red flag that I have at the moment is that leading up to the last summit, we managed to get an extension of the Arab peace proposal, which terminates in July. There will be a committee meeting of Arab countries in July, and for us as moderate countries, we're going to be challenged by everybody else: "Nothing has happened; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in peace, so why keep the Arab peace proposal on the table?" If something doesn't happen until July, we're in trouble. What we're hoping for is active engagement by the Palestinians with the Americans, the Israelis with the Americans and then the Americans weighing in before July to say, "All right, here are the parameters of where the negotiations will start."

Tribune: Would you favor President Barack Obama presenting both sides with a peace plan?

Abdullah: I think it's up to us to do a lot of the heavy lifting at this stage. Why should the burden be solely on Obama and Americans to stick their necks out if both parties (the Israelis and the Palestinians) are not willing to do enough of the groundwork? The problem if we stay at the status quo, others in the region are not sitting idly by. So the chance of conflict is always very high. War would be disastrous for the Israelis, for the Arabs, for all of us. If we hit the summer and there's no active (peace) process, there's a very good chance for conflict, and nobody wins when it comes to that.

Tribune: In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, you sounded very pessimistic about the prospect of peace as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Israel. Do you think there can be progress as long as he is leading Israel?

Abdullah: I've become extremely frustrated. I've heard a lot of good things, but what I see on the ground shows me a different story. I've made these statements not just to The Wall Street Journal but also to the Israeli public. Where are we going with this? I believe Israel's future is to be integrated into the region. But if the powers that be look at Israel's future as Fortress Israel, that means bloodshed will continue for decades. America is not immune to the problems that we have in our part of the world. President (George W.) Bush said we must have a two-state solution, and then Obama clarified that one step more. He said it is in America's national interest that this problem be solved because at the end of the day, Americans are in harm's way. You're in two conflicts in the Middle East already. Everything is interconnected in our part of the world. The critical juncture that we're at now is, is Israel is going to continue the policy of Fortress Israel? Or are we going to achieve the peace we all need for our children and their children's children?

Tribune: Israel would say, "We've been under attack for many decades; of course we have to erect a fortress." What kind of assurance does Israel get?

Abdullah: In the Arab-Islamic peace proposal, it's not just opening trade offices, it's full diplomatic relations. If you move through the Arab peace proposal, they're looking at Israel being integrated into the region, not just having embassies so that it looks good for the cameras, but having relations with the Arab and Islamic world. Fifty-seven nations is a third of the United Nations; that's a third of the United Nations that does not recognize Israel today. The Arab proposal is very well thought out. There are some views in the United States that it's a take-it-or-leave-it document. It's not. It's a proposal that wanted to generate negotiations and communications with the people of Israel. We need to move forward. So, also in the proposal is collective security guarantees. Indirectly, what the Arabs are saying is we will be the ones to ensure the security and the survival of Israel. You don't need to have those walls, you don't need to be Fortress Israel because you're one of us now.

Tribune: Could you speak about Iran's nuclear aspirations and the implications for your country and for others in the region?

Abdullah: I've said many times that I'd like to see the whole region free of nuclear weapons. If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, nobody needs a nuclear weapon. If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, why would a country such as Iran want to go to the extent of a nuclear military program when the mantra there is defending the rights of the Palestinians and Jerusalem?

Tribune: If Iran were to become armed with nuclear weapons, what's the likelihood that Jordan would do the same?

: A country like Jordan, the size of Jordan, having a military program makes no sense. But you come to a very good point. If Iran does have a nuclear program in several years, then there's a chance other countries in the region will start a nuclear arms race, and as volatile as our region is, the last thing you want is a whole bunch of countries in my part of the world developing nuclear weapons.

Tribune: What would be the consequences if some country were to take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

Abdullah: If Iran is hit, Iran will retaliate and create what I consider Pandora's box. Conflicts would ignite throughout our region. A military strike would be disastrous for all of us.

Tribune: Do you see any evidence that democracy in Iraq is having an impact on the rest of the region?

Abdullah: I'm seeing the interest of how there's been a level of maturity from one election to another. I think it's clear to members of Iraqi society that the ballot box has a major impact.

Tribune: There've been reports that Syria has transferred long-range missiles to Hezbollah, raising the question of whether Syria is moving closer to Iran and what should the U.S. be doing.

Abdullah: I know the Americans and the Syrians are talking to each other, which I think is a very positive thing. I believe Syria does want to have peace with Israel, but not at the expense of the Palestinian people. Sometimes, it's maybe two steps forward and one step back, but I think the engagement with the Syrians is a positive thing.

Tribune: At the end of the day, for your children, for our children, what is the likelihood that there will be peace in the Middle East?

Abdullah: It would be a catastrophe if our children have to talk about this. Peace is the only option that we have, and it needs to be done today. If 10 years from now we're still talking about this issue, then I think not only is our region facing a world of hurt, but all of us collectively will pay the price for this.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017