We circulate below an interview given to Richard Beeston of The Times by King Abdullah II of Jordan. Agency and Israeli comment so far concentrates on the King's insistence on the need for immediate action on peacemaking, and on his "57 state" solution.
From Times Online
May 11, 2009
King Abdullah: 'This is not a two-state solution, it is a 57-state solution'
How has the Pope’s visit gone?
I think it’s gone extremely well. I said to His Holiness that this is the right time. You’re coming here on a spiritual pilgrimage with a message of peace… as a signal of hope for what we’re planning to do on the political aspect. It is all part of one major effort. This is a critical crossroads that we need to take advantage of.
So this is good timing between your visit to Washington and before President Obama’s visit to Cairo?
I concentrated in my discussions with him on his being the spiritual dimension while I work on the politics of this. The trickle-down effect to the people has always been the challenge. So the message of reconciliation, the message of hope for the future of Jerusalem comes at a perfect time because there has been a flurry of activity over the past six weeks, after the Doha summit and what the Arab nations are doing as part of the Arab peace proposal. [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s expected visit to Washington next week will be the turning point.
Obviously, I’m sure President Obama is keeping his cards close to his chest until he hears what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to say. I think the President is committed to the two-state solution. He is committed to the two-state solution now. He feels the urgency of the need to move today. Because we’re not working for peace in a vacuum, with others not there. So this is a critical moment.
A cynic might say, we’ve had the Annapolis peace conference, we’ve had the road map for peace, the Arab initiative, almost a decade with no results. What’s the difference now?
Four or five decades! There are two major factors. We are sick and tired of the process. We are talking about direct negotiations. That is a major point. We are approaching this in a regional context. You could say through the Arab peace proposal. The Americans see this as we do and I think the Europeans. Britain is playing a very vital pro-active role, more than I have ever seen in the ten years of my experience in bringing people together.
What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table, but Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese. And with the Arabs and the Muslim world lined up to open direct negotiations with Israelis at the same time. So it’s the work that needs to be done over the next couple of months that has a regional answer to this — that is not a two-state solution, it is a 57-state solution.
That is the tipping point that shakes up Israeli politicians and the Israeli public. Do you want to stay Fortress Israel for the next ten years? The calamity that that would bring to all of us, including the West? This has become a global problem. We are saying to the Israelis that this is an issue that is far bigger than you Israelis and the Palestinians. This is where I think the Obama Administration gets it. I am very, very concerned about having a conference in six months' time, and another one in a year’s time, that doesn’t work. I think we’re going to have to do a lot of shuttle diplomacy, get people to a table in the next couple of months to get a solution.
So you are front-loading an offer to the Israelis that says if a deal is done, these are the people who will be making peace with you, whom you will be having embassies with and whom you will be trading with?
If you consider that a third of the world does not recognise Israel — 57 nations of the United Nations do not recognise Israel, a third of the world — their international relationships can’t be all that good. More countries recognise North Korea than Israel. That is a very strong statement when we are offering a third of the world to meet them with open arms. The future is not the Jordan river or the Golan Heights or Sinai, the future is Morocco in the Atlantic to Indonesia in the Pacific. I think that’s the prize.
There have been reports that the Americans have asked you to clarify certain parts of the Arab initiative, in particular the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees.
I was very specific in carrying a letter on behalf of the Arab League highlighting the Arab peace proposal, their desire to work with President Obama to make this successful, their commitment to extending the hand of friendship to the Israelis and a lot of other things that we could probably do for the world.
Are these reports malicious?
It’s hard to say. I’d like to think they’re not malicious, it’s just people with a lot of extra time on their hands. The speculation is very far from reality.
You have a very right-wing Government in Israel which does not even accept a two-state solution. How do you overcome that?
We have to deal with what we’re stuck with. Just because there is a right-wing government in Israel does not mean that we should chuck in the towel. There are a lot of American Jews and Israelis who tell me that it takes a right-wing Israeli government to do it. I said, I hope so! Netanyahu has a lot on his shoulders as he goes to Washington. I think the international atmosphere is not going to be in favour of wasting time; it is going to be very much “we are getting sick and tired of this”.
Here is one final opportunity. If the only player in this equation between the West, the Arabs and the Muslims that is not being helpful and is against peace is Israel, then let’s call it for what it is. Let Israel understand that the world sees Israeli policy for what it is.
Have you dealt with Netanyahu before?
I had three months with the overlap [after the death of King Hussein]. These were probably the least pleasant of my ten years. However, a lot has happened in the last ten years and we are looking at the bigger picture, and looking for what’s best for Israel, which I believe is the two-state solution.
How about Jerusalem?
It is not an international problem, it is an international solution. Jerusalem unfortunately has been a symbol of conflict for so many centuries. From the start of this new century what we desperately need is for Jerusalem to become a symbol of hope. How do you encourage the three monotheistic religions to make Jerusalem into a pillar for the future of this century? I am sensing a lot more maturity and understanding in these troubled times of cultural and religious suspicions that Jerusalem could be a binder that we need.
Do you think you can bring Syria on board?
The Syrians definitely see the benefit of peace negotiations with Israel, and I’m hoping in my discussions with their foreign minister on my visit to Damascus tomorrow that they understand that this is a regional approach, because I strongly believe that a bilateral approach between Israel and Syria would be used by one or the other side to waste time. I think that this regional approach that Obama is looking at and which is endorsed by all of us, of getting all three of them at the table at the same time, sends a powerful message to Israel and a powerful commitment to solving the Lebanese and Syrian problems at the same time.
So there is a tremendous opportunity for Syria to benefit from the regional context of this and ingratiate itself into the West. So it is my real hope that they see how the dynamic approach has changed and they see this as part of a team. There is hope now that it’s a win-win situation for everyone. What’s good for the Palestinians is good for the Syrians, is good for the Lebanese.
Isn’t this a reversal of the traditional policy of Syria of wanting a comprehensive solution?
Well, they said that but they didn’t mean it. The comprehensive approach is the only way.
Netanyahu is going to Cairo and Washington. How do you see the process moving forward?
The critical juncture will be what comes out of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. If there is procrastination by Israel on the two-state solution or there is no clear American vision for how this is going to play out in 2009, then all the tremendous credibility that Obama has worldwide and in this region will evaporate overnight if nothing comes out in May. All eyes will be looking to Washington in May. If there are no clear signals and no clear directives to all of us, then there will be a feeling that this is just another American government that is going to let us all down.
If you don’t succeed in your peace plans, will it matter?
We’re going to have a war. Leading up to the Lebanese war, I said there was going to be a conflict with Israel. I said it four or five months before. I said it would happen either in Lebanon or Gaza. It was Lebanon. In November, I said there would be another war in Lebanon or Gaza. I thought it would happen when Obama was in office but was surprised by it happening a month earlier. If we delay our peace negotiations, then there’s going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12 to 18 months — as sure as the other conflicts happened.
So that’s the alternative — to have another round of war, and death and destruction. But its implications now resonate far beyond the Middle East region. There are other challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have a lot more on our plate to deal with. If the call is in May that this is not the right time or we are not interested, then the world is going to be sucked into another conflict in the Middle East.
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