Official website of His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein
Speech of His Majesty King Abdullah II
At the National Press Club
Washington, DC, US
11 April 2001

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a privilege for Rania and myself, and for my entire delegation to be here with you today, and to address this impressive gathering, at the National Press Club. I am grateful for this opportunity of exchange and interaction, and especially thankful for your advice and support.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two weeks ago, the regular Arab Summit convened in Amman where leaders of the Arab World expressed their determination to pursue peace, to uphold international legality, and to enhance inter-Arab cooperation. They also charted a novel, and pragmatic approach to economic cooperation and integration within our region, one that belies the awareness of the challenges of the new century.

This message was also echoed by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, who stated, "One half of the Arab world is under 18 years of age." "They need jobs," he said. "Your challenge should be to help them share in the 21st century." His words could not have been more relevant or timely. During a period when the world is changing in a direction that is still unfolding, our region is also undergoing a very important transition. It is one with wide and deep implications, for a mostly young generation that seeks to fulfil the hopes of the future, while still being held hostage to the old conflicts of the past. It is a reality where modern templates of knowledge, and freedom of thought and expression, can be easily outweighed in young minds by extremist calls of hatred and revenge, and by narrow destructive prejudice, nurtured through the daily pictures of the horrors of war, and the pain of loss and suffering.

It is indeed a critical time when the Arab people, clearly aware at the beginning of the new century of the need to adopt modern technology, find it difficult to defend an international system that continues to delay justice and condone its absence. It is a turning point when we all must focus our efforts to ensure that young talent is only harnessed for building new centres of excellence. This is how they can really share in the 21st century. We are the ones who make the choices that would render the promise of their future much more meaningful than the attachment to our past.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I belong to a new generation of leaders that has assumed public service in Morocco, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan. We are not held hostage to many of the past generation's historical issues. Still, we have other, perhaps greater, challenges. His late Majesty, King Hussein, like many of his counterparts in the Middle East, had to deal with the post-colonial era in the region, working throughout his life to ensure the survival of Jordan as a state that is built on modern and viable institutions. Today, we face a different, but equally important challenge: To secure a future for Jordanians where they can prosper and thrive.

The new generation of leaders fully understands what it takes to guide their countries through the next phase of development. They realise the need to bridge the ever-increasing gaps with others. They also know that we cannot afford to be left behind by a world that is rapidly moving towards economic integration and globalisation. And while we are pulled in different directions by those who refuse to change the status quo, and by a populace eager for economic opportunity and political reform, we know that the only way towards a successful future is forward. This dictates a necessary revision of some of our strategies and work ethic.

For too long, the Arab-Israeli conflict acted both as a deterrent and an excuse to the political and economic development of the region. In Jordan, we have realised that waiting for the more than fifty-year conflict to end before embarking on a process of political and economic reform can only be done at the expense of our own development. While working to achieve peace throughout the many past years, we also started a process of gradual and sustained reform based on self-help measures that were adopted for our own interest. It has already resulted in a major transformation of economic, social, and even cultural aspects. We are providing a model where political stability, democratic principles and the rule of law are offering Jordanians the opportunity to excel, and to contribute to the development of their country. We have made considerable progress in liberalising our economic structure, and in allowing the private sector to be a full participant in it.

Our export orientation has been enhanced with our admission to the World Trade Organisation and with the soon-to-be ratified Free Trade Area Agreement with the United States as well. We are equally determined to chart a new path in our region where economic protectionism would be replaced by open and free trade and where private capital would be allowed to freely flow through the present boundaries of separation and isolation. Most importantly, we have made the choice to continue investing in the development of our real assets, our human resources. We have made it a priority to secure the necessary means for upgrading educational and training standards. This is the real advantage that will launch our new economic drive and that will provide the building blocs for the new Middle East.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While we have chosen not to use the Arab-Israeli conflict as an excuse for not modernising the country, its continuation remains a major factor that poses a serious threat to the development of the region. Despite the bold steps taken to liberalise the economic system in Jordan, the absence of peace in the region has adversely affected trade, investment and economic cooperation, and has dangerously elevated the frustration of people tired of war, occupation and economic deprivation. It has thus jeopardised the success of the entire model. This is why we insist that the Arab-Israeli conflict must end, and end now. Let us not allow the conflict to continue. Let us get the chance to transform our region and break out of this seemingly never-ending cycle of hatred, war and violence.

We all have a shared responsibility to achieve this goal. Israel must understand that there is no permanent military solution to this conflict, no matter how strong and mighty it is. The only solution is the one that would give Palestinians hope that they can live freely, without occupation, in a sovereign state that encompasses the borders of the West Bank, and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The two sides came very close to such a solution and seriously tackled political issues, which have never before been discussed. The future of the refugees, water issues, security guarantees and sovereignty over Jerusalem and its holy places, were all part of the negotiations. The clock cannot be set back now that the parameters of the solution are clearly in sight. We must urge them to go back to the table and bridge the remaining gaps. The active involvement of the United States of America in bringing the parties together and in helping reach this solution is vital, and complements our regional efforts to bring about such an outcome.

For its part, Jordan, which has direct interests in major aspects of these negotiations and seeks to defend the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees on its soil, will spare no effort in this regard. Agreements with Syria and Lebanon providing for full Israeli withdrawal from occupied land should follow, for peace to be lasting and comprehensive. The Arab World must also address the security needs of the average Israeli, and move to accept Israel as a member of the neighbourhood. Only then can our region start a new chapter of mutual recognition, acceptance and cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The aspirations and needs of a whole generation have been stifled because of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many have lost property, land, country and dreams. Many continue to live under occupation and siege. We cannot afford to continue to hold future generations hostage to this past. Arabs and Israelis deserve to live a decent, secure, and dignified life. We need to redouble our efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and at the same time place the region on a new fast track of reform. We must move away from politics of isolation towards attributes of diversity, equality and accountability. Above all, all citizens are entitled to peace and tranquillity that would allow for their excellence to shine, in an atmosphere that respects them as humans, and treats them as such. Only then can they really share in the twenty first century.

Thank you very much.