Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Juan Miguel Munoz
El Pais
18 October 2008

El Pais: I'd like to start with a general overview, because nowadays we are in a very turbulent period in the Middle East and with economic crisis all over the world, I think the leaders of the world are not going to be worried about the Middle East?

King Abdullah: Instabilities and conflicts in our region are going to affect markets all over the world. I think political instability leads eventually to economic instability somewhere, and because the stakes are so high I think world leaders realise that, simply because if you look at this part of the world, being a major exporter of oil, instant instability affects the oil production and transport, and it's going to be a problem.

El Pais: Jordan is very involved in the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Do you think that there will be reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah?

King Abdullah: We keep hearing that there is such a distance that unless they can agree on the principles, it's not going to go forward. Although we would like to see Palestinians reconcile their differences, it seems to me that at this stage, from what we hear, they're distant. As you know, the Arab League is working on a united framework to resolve this issue, but again we have a lot of challenges.

El Pais: There were tough discussions at the Arab League; they blame the Palestinians because they are not able to reach an agreement and I think, I have read that they are very angry?

King Abdullah: It's not so much as anger. I think there's a lot of frustration but at the same time, the Arab League is not leaving this alone. There is an understanding to resolve the Palestinians' differences. The pressure is still on to find a mechanism that brings the two factions to an understanding. At the end of the day, unless they change the goal posts, it's going to be very difficult.

El Pais: How are Jordan's relations with Hamas? Because I read about a delegation of Hamas in Jordan.

King Abdullah: There were discussions with representatives of Hamas. I think it would be too much to say that there are delegations of Hamas coming in and out of Jordan. If some say the Jordanian position has changed, it is just because we need to move the Palestinian process forward. As you well know from now until the end of the year we have, in Israel, the formation of a government or possibly elections, we have Palestinian elections coming up and we have American elections. Success of the peace process would be if we have enough movement between Israelis and Palestinians when the next US administration comes in. If we have nothing by the end of this year, then there is no future for the peace process, and that I think is frightening for all of us.

El Pais: Several Israeli diplomats say we are fed up with mediators and proposals. They say very clearly, we don't want foreign ministers coming here to propose anything else. It seems they don't want governments to engage in this…

King Abdullah: You see this is the question. I've become pessimistic. I keep saying I'm probably one of the more optimistic people that you'll find in the Middle East. Israel today has to decide whether it wants to keep the future of Israel as fortress Israel or does it want to engage with the Arab and Muslim world; that's one-third of the United Nations. So one-third of the world has no relations with Israel.

El Pais: Do you think that Israel will accept the Arab peace proposal of 2002? It's normalisation of relations with all the neighbours.

King Abdullah: We're not saying take it or leave it. We have put some ideas in this proposal and at the end of the day, it will happen when both sides agree. So the Arab proposal is extremely flexible, as we were trying to think of how to reach out to the Israelis. I've not heard of an Israeli peace plan.

El Pais: Is there any fear here in Jordan about the increase in Islamists we see in Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories?

King Abdullah: I don't think there is a concern because we're pushing very hard on economic and social recovery; job creation, fighting poverty. And again, going back to the role that Europe plays, we need cooperation, because the stronger we build the middle class in Jordan, the more stable the country. Extremists have their success with the poor and the frustrated. But on the political side, if we don't resolve the core issue of the Middle East, which is the Arab-Israeli problem, then extremists will always have a playground to recruit frustrated and disillusioned young Arabs.

El Pais: How can Jordan resolve the issue of Iraqi refugees?

King Abdullah: It's a challenge because of schools, the health system, water, jobs, land prices. Having said that, Jordan has been very resilient. Eventually, there should be stability in Iraq, so that Iraqis can return back to their homeland. In the meantime, this is a burden that the Jordanian government has to uphold. But we don't want to get too used to it.