This interview was conducted three months after Israeli Mossad agents were caught in an attempt to kill Khaled Mishaal, a Jordanian citizen, in broad daylight on the streets of Amman. The affair brought Jordanian-Israeli relations, already difficult because of the continuing impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, to a new low.
In this interview, King Hussein expresses his frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahus repeated failure to live up to promises he made to move forward with the peace process. He also strongly refutes statements from senior Israeli officials that Jordan will be endangered if a Palestinian state is established. His Majesty ends the interview with a warning: I cant begin to contemplate what dangers and threats the collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace would mean to the region.
King Hussein Holds out Hope for Peace
Amid Mounting Frustration
Trudy Rubin, The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 26, 1997
This article is based on an interview with His Majesty King Hussein.
Amman, JordanThe only Arab ruler who has made a warm, full peace with Israel has become embittered towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deeply worried about the regions future.
Referring to the Israeli leader, Jordans King Hussein told me in an interview, there have been so many broken promises, so many provocative moves, that you begin to wonder is there an attempt to destroy [the] Oslo [peace process]? There may come a time when we lose hope.
The interview took place in the new Bab Al-Salam (Gate of Peace) Palace, in a living room furnished with exquisite inlaid antique Arab cabinets and chairs, piles of pillows rich with Bedouin embroidery, and a coffee table laden with pistachios and Arabic sweets. The kings downbeat assessment contrasted sharply with his public optimism about Netanyahu just after the Israeli leaders election in 1996.
Americans should pay attention to the cri de coeur of the Jordanian leader, who has gone further than any other Arab leader to promote peace with Israel. Jordans input will be crucial to the success of any Israel peace deal with the Palestinians.
So what has soured the Jordan-Israel relationship, on which the King staked so much? Perhaps the most divisive event was Netanyahus dispatch of Israeli security agents to Amman in September to kill a political leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas.
It was an insult to this country, its sovereignty, its security, and totally unwarranted, the king says, his voice shaking. If Israel believed a Jordanian citizen was involved in terrorism, he adds, its leaders should have told him, and Jordan would have dealt with the matter.
The king also cites Netanyahus repeated failure to live up to promises that he made to the monarch to move forward with the Palestinian peace process, like a pledge to let the Palestinians open an airport in Gaza within 24 hours. The pledge was made months ago, the airport still hasnt opened.
But the latest tension-raisers are statements from senior Israeli officials to Israel and foreign media which claim that Israel must keep a large swath of land along the Jordan river as a security zone, in part to protect Jordan from the Palestinians. These same officials also argue that Jordan will be endangered if Israel permits the Palestinians to establish a state.
The king denies any such fears. He nearly jumps from his chair when asked about the need for a Jordan River security zone to protect Jordan. This is absolute nonsense. If anyone wants to find an excuse not to make progress on the peace process they should find another excuse.
As for a Palestinian state, it would not be a threat to Jordan, the king insists. He adds that such a state would have every reason to consider Jordan a strong shoulder on which it can lean.
The reason the king is so touchy about such Israeli claims is that they stir up Palestinian fears that Israel will turn to Jordan to help it keep control over the Palestinians, rather than give the Palestinians their own state.
When Netanyahu came to office his aides made clear that this was their strategy. Such a strategy seems even more plausible now, when Israeli officials are talking about giving the Palestinians only small, unviable chunks of West Bank land.
Palestinian suspicions about the kings intent have also been fed by his close relationship with Israeli Cabinet Minister Ariel Sharon, who is promoting the ideas of a Jordan River security zone, and of Israels keeping most West Bank land.
King Hussein admits to a warm relationship with Sharon, who has resolved some bilateral disputes between Israel and Jordan, like disagreements over Jordan River water. He praises Sharon as a man who keeps his word on bilateral issues. But he insists that he has made it clear to Sharon that he will not negotiate on Palestinians issues. Thats why Im upset, he says, by speculations that suggest we are involved.
And the king also insists that Sharons ideas about Israels keeping most West Bank land are not binding on us. He hopes that these are only starting positions for negotiating a final solution to the Palestinian question.
My sense of the discussion is that the king is trying to cultivate Sharon, a fellow military man, out of despair that he can trust Netanyahu and uncertainty about the Prime Ministers agenda. But the Jordanian monarch is too shrewd to try to negotiate over the heads of the Palestinians. He is simply desperate to find a way for the peace process to survive.
I cant begin to contemplate what dangers and threats the collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace would mean to the region, he says, pleading to the United States to take a more active role in bridging the gap between the two sides.
If hope disappears, the majority of people belonging to the peace camp will feel that the minority who are extremists are in charge of the agenda, the king adds. Washington should pay attention to King Husseins warning.