Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Al Ahram
26 February 1999
(Translated from Arabic)

Al Ahram: We, in Egypt, have been following with great admiration your surprise visits to become acquainted with the needs of the Jordanian people. This compels us to ask the first question about the priorities and the difficulties of your first year as the King of Jordan.

King Abdullah: You know that I spent most of my life in the army. In the course of my twenty-year service with the armed forces, I visited many places in this country without any guards around me. This gave me a good idea about the problems facing the Jordanian people. It is a completely different situation now. Protocol and the changes in my responsibilities have made people reluctant to speak frankly about the reality of their situation. As for my surprise field visits, they aim at directly acquainting me with the affairs and the real problems facing citizens. One of my top priorities is to feel the pulse of the Jordanian street and to remain in direct contact with it.

I believe that the problem lies in the fact that government organs have become accustomed to a certain method of carrying out their duties. It is the duty of the employees to serve the citizens, not the other way around. If we want to develop this country, we must put forth new ideas and ways and means of solving various problems. Raising the level of administrative performance would certainly help improve the economic situation. As you know, we have a high unemployment rate as well as huge debts for a country like Jordan. Meanwhile, the size of the bureaucracy continues to expand with limited resources. All these problems have trapped us in a vicious circle. We need to double our efforts to open new doors for the people to earn their living. My field visits have confirmed my belief that there are still many real problems to deal with. Besides, my field visits boost people's trust and help us understand more about the various problems and find realistic solutions for them.

Al Ahram: You are scheduled to meet today (Sunday) with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. How far has Jordan come in its mediation efforts, which aim at stimulating the faltering negotiations on the various tracks of the peace process?

King Abdullah: The most important thing for us in Jordan is to push forward a peaceful settlement on the Palestinian track. We are trying to persuade the Israelis to expedite the peace talks on this track and resolve the problems hindering progress. With regard to the Syrian track, we, in Jordan, attempt to offer ideas that could bring the two views closer to each other.

Al Ahram: Do Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have what could be called a unified position on the issues under negotiation? Do you truly believe that the peace process will be successful, or will this historic opportunity be lost like the many other opportunities squandered before it?

King Abdullah: I believe that there is no alternative but to work hard to solve the problems impeding the negotiating process. There is no other way. We realise that there are many obstacles facing each party and we know that it is not easy to solve all the problems quickly. Moreover, we see no justification for fearing achieving progress on one track rather than another. One of our goals is to encourage the Israeli people to support peace, because peace would be in the interests of all parties involved. I believe that Barak himself is aware of this. However, as you know, Israeli politics are teeming with complications that must be taken into consideration.

Al Ahram: But the Israelis have failed to implement most of the agreements signed with the Palestinian side.

King Abdullah: This is another important reason for getting in touch with Barak to inform him of the necessity of carrying out the agreements signed with the Palestinians and honouring the commitment to achieve progress on the Palestinian track. I fear that the continuation of his current negotiating tactics with the Arab parties could have a negative impact on the peace process. With regard to the Syrian track, I believe that positive results could be achieved within one year, or a little over a year.

Al Ahram: You have recently stressed that there is no difference between Jordanian citizens and Palestinians who live in Jordan. You also emphasised that they are all citizens. What is your evaluation of the various views about settling Palestinian refugees elsewhere?

King Abdullah: There is no such thing as resettlement in my lexicon. This approach would lead to tremendous confusion. Our goal now is to establish a Palestinian state. Once this goal has been achieved, we will see what the brothers in this Palestinian state wish to do, be it a confederacy or any other formula. We will let them think and decide what they want. I believe that the term "settling of Palestinians" is meant to create confusion on the political scene and this is totally unacceptable.

(At this point of the interview, the Chief of the Royal Court Dr. Fayez Tarawnah made the following comment: "We in Jordan support the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland as well as their right to receive compensation. We want to confirm those rights. As you know, the Constitution and the legal system regard the Palestinians living in Jordan as Jordanian citizens. However, this citizenship does not rule out their right to return to their homes or to receive compensations. You also know that the Palestinian cause takes a different shape in Lebanon, for instance, than in Jordan. What we wish to emphasise is that the solution of the problem of Palestinian refugees will never come at Jordan's expense. There are international resolutions that provide a solution to this problem, such as United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 and Security Council Resolution 242. We adhere to those resolutions.")

Al Ahram: In this connection, are there any specific Jordanian proposals about the final- status issues on the Palestinian track?

King Abdullah: We certainly have our stances and we have consultations with the Palestinian Authority about those final-status issues. I do not wish to go into detail because I want to avoid certain delicate points, especially since all the issues are still being negotiated.

Al Ahram: Some reports claim that you delivered a message from Baghdad to Washington. How true are those reports? How do you see the situation in Iraq now? Do you have any communication channels open with Iraq?

King Abdullah: We have no contacts with Iraq except with regard to our bilateral relations. Reports of an Iraqi message to Washington are baseless. I do not know where this story came from. I did not convey any such messages. There may have been some confusion because Iraqi Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz came to Jordan before my last visit to Washington. He conveyed a message to me about bilateral relations between Jordan and Iraq and nothing else. Perhaps this meeting, which preceded my trip to Washington, caused the confusion.

Al Ahram: How do you view Jordan's position in the post-peace era? What is the meaning of your recent statements in Davos about the "Fertile Crescent" as a formula for organising Jordan's relations with neighbouring states?

King Abdullah: I believe that our concern for the future makes it imperative for us to put our affairs in order. Within a year or two, the picture of peace settlements in the Middle East will be clearer. I believe that the interests of this region lie in forging regional cooperation. To begin with, we must put our own house in order on the domestic level. We must improve our performance, focus on resolving our problems and overcoming economic obstacles. Within two years, we will have a bigger role in the joint cooperation with other countries in the region. In Davos, I tried to convince the participants to invest in our region, not just in Jordan.

I believe that the concept of the "Fertile Crescent" is one that would enhance regional economic cooperation. It could begin with cooperation between two countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, before expanding to include other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Libya. One of our concepts is to attract investments to the Middle East region as a whole. This is one of the concepts of regional cooperation. If we take investment in electronics, for instance, it is the most important thing for us in Jordan. As you know, this sort of investment is already available in many other Arab countries, like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. This would provide job opportunities for everybody, not just in Jordan. For our part, we are trying to improve the infrastructure in order to be able to accommodate such investments, especially since we have efficient manpower. We think that cooperation in the future will require reducing the barriers and borders separating Arab peoples.

Al Ahram: You talked about a role for a new generation of leaders in the region. What progress could this achieve?

King Abdullah: We must be aware of the ambitions of the new Arab generation. In Jordan, for instance, 60 per cent of the population is younger than I. They have different ideas and different views. It is our duty to become acquainted with their problems and worries. We must win them over. Throughout the Arab world, what I call the "MTV Generation" likes the same music and has the same interests. If we want to achieve success in the future, we must be tuned in to their wavelength. With regard to the new generation of leaders, we certainly have similar views and we can understand the needs and dreams of our youth. If we fail to really understand and resolve the problems of the new generation, then I would have many fears about the future.

Al Ahram: What is your position on globalisation? What are the measures that you deem necessary to catch up with the international economic system?

King Abdullah: We see no reason to fear globalisation. However, every country must find the appropriate approach to deal with the changes. The world is heading in a new direction and everybody must benefit from this new trend. It is very important to recognise the nature of the change and to arm the new generation with knowledge. Perhaps the establishment of a common Arab market would be one of the instruments that could help us face the challenges of globalisation and become a part of the global economy.

Al Ahram: How do you regard the present and the future of Egyptian-Jordanian relations?

King Abdullah: I am happy to say that we have good relations at all levels. I personally have an excellent relationship with President Mubarak, which dates back to the early 1980s. We always exchange views and ideas during our frequent contacts. He is a dear brother and I benefit from his advice. I also take every available opportunity to meet him at both the official and personal levels. Moreover, I follow the success stories of the Egyptian economy and the various ideas to reform and develop it. I strongly believe that Jordan can benefit from the Egyptian experience in this field.

We believe that economic cooperation with Egypt is crucial for Jordan and the whole region. There should be an economic link to tie the Arab countries together through economic integration. As long as there is a good industry in an Arab country, why should the other Arab countries not import its products instead of importing from foreign countries? For instance, Egypt has an advanced automobile industry and Jordanians could buy Egyptian automobiles. The two countries could also launch a joint venture so that some components are manufactured in Jordan, while others are produced in Egypt. We have raised the issue of sending an economic team to Egypt with President Mubarak in a bid to study this type of future cooperation between our two countries, whether on the official or private sector levels