“Everybody Is Confused”
An interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah about the chaos in Syria, and his view that the Arab Spring is a “disaster” for Israel.
A. Yes, we do. It is out of desperation and frustration that they are going to the U.N. I think part of the problem is that in the U.S., you have your other priorities.
Q. Like our elections?
A. Your elections. I think the administration would be very wary to step out front without guarantees on the Israeli-Palestinian process, which is a shame because it is desperately needed now. Some Israelis are saying the Arab Spring is a better thing for Israel. I think it is actually a worse thing.
Q. It is a disaster for Israel, isn’t it?
A. It is a disaster. You have seen what has happened in Egypt; you have seen Turkey. We are actually the last man standing with our relationship with Israel. That puts tremendous pressure on Jordan.
Q. The Israelis are worried the Egyptians will break the treaty.
A. That is a very, very strong possibility. If I were in Israel, I would be very concerned when I look at the regional map.
Q. Do you intend to support Jordan’s treaty with Israel?
A. We have a peace treaty with Israel and we will continue to do so because it helps both parties. We have shown this many times. And more importantly it allows us a strong seat of mediation between the Israelis and Palestinians vis à vis the peace process.
Q. A lot of Israelis think your recent statements have been hostile.
A. I don’t know if they are hostile. What I am saying is they are missing an opportunity here and I am very concerned. This is the most frustrated I have ever been about the peace process. I think a lot of us have come to the conclusion that this particular [Israeli] government is not interested in a two-state solution.
I always look at the glass half full and I’m looking at it half empty for the first time and so the words that are coming out of my mouth are more out of frustration and depression that I think the Israelis are missing a golden opportunity to solve their problem today as opposed to kicking it down the road, when I think the alternatives will be more limited.
Q. What did you think of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deal with Hamas to release an Israeli soldier? How does it affect the region?
A. It is politics at the end of the day. The Shalit deal has been on and off the table with consecutive Israeli governments.
Q. It was strange for Israel to be negotiating with Hamas. Will there be an impact in the larger sense?
A. I think all of us have been asking each other: What is the Israeli government’s true intention right now? Since I am not convinced there is an interest in a two-state solution, the question I am asking is: What is Plan B?
Q. You just appointed a new prime minister.
A. Yes, for the past six months we have listened to what people want: constitutional changes, new election laws, an independent commission, a constitutional court, etc. There are a total of 30 laws and amendments that we have to ratify just to get to national elections next year. The new prime minister, Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, has got an impeccable record. He is the ideal person to get us to national elections as quickly as possible.
Q. If you look five years down the line, do you see yourself relinquishing some power to the parliament?
A. Probably sooner. We haven’t shut any doors on relinquishing power. My mission is as quickly as possible to get Jordan to have a prime minister elected from a political party. …We need to create new political parties based on programs. If we have elections next year, we will have a new parliament but we won’t have political parties.
Q. You will still appoint the Senate?
A. There are two options. If there is a new parliament next year, do I look at blocs inside the new parliament and pick a strong bloc and say OK, you pick a new government? Or do I give the new political parties the next four years of parliament to establish [themselves] so that five years from now you have an elected government? I think five years is too long.
I think we are facing the same challenges as everyone in the West. The Arab Spring didn’t start because of politics; it started because of economics—poverty and unemployment. You cannot move political reform without economic reform.
Q. Once you have people rioting in the streets, how do you get foreign direct investment?
A. That’s the problem. That’s the challenge we have here. What keeps me up at night is not political reform because I am clear on where we are going. What keeps me up at night is the economic situation because if people are going to get back on the streets, it is because of economic challenges, not political.
Q. But you made a deal with the Saudis?
A. The Saudis have come through very strongly this year but our oil bill is something like 40 percent of the budget because we are an importer.
Q. And that is because you are having problems getting natural gas from Egypt?
A. We are having problems because the gas pipeline keeps getting blown up in Egypt and because of the price of oil.
Q. There are reports that over the next five years if you join the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], you will receive additional aid.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.