Jordan King Abdullah 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli government officials downplayed on Tuesday harsh comments made by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he said ties between Israel and Jordan were at their lowest ebb since peace was signed in 1994.
“Unfortunately, for the first time since my father [King Hussein] made peace with Israel, our relationship with Israel is at an all bottom low,” Abdullah said. “It hasn’t been as bad as it is today and as tense as it is today.”
Abdullah said he met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Amman last year and was optimistic at the time about his vision for peace.
But, he said, “I have to say that over the past 12 months, everything I’ve seen on the ground has made me extremely skeptical, and I’m probably one of the more optimistic people you will meet in this part of the world. And therefore, there’s been a lot of words, but the actions on the ground have made me extremely concerned about how straightforward Israeli policy is.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office would not get into a tit-for-tat exchange with Abdullah, saying only that the relationship with Jordan “is a cornerstone of Israel’s national security, and we want to strengthen bilateral cooperation. We believe a good relationship is good for both sides, and it is incumbent upon both sides to act.”
The officials did, however, take issue with Abdullah’s characterization that over the past year Netanyahu has been all words and no action, reminding him that during this period Netanyahu gave his Bar-Ilan address in which he accepted the idea of a two-state solution; lifted physical and economic barriers in the West bank to an unprecedented level which has led to a high degree of economic growth there; and declared an unprecedented settlement moratorium.
These moves, the officials said, were met not with any reciprocal steps by the Palestinians, but rather by a hardening of their positions.
Netanyahu has met with Abdullah only once since coming into office, and – officials said – their telephone conversations are nowhere near as frequent as those between Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Unlike the Egyptians, the Jordanians have historically followed the Palestinian lead regarding their relationship with Israel. For instance, the Jordanian peace treaty came only after the Palestinian-Israeli Oslo Accords, and in general the level of public dialogue between the two countries reflects the level of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians: When Israel and the Palestinians are talking, the ties with Amman warm up; when there is tension, so, too, does tension with Amman.
Abdullah said that “political trust is gone” between Israel and Jordan, and there is also “no real economic relationship between Jordan and Israel.”
According to Abdullah, “economically we were better off in trade and in movement before my father signed the peace treaty. I mean, obviously there was the golden period of the wonderful relationship between my father and prime minister Rabin; and after the death of prime minister Rabin, again there was resurgence with prime minister Barak, but it’s just been a decline since then.”
One government official said that Abdullah has been sending out the same pessimistic message in interviews for the last number of months. The official, not relating directly to Abdullah, said there was often little correlation between what Arab leaders say in public and their private messages.
Regardless, Abdullah’s public pronouncements in this particular interview were extremely harsh. “I think the long-term future of Israel is in jeopardy unless we solve our problems,” said Abdullah. “Fifty-seven countries in the world, a third of the United Nations, do not recognize Israel. In a way, I think North Korea has better international relations than Israel.”
Abdullah welcomed “tough love” from America toward Israel, and –
playing on a sentiment heard increasingly in Washington – said that the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been against American national
interests. Abdullah argued that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was at
the core of why America was having problems fighting its two wars in
“The Israeli-Palestinian issue is used by everyone who has an ax to
grind against the West,” he said. “So resolving this problem does not
mean that this evil will evaporate, but definitely, it will take a big
chunk out of the challenges that we have in this region.”
During the interview, Abdullah did not once cite anything that the
Palestinian Authority could do to help solve the conflict, nor mention
– except once in passing – Hamas and the Gaza Strip.