Moderate Muslim and Arab countries face great challenges as major players in the Middle East peace process who work to prevent the next war in the region – which could break out as soon as this summer, King Abdullah of Jordan told the Chicago Tribune editorial board in an interview conducted Thursday.
“There are countries in the Middle East that do not believe in the Arab peace proposal,” he said, explaining that 57 Arab and Muslim states had “basically all agreed that they want to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, but [want] in return a two-state solution, therefore a future for the Palestinians.”
Abdullah stated that at the last two Arab League summits, there were countries that spoke out against dialogue with Israel and suggested tabling the Arab peace initiative. “We managed to get an extension of the Arab peace proposal, which terminates in July,” Abdullah continued. “There will be a committee meeting of Arab countries in July, and for us as moderate countries, we’re going to be challenged by everybody else: ‘Nothing has happened; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is not interested in peace, so why keep the Arab peace proposal on the table?’” By July, he said, something would have to change.
“What we’re hoping for is active engagement by the Palestinians with the Americans, the Israelis with the Americans,” he said. Through American mediation, he added, benchmarks for negotiations could be decided upon by July.
Concerning reports that US President Barack Obama had his own peace plan in the works, Abdullah said that it was up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to do more of the groundwork. “If we stay at the status quo, others in the region are not sitting idly by. So the chance of conflict is always very high. War would be disastrous for the Israelis, for the Arabs, for all of us,” he said.
Abdullah warned that despite the good intentions of many, there was a “very good chance” that war could break out in the region in the coming months. “If we hit the summer and there’s no active process, there’s a very good chance for conflict – and nobody wins when it comes to that,” he said.
Asked about the direction in which Netanyahu is taking Israel, Abdullah replied that he’d become “extremely frustrated” with the current government’s stance. “I believe Israel’s future is to be integrated into the region. But if the powers that be look at Israel’s future as Fortress Israel, that means bloodshed will continue for decades,” he warned, referring to a state in which Israel chooses to be isolated and cut off from the rest of the region.
“In the Arab-Islamic peace proposal, it’s not just opening trade offices, it’s full diplomatic relations,” Abdullah explained. “They’re looking at Israel being integrated into the region, not just having embassies so that it looks good for the cameras, but having relations with the Arab and Islamic world. Fifty-seven nations is a third of the United Nations; that’s a third of the United Nations that does not recognize Israel today,” he said.
“Indirectly, what the Arabs are saying is, we will be the ones to ensure the security and the survival of Israel,” he continued. “You don’t need to have those walls, you don’t need to be Fortress Israel because you’re one of us now.”
Turning to the issue of Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Abdullah said that he, like other leaders in the region, would like “to see the whole region free of nuclear weapons.” He said that the need for such weapons stemmed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, nobody needs a nuclear weapon,” he said. “If you solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, why would a country such as Iran want to go to the extent of a nuclear military program when the mantra there is defending the rights of the Palestinians and Jerusalem?”
The Jordanian leader warned, however, that a nuclear Iran could set off an atomic rat race in the region. “As volatile as our region is, the last thing you want is a whole bunch of countries in my part of the world developing nuclear weapons,” he said. He stressed that a preemptive strike would not stop Teheran. “If Iran is hit, Iran will retaliate and create what I consider Pandora’s box,” he cautioned. “Conflicts would ignite throughout our region. A military strike would be disastrous for all of us.”