His Majesty King Abdullah II’s Interview with NPR – Morning Edition April 22, 2009

Transcript of interview of Jordan’s King Abduallh II with NPR’s Michele Kelemen 4-22-09.
Audio is at:

His Majesty King Abdullah II

His Majesty King Abdullah II’s Interview with NPR – Morning Edition

April 22, 2009
Washington, DC

King: Core Middle East Problem Must Be Resolved
by Michele Kelemen

Morning Edition, April 22, 2009 · President Obama says he wants to see Israel and the Palestinians step back from the abyss and revive stalled peace talks, and he is inviting Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to the White House for separate talks in the coming weeks.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, the first Arab leader to meet Obama in the White House, says he came away convinced that the U.S. is preparing for a regional approach, trying to promote Arab Israeli peace on several different tracks.

In an interview with NPR, King Abdullah said he thinks the new approach will be to try to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks and, simultaneously, to work on the Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian tracks.

The ultimate “prize” for the Israelis, King Abdullah said, is recognition by the 57 Arab and Muslim nations that don’t have relations with the Jewish state. He says Israel is at a critical juncture now and has to decide whether it wants to be “integrated into the neighborhood” or continue to be “fortress Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised the idea of an “economic peace” with the Palestinians.

King Abdullah argues that “if economic outreach to the Palestinians is going to be a substitute for a two-state solution, it is never going to work.” There are “certain baby steps” that both Israelis and Palestinians can take to create a better atmosphere for negotiations, “hopefully under an American umbrella,” he said.

Obama also spoke about the need for both sides to make some “gestures of good faith” in the coming months and “step back from the abyss.”

The trip to Washington wasn’t only business for the Jordanian king. He took advantage of some downtime to ride his motorcycle to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Gettysburg, Pa., to “decompress” and take in a bit of American history.

Transcript of His Majesty King Abdullah’s Interview:


MS. KELEMEN: Well, Your Majesty, thanks very much for having us.

Tell us about your meeting with President Obama. Do you come away with a better sense of what he’s planning on doing to promote peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?

HM KING ABDULLAH: Yes. And I think that the president is not only committed to an agenda to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, he’s looking more to a regional approach where hopefully it’ll be Israelis and Palestinians; Israelis and Lebanese; Israelis and Syrians; and Israelis and Arab and Muslim partners.

MS. KELEMEN: The climate is very difficult now. Obviously, you have a new Israeli government that talks about promoting the economy of the Palestinian territory — so sort of an economic peace rather than a political peace. You have Palestinians split — rival factions controlling Gaza and the West Bank.

Aren’t you discouraged by this landscape?

HM KING ABDULLAH: Well, I think historically we always have to be optimistic. If we’re discouraged, that means that we’ve given up and I think for generations to come, that would be a disaster if we do.

Having said that, I think — going back to the issue of Israeli initiatives to have an economic peace — that’s not going to solve the problem. The core problem in the Middle East is the Israeli- Palestinian one. From that resonates all the other problems that we have and most people in the Middle East understand that this is the core issue. And so we’ve got to be very careful that if economic outreach is going to be a substitute for a two-state solution, then it’s not going to work.

On the Palestinian side, more than 85 percent want their Palestinian leaders to have a negotiation of peace with the Israelis. Even in Israel the overwhelming majority of the population still wants a negotiated settlement. And so it’s really empowering the people to convince their politicians that peace is the only way out as opposed to the other way around at this stage.

MS. KELEMEN: And President Obama said that for now his envoy is in listening mode in the Middle East. When do you expect to see the administration taking a firmer stand or has it done enough to date?

HM KING ABDULLAH: Again, listening mode has been very positive. And it doesn’t mean that Senator Mitchell, when he goes out, just listens. We hear American views and advice and that’s being taken on very strongly.

And actually, from practical steps, I believe that until President — Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to Washington and the president listens to what he has to say, I think it’s after that visit that you will get — I don’t know whether the word is a U.S. declaration, but a U.S. intention to bring both parties to the negotiation table. But in a regional context, it allows for the first time 57 nations of the world — that’s a third of the United Nations that does not recognize Israel — an opportunity to also come to the table and extend the hands to friendship to Israel.

MS. KELEMEN: What’s new about the Arab Peace Initiative that you brought? I mean, that’s part of the Arab Peace Initiative is to have Arab countries recognize Israel as — after there’s a fair peace.

HM KING ABDULLAH: Well, it’s really the most modern proposal in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s the only major one that has been there since the 1970s, which basically guarantees the future of Israel. It is including Israel to be a partner in the world with a third of the world that doesn’t recognize it today.

MS. KELEMEN: But is there more Arab countries can do to convince Israel that this is in its interests?

HM KING ABDULLAH: Well, Israel, I think, is at a critical juncture: whether it wants to be ingratiated into and integrated into the neighborhood or whether it wants to continue to be Fortress Israel. And what Fortress Israel means is no two-state solution; therefore, tension and violence between Israelis and Arabs/Israelis and Muslims, which nobody can afford. This is a small world and we’re all affected by it.

So I think the crossroads that Israel will have in 2009 is does it want to be part of the neighborhood or does it continue to want to be Fortress Israel? And that’s the challenge that we have is to convince Israel not to be Fortress Israel.

MS. KELEMEN: Now, I know you’re here on serious business, but I understand you got out to tool around on your motorcycle this weekend. (Laughter.)

HM KING ABDULLAH: Well, it was beautiful weather. And I had some of friends of mine here and we got out and went to Harper’s Ferry and to Gettysburg — a battle I’ve always studied and wanted to get out and see — and ended up in Baltimore-Annapolis and it was a great weekend of riding.

MS. KELEMEN: So this is a hobby of yours — motorcycle riding?

HM KING ABDULLAH: Well, it’s one of the few adventure sports that I’m allowed to do these days.

MS. KELEMEN: And I’m sure the security agents love it.

HM KING ABDULLAH: (Laughs.) Well, actually, some of them ride with us. So I think it’s a bit of work and pleasure at the same time.

MS. KELEMEN: Well, thank you very much, Your Majesty, for our time today.

HM KING ABDULLAH: Thank you very much.

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