JORDAN: Q & A with Jordan`s Prince Hassan Bin Talal
Arnaud de Borchgrave
Washington DC, June 1, 2006
Prince Hassan of Jordan, the man who would have been king, talked about the explosive situation in his country in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq.
Arnaud de Borchgrave: Amman is now awash with Iraqis - about 1 million since the US invasion in 2003. What has been the impact on Jordan?
Prince Hassan: It`s a demographic bomb coupled with the increasing gulf between rich and poor and the increasing control by Islamist fundamentalists of the masses of poor people. Not only Iraqis, but also Lebanese, Syrians and many others do business in Iraq from Amman. Our capital has become unrecognizable over the past two years and spreading urbanization appears to be out of control. There is also donor fatigue for Palestinian refugees. The rise in the price of oil means higher food prices, which the poor cannot afford. So we also have the poverty bomb and the environmental bomb, which have brought us to ask how many people can Jordan absorb with acceptable levels of human dignity without one of those bombs exploding. How long can human dignity continue unblemished?
Q: How do you read Ehud Olmert`s West Bank plans that now ask the US for $10 billion to resettle 60,000 West Bank Jews, not in Israel proper, but in larger West Bank settlements?
A: Israel also has 850,000 nationals in different parts of the Western world who show no signs of wishing to return. The arrival of a million settlers in the 1980s and 90s from Russia and former Soviet republics created a new dynamic in Israeli domestic politics of intolerance for Arabs in general.
I would like to think that Israel`s Western population are the best and the brightest and more amenable to Israel becoming a part of the West Asia region. But the Russian émigrés are clearly alienated from the Arab population and the concept of relocating settlements applies only to 15 percent of what is left of the territories, meaning effectively a revisiting of the Allon Plan with freeing up a corridor west of the Jordan River valley.
But the principal concern is that while President Bush describes the unilateral process of resettlement as bold in the context of peacemaking, Mr. Olmert says that President Abbas is helpless and that he cannot wait beyond the end of this year to take further steps, which include the completion of the wall and the consolidation of the greater Jerusalem area and related urban settlements, thus blocking access for West Bank Palestinians.
It is a different dimension of the demographic bomb when one considers that if Jordan were to open the floodgates that a significant percentage of the Palestinian population would find its way to Jordan in a matter of months. Hence Jordan has been criticized for its strict controls on population movement from the West Bank to the east bank, or Jordan proper.
Q: Doesn`t this make a `contiguous and viable` Palestinian state impossible, cut off as the West Bank already is from East Jerusalem?
A: I think it revisits in law the question of the International Trusteeship Council, which is still embrionically in existence in the context of the Palestine mandate because clearly the concept of the two-state system will have been put to rest.
Over and above which it invokes a great deal of residual sovereignty. I, for one, regard the Israeli-occupied territories as having been occupied from Jordan. And for Jordan to say it relinquishes sovereignty is a legal lacuna, which recognizes the Israeli occupation, and that is unthinkable. Jordan was recognized by two more countries than recognized Israel`s rights in Jerusalem by the United Nations in 1955 as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
I hasten to add this is not a call for reviving a Jordanian role that would set off alarm bells that Jordan is laying claim to the West Bank. But what I am saying is that the point has almost arrived where the Palestinian-Israeli particularity has reached its threshold in talks. Which leaves the permanent status issues that Israel and Jordan were called upon to negotiate in the treaty, most significantly the question of refugees.
It is Jordan`s responsibility to address the question of free and fair elections whereby all Jordanians of Palestinian origin are invited to be included - inclusion, not assimilation - in Jordan, first putting to rest the concept of the alternative homeland, meaning an alternative regime, and we can then turn to the Palestinians and say, `you have found your safe haven and contributed to it. We have not put to rest your hopes and dreams about a right to return [to what is now Israel) - though this remains a pipedream - and we`re not an alternative to Palestine,` and to the Israelis we can say, `if you call it an alternative homeland, then you are the prehistoric homeland`.`
Q: This is the United Arab Kingdom idea of the late King Hussein in 1974?
A: I wouldn`t put it in that way because when I referred to invoking residual sovereignty is not asking for what my grandfather [King Abdullah] was asked to do in 1951. I don`t see the Palestinians clamoring to be recognized in the context of a united Arab kingdom on both banks of the Jordan River. All I`m saying is that when [the late Israeli foreign minister] Abba Eban spoke about the Benelux concept it was Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Now if Palestinians forfeit their rights in the territories to the degree where the Bible state and the Bible community is impossible because the door is shut on the Benelux concept of intra-independence - independence, that is, but within a larger economic union - then Jordan has to ensure that it doesn`t pay the price east of the river and, therefore, I think that east of the river even with the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, it is still in Jordan`s interest to promote a vital Palestinian community in the West Bank.
Q: But wouldn`t the plan Ehud Olmert put to President Bush preempt what you are suggesting?
A: No, it would actually make what I`m suggesting possible. Because what is being put to the president says, in effect, `We`re interested in unilateral steps and would you approve?` Now, of course, we were opposed to Gaza first and last, so we can`t go back on that statement. Logically, we have to be true to ourselves and say that if the Israeli unilateral realignment takes place, the question posed should be how viable is the Palestinian entity? It will certainly bear no resemblance to UN Resolution 242 on the withdrawal of territories seized in the June 1967 war.
And therefore I think it is viable to suggest to the international community either you endorse an international protectorate or an international trusteeship, in the same way Jimmy Carter came to monitor elections, we need an international monitor who guarantees the population and the spatial content of whatever will have been reached at that moment as living in acceptable conditions.
International assistance to the Palestinians has been stopped in all its aspects, even for the monitoring of avian flu. This is appalling. It is a deliberate worsening of the situation by throwing the baby out with the bath water.
If you want Hamas to shoulder its responsibilities by recognizing Israel and moving toward recognition of the two-state system, punishing the Palestinian people simply plays into the hands of the extremists, not into the hands of those who favor a formula for coexistence, and therefore we must keep the formula alive in peoples imaginations.
Q: What should Hamas do now? Jobless in Gaza and West Bank have doubled to 40 percent; two-thirds of the population is living below local poverty levels; personal incomes are down 30 percent in 2006 so far; the economy is down 27 percent. What do you feel could break the new deadlock?
A: If Jordan sits back and accepts developments as they are and does not play a proactive role, it is conceivable that far from breaking the deadlock in West Bank terms, what is an ideological movement could spread to Jordan and the rest of the region.
It`s questionable whether an ideological movement is interested in territory anyway. So if it`s a question of a lust for power, power can be exercised in the West Bank in the same way it can be exercised in other parts of the region. And Jordan put to rest the concept of the alternative homeland by signing a peace with treaty with Israel that defined borders, but I`m not talking of redefining borders here, as Mr. Olmert is, and which may cause that demographic bomb to explode in Jordan.
Q: With Hamas firing rockets at Israelis and Olmert saying `we occupied Gaza once and we can do it again`, do you see Intifada III coming?
A: Well, this is what the Hamas people have predicted, not in the context of Palestinian vs. Israeli alone, but shift in emphasis would have the Palestinians targeting Israelis in the occupied territories as opposed to targeting them over a wall. But it`s also conceivable you may see this in the context of internecine Palestinian strife. So this new situation is fraught with new dangers and more bloodshed.
Q: Iran is now saying it is willing to negotiate with anyone. How do you think the US, EU, Russia and China can get back on the same page vis-à-vis Iran`s nuclear ambitions?
A: As with the case of potential negotiations with Hamas, I think that opening a window of, say, a month to say to the Iranians that are committed to our policies of a comprehensive Middle East peace, and the recognition of the rights of all states in the region to live in peace and harmony free from threats, and the recognition of the importance of creating a regional stabilization initiative, which puts the dangers we anticipate back in the box. And on that basis to create a WMD-free zone to protect the energy of the world.
To say to the Iranians this is what you wish to explore with them can be done in a simple letter that would respond to President Ahmadinejad`s 18-page letter that has been dismissed as unworthy of response. We should remember Krushchev`s letter to Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis whose response ignored its contents. So here again, the response could be to a letter you would have liked to receive. What is daunting about the present situation is the apparent absence of any preventive diplomacy.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is Editor at Large at United Press International