U.S. must lead forcefully in Mideast, Jordan says

King Abdullah II terms U.S. intervention crucial to averting worse violence

May 14, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - An anxious King Abdullah II of Jordan ended a visit to the United States yesterday after 10 days of trying to build bridges - between himself and President Bush, between America and the Arab world, and between Jews and Arabs in the United States.

To everyone he met, he delivered a stark message about the need for forceful American intervention to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At no time since the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, he said, has such involvement been more urgently needed.

He said he fears that the relative calm right now could soon give way to even greater rage and desperation. And he worries about the potential "devastating consequences" if, given the high tensions in the Middle East, the United States were to launch military action against Iraq.

King Abdullah rejects the idea that views on both sides have hardened to the point where compromise is impossible. That's probably true of the leaders, he says. But he says the Israeli and Palestinian people are ahead of their leaders in wanting a settlement sooner rather than later.

"Indeed, even while the conflict rages on, there is an internalization process in the minds of peoples on both sides," he said in a speech yesterday at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Both peoples are exhausted and are ready for peace - a peace that will allow an Israeli mother to send her child to school without fear, and a peace that will allow a Palestinian mother to deliver her newborn alive at a hospital and not at an Israeli checkpoint."

To build on this mood, the king said, the United States should take the lead in spelling out what peace would look like and set talks in rapid motion between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab states.

All sides, he said, need to go "straight to the final prizes" - a solution to the toughest issues blocking Arab-Israeli peace - and not get bogged down in drawn-out negotiations. A timetable must be set for a conclusion.

"Through a collective peace treaty with every Arab state, Israel would receive the security guarantees it needs: The Jewish character, security, legitimacy, international recognition, Arab acceptance and [the] peaceful future of Israel would be positively addressed" he said.

Arabs should get "an end to Israeli occupation of all Arab lands; the guarantee of independence, freedom, dignity, equality and security for the Palestinians [and] an agreed solution to the refugee question." The burning question of the right of return for Palestinian refugees can be solved with enough flexibility, he said.

The question of sovereignty over the holy city of Jerusalem, claimed as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, "would be answered by providing a shared city, open to all faiths," he said. "If we don't articulate a hope, how do you expect a Palestinian or an Arab to stick his neck out to try and curb terrorism?"

The vision, he said, should build on the proposal by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia that was endorsed by the 22-nation Arab League.

Jordan's King Abdullah, 40, who ascended to the throne three years ago upon the death of his father, King Hussein, is the recipient of as much good will in Washington as any leader in the Arab world, in large part because he has the closest ties to Israel.

He agrees with Bush that the Palestinian Authority is in need of reform and a "transparent" government and judiciary.

On Wednesday, the day he met with Bush, King Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania, also met with a dozen Jewish leaders from a broad spectrum of organizations.

For the royal couple, "the die is cast," M.J. Rosenberg of the Middle East Policy Forum, one of those present, wrote afterward in his organization's newsletter. "They understand that Jordan's fate, for better or worse, is tied to that of Israel; that being the case, these two royals are eager to make it for the better."

Rosenberg wrote that before meeting with the Jewish leaders, the queen, who is Palestinian, met separately with Arab-Americans, whom she urged to sit down with American Jews to build bridges.

"Peace cannot be made by governments alone," he quoted her as saying. "The people must be involved."

King Abdullah's good relations with the United States and Israel leave him vulnerable at home. Jordan sits between what the king's uncle, Prince Hassan, calls "Iraq and a hard place." Iraq lies to the east, Israel and the West Bank to the west.

Should the fighting in the West Bank and Gaza worsen, the king could face unrest among the 60 percent of Jordanians who are Palestinian. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which in the past has had links to the Palestinian extremist group Hamas, is reported to be the strongest opposition movement in Jordan.

And if the United States takes military action against Iraq with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still raging, King Abdullah said, violence could escalate.

King Abdullah finds himself in a position similar to that of his father's in relation to Iraq. King Hussein hoped to find a diplomatic end to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. But he faced an ultimatum from President George Bush that he was either with the United States or against it.

King Abdullah also wants to give dialogue a chance:

"If anybody has any sensitivity to what's going on between Israelis and the Palestinians and how it's affecting the Arab street, to add Iraq to the menu now, I think, would be devastating."

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