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This interview appeared in the German Der Spiegel newspaper one month after the Washington Declaration ended the 46-year state of war between Jordan and Israel, and two months before the two states signed a peace treaty. In the interview, His Majesty talks about the historic Hashemite role in Jerusalem and how this relates to clauses in the Washington Declaration giving Jordan "special responsibility" for the Islamic holy sites there. He also stresses the importance of including Syria in any comprehensive peace settlement, and his hopes for the future of a Middle East at peace.


Der Spiegel Newspaper

Interviewer: Volkhard Windfuhr

August 22, 1994


(Excerpts translated from the original German)


Der Spiegel: Your Majesty, you have witnessed highs and lows, coup attempts and assassination attempts over the past 42 years of your reign. Do you view the signing of the Washington Declaration with Israel ending a 46-year state of war as the crowning achievement of your life?

King Hussein: No. In itself, the agreement does not mean an end to the sufferings of the people in the region. But we can say the declaration is the climax of developments that made Jordan and Israel decide to conclude peace.

Der Spiegel: War it a decision made by the king alone?

King Hussein: I have dreamed all my life of the chance to provide a better life for my people. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of Jordanians supported the change we reached in Washington. I pray that fate will enable me to join the list of peace pioneers in this region. Jordan should be a model for all to see how talents, unexplored for decades, can be exploited for peace.

Der Spiegel: Nevertheless, recently you alarmed your parliamentarians with the statement that you are now going through the most dangerous stage of your life. Were you thinking of the fate of your grandfather, King Abdullah, who was assassinated at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1951 in front of your eyes just because he had accepted Israel’s existence?

King Hussein: I was not just thinking of myself but, above all, of the dangers that Jordan would be facing if peace were delayed even further. We Jordanians knew that we did not have a wide range of options from which we could freely pick one.

There were only two possibilities. Either continue in the old way--which would have meant more and more despair with an uncertain outcome, or daring to make the big leap and open a new page in the history book. This meant: Moving directly toward peace with Israel.

Der Spiegel: Meanwhile you have shaken hands with Israeli head of government Rabin on Jordanian territory. Then you flew over Israeli territory in your private plane, escorted by Israeli jets . . .

King Hussein: . . . I myself was piloting the plane when I flew over the holy places in Jerusalem . . . .

Der Spiegel: When will you pay an official visit to Israel, and when do you expect Israeli President Weizman as an official guest in Amman?

King Hussein: This can take place at any time.

Der Spiegel: In a few days, weeks, or months?

King Hussein: In Washington we agreed that we should meet whenever this would give new stimuli to the peace process. We are not afraid of touching each other. I have a number of invitations to visit Israel. This is really just a matter of time.

Der Spiegel: Has the peace process in the Middle East now made so much progress that even the worst terrorist attacks by militant opponents cannot stop it anymore?

King Hussein: Such dangers always exist. However, at least as regards Jordan, I know that the majority of the population supports this peace process with Israel. There is no alternative to peace--that should be clear to everyone.

Der Spiegel: Not all, as yet, are convinced about these constants. Syria, and consequently Lebanon, have not yet defined their tracks as Your Majesty did.

King Hussein: All the officials in the Middle East seriously seek real peace. I emphasize this, all are seeking real peace. In fact, there is no substitute to seeking a comprehensive peace that will comprise Israel and all its Arab neighbors. Every Arab-Israeli peace initiative, like the Jordanian-Israeli agreement, is only a brick in the structure of a comprehensive peace that will be attained later.

Der Spiegel: It seems that not all the PLO leaders share your viewpoint. Faruq Qaddumi, Arafat’s foreign minister, reiterated the need to destroy Israel.

King Hussein: Arafat and Qaddumi are free to say what they want. However, this does not change anything in the inevitability of the peace process.

Der Spiegel: We do not want to imagine what could take place if one of the main active figures in the peace process is the target of an assassination that is masterminded by the enemies of the idea of a just peace between the Arabs and Israel. Remember al-Sadat’s fate?

King Hussein: Anyone who supports such decisions is threatened. But responsible politicians should work as their conscience dictates and for what serves their people. With regard to us, we are determined to conclude peace, and nothing will dissuade us from attaining this objective.

Der Spiegel: Why are you focusing on the peace negotiations with the Israelis at this particular time?

King Hussein: No other Arab state gave to the Palestinians what Jordan gave to them. Others did not suffer as much as we suffered for the Palestinians’ sake. Now that the Palestinians have concluded agreements with the Israelis, we consider it our duty to take care of our own interests.

Der Spiegel: Negotiations with Israel began a few weeks ago. They, however, have not yielded much yet.

King Hussein: The general atmosphere of negotiations is not bad. The negotiations may take some time, and there are reasons for this. We do not just want to agree on defining the places where the border signs will he erected in the Jordan Rift Valley; we also want to turn this valley into a valley for peace. We want to implement joint ventures which have a future dimension. Moreover, we want to know the quantity of water to be allotted to each party and the possibilities of utilizing the best available water sources and to reach for new sources, provided that this is done within a regional framework. This matter will take time. We will continue the negotiations until tangible successes are achieved. At that time, the Jordanian people must express their view and say whether they are satisfied with what has been achieved. Those who have an opposing view should express it, too. This is because peace which is dictated will not be a real peace.

Der Spiegel: Will you sign a peace agreement with Israel this year?

King Hussein: I do not want to rule out this possibility. The talks, however, began a short time ago, so I do not know how much time they will take.

Der Spiegel: Your agreement with Israel in Washington irritated the PLO leadership. Arafat was angered by the paragraph giving priority to Jordan regarding the holy places in Jerusalem in the negotiations on the city's status. Isn't this anger justified?

King Hussein: Not at all. The special relationship between Jordan and the Hashemite family and Jerusalem and the holy places on the other dates back to the period prior to the declaration of the State of Israel and the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. What took place in Washington only emphasized this fact, knowing that Jordan fought for Jerusalem and saved it in 1948.

Der Spiegel: From the army of the newly established State of Israel.

King Hussein: The disaster came with the 1967 war when Israel took over Jerusalem. We, however, continued to fulfill our duties toward the holy places. This was approved by the Arab summit held in Rabat in 1974.

Der Spiegel: Still, Israel gave the PLO an affirmation, included in the joint Declaration of Principles, that it will negotiate only with the PLO on the final status of Jerusalem, which caused Arafat to feel humiliated.

King Hussein: There is a new element: that is, the quest to separate the protection of the holy Islamic, Christian, and Jewish sites and the political differences. If this quest succeeds, Jerusalem will indeed became the city of peace for all. However, this does not at all encroach on the negotiations over the future of the city as agreed between the Palestinian leadership and Israel.

Der Spiegel: Perhaps Israel believes it has an interest in giving preferential treatment to one party over another, or vice versa?

King Hussein: Out of integrity, I say that Jordan took the initiative in this regard so issues do not get out of hand and become confused before reaching a solution acceptable to all parties. Thus, we must differentiate between two things--namely, religious matters on the one hand and Palestinian rights on the other--rights which we have always sought to achieve.

Der Spiegel: Faysal al-Husseini, Arafat's expert on Jerusalem affairs, believes raising the issue of Jerusalem is the best way to destroy the peace process.

King Hussein: There is nothing that justifies any stirring of sentiments. I hope no one will try to hide his failure by raising the question of Jerusalem. Believe me, we do not want to compete with the Palestinians.

Der Spiegel: Did you decide to push the peace process forward through a Jordanian initiative because of your concern that Israel and the PLO might conclude more agreements behind your back and at Jordan’s expense?

King Hussein: The Palestinians really surprised us, although we had coordinated our policies at the 1991 Madrid peace conference. Despite this, we continued to support them. Now, we have the right to take care of our interests. We were continuously concerned about achieving coordination and joint action. However, this was always obstructed and was not up to our expectations. Therefore, we were prompted to take the initiative.

Der Spiegel: The Arab slogans of unity have always been just a myth.

King Hussein: At least they never yielded what they promised.

Der Spiegel: Do you expect the emergence of an independent Palestinian state or do you prefer the establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian federation?

King Hussein: It is premature to say something certain about the relations between Jordan and the Palestinian areas we might see in the future. First of all, the Palestinians should regain their democratic rights. After that, we will see what could be done. Let time handle this issue. However, we will surely respect the Palestinians’ independent decision regardless of its nature.

Der Spiegel: And what will happen to the Palestinians who live in your Kingdom?

King Hussein: Any member of the Jordanian community will retain his status until the day there is the possibility to decide on further remaining in the Jordanian state.

Der Spiegel: Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians immigrated to Jordan after the six-day war in 1967. Will they stay in Jordan or will they be able to return to Palestine?

King Hussein: This will be determined by a four-member committee from Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinians. It is the displaced people’s right to be repatriated.

Der Spiegel: All the politicians involved in the peace process meet and hold discussions. Why hasn't Yasir Arafat come to Amman?

King Hussein: I do not know why. But we welcome him any time here.

Der Spiegel: Your Majesty, there has been a de·facto peace on the Jordan for more than 20 years. During this time there were secret contacts between you and a number of Israeli politicians. Are you willing to reveal anything about that?

King Hussein: I had contact with many Israelis to sound out the opportunities for peace. However, years passed without the emergence of any tangible results. This changed only with the insight that a peace treaty is not the beginning of the peace process but its conclusion.

Der Spiegel: There will be no lasting peace in the Middle East without Syria. Will al-Asad move in the required direction, or will he stay in his isolation, as if he embodies pan-Arabism?

King Hussein: I believe President al-Asad seeks peace. Things will be moving because Syria and Lebanon will become parties in a comprehensive peace that will prevail in the Middle East.

Der Spiegel: Is there coordination between you and Hafiz al-Asad?

King Hussein: Not at the moment. But, I believe the Jordanian initiative did not surprise President al-Asad much because we keep in contact. When I last met him, I explained to him that we will now resort to our own means as best as we can.

Der Spiegel: Does this mean that Hafiz al-Asad supports the policy you adopt toward Israel?

King Hussein: In any case, he has not shown any opposition so far.

Der Spiegel: Can you visualize the establishment of a common market between Israel and its Arab neighbors?

King Hussein: There are unlimited possibilities for improving the quality of life. Such a market will give us all more stability, security, and prosperity which will augur well for all the other crisis-ridden areas in the world.

Der Spiegel: But, in this case, the Arabs might face an Israeli economic hegemony.

King Hussein: I do not think Jordan has anything to fear from the common market idea. Ours is a developed country and our people enjoy a high degree of culture. We can face any challenge with confidence and we have no reason to fear the future or Israel's hegemony.

Der Spiegel: Is there still any justification at all for the Arab economic boycott against Israel?

King Hussein: The time of boycotts is over. But one must negotiate about that, because Israel, too, is boycotting our products. Of course, this must also stop.

Der Spiegel: For four years, your country has been somewhat isolated from the West for your support of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf Crisis. Has the time come to return Iraq to the Arab fold, or even to have it participate in the peace process with Israel?

King Hussein: I cannot speak on behalf of others. However, I hope that Iraq, a very important element in this region, will resume normal life. I also hope the Iraqi people's suffering will end. As for peace in the Middle East, Iraq would be an important factor in it.

Der Spiegel: Are you ready to mediate in order to return Iraq to the international community?

King Hussein: I was not asked to do so. Thus, I have made no contacts for this purpose.

Der Spiegel: You are the longest ruling head of state in the Middle East. Can you predict when peace will overwhelm Israel and its Arab neighbors?

King Hussein: Both parties have realized that there is no alternative to a peace settlement. However, it is difficult to predict the time needed to translate this realization into fact.

Der Spiegel: US Secretary of State Warren Christopher believes this can be achieved before 1996. Is he overoptimistic?

King Hussein: No, not at all. It depends on the speed with which the parties to peace will turn their hopes and good intentions into realities.

Der Spiegel: (former) Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat broke the hellish circle of the eternal Arab-Israeli conflict 17 years ago, thus risking his own life. Would it have not been better for the Arabs at that time to join al-Sadat's peace policy instead of waiting all these years in vain?

King Hussein: Many opportunities before and after al-Sadat’s time were missed in the past. The region’s tragedy was represented by the fact that its officials always paid attention to their narrow interests, so they did not give primary attention to the collective interest. Many people in Israel and the Arab World ran after illusions. This, however, is over now.

Der Spiegel: You will visit Germany soon. How can Europe contribute to the Middle East peace process?

King Hussein: I hope that the relations of friendship with Europe will help us achieve our future vision about a Middle East in which peace will prevail.

Der Spiegel: Your Majesty: You faced an acute health crisis. What are the objectives you set for yourself?

King Hussein: Supporting the bases of democracy, pluralism, and human rights, and giving others an example in utilizing the fruits of peace in the interest of all. I hope that a new dawn will come.

Der Spiegel: Your Majesty, thank you for this interview.