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This interview was conducted shortly after Israel’s opening of a controversial tunnel near the al-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem. The violence that followed resulted in the deaths of seventy-six Palestinians and Israelis, and brought the peace process to the brink of disaster. In this interview with Global Viewpoint, King Hussein stresses that it is totally unacceptable for Israel to “unilaterally disturb the status quo” in Jerusalem before final status talks are concluded. He also reiterates Jordan’s desire for unity and democracy in Iraq. His Majesty describes a mood of anger and despair in the Arab world, and warns that if there is not a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli problem—“the root cause of turbulence in our region”—that extremists will exploit the situation to the detriment of the majority of the people in the region who want peace.


Global Viewpoint News Syndicate

Interviewers: Nathan Gardels and Stanley Sheinbaum


October 7, 1996

Global Viewpoint: Jordan’s “historic role” in Jerusalem was recognized in both the Washington Declaration of July 1994 and the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty. Doesn’t that mean you were supposed to have been consulted by Israel on a volatile decision like opening a tourist exit for the tunnel near the holy sites in the Old City?

King Hussein: Yes. But we were never informed, no less consulted. The opening of the exit was a total surprise. I had met with Dore Gold, (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s advisor just hours before the exit was opened and he didn’t mention a word.

Global Viewpoint: By opening the tunnel exit, wasn’t Netanyahu saying to the world that Jerusalem is nobody’s business but Israel’s, thus undermining the very foundation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulate that the status of Jerusalem would be determined in the final status talks to begin in 1999?

King Hussein: I believe this is what was behind it all. (Netanyahu was saying) “We can do what we please.” This is totally unacceptable. Jerusalem, the old Holy City, is above sovereignty. It belongs to all the descendants of the Children of Abraham—Muslims, Jews and Christians. It must become a symbol of peace, the essence of peace, between all of us. A point of light for the whole world. This does not make it possible for any one side to unilaterally disturb the status quo until there is agreement all around.

Global Viewpoint: If this is “not acceptable” to you, what will be the consequences from your side?

King Hussein: The Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty— all that has been achieved so far—will definitely be in question if there isn’t a strict adherence to all agreements with Israel, and their implementation.

These agreements are sacred. They cannot be tampered with or toyed with in any way. We are laying the foundations for our future here. If, in the times ahead, we do not recognize what our predecessors have achieved, where will that leave us? It will lead us right back to all the doubts, suspicions and fears we thought we had left behind.

Global Viewpoint: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak didn’t go to the Washington summit because he assumed, in the face of the kind of intransigence from Netanyahu you’ve just described, that nothing would come of it. Why did you go to Washington?

King Hussein: Because the situation had so deteriorated that I feared if I and the others didn’t come to Washington we were facing a real and immediate disaster. The Washington summit has bought us some time and, certainly, the commitment, to which we are all witness, that there will be direct negotiations with no let-up until all the problems are resolved, particularly concerning Hebron.

Global Viewpoint: In your talks in Washington and otherwise with Netanyahu, are you convinced of his sincerity? Has he finally ended up where Rabin and Peres started—namely, that there is no way around dealing with Arafat?

King Hussein: He hopefully knows that he must deal with Arafat and the Palestinians as equal partners, not as inferiors, not looking down on them.

Global Viewpoint: You said “hopefully,” but is it your personal impression that he is sincere?

King Hussein: Well, I had great hopes in the past. All I can say now is that the election in Israel was an internal affair. The Israeli people made their choice for the person of the prime minister, not against peace.

The overwhelming majority of people in Israel belong to the peace camp. This was evident in the way the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty sailed through the Knesset. It wasn’t only the Labor Party that supported it; it was accepted by all the parties. It is critical at this moment to call upon all those who belong to the peace camp—in Israel, the United States, everywhere—to stand and be counted. We need them now more than ever.

Global Viewpoint: How do you read the mood in the Arab world after the Washington summit?

King Hussein: Anger, bordering on despair. We are sliding back toward a very dangerous psychological moment where people believe there is no hope. That is why we need to do everything we can, as rapidly as we can, to save the peace. We’ve torn down the walls. People on both sides had just come to realize that they all have the same worries, the same hopes and aspirations. We’ve seen the children of those who formerly fought each other in battle coming together.

A lot has been accomplished, even between Syria and Israel. A foundation has been built by intensive, hard diplomacy over the past four years.

So, what are we doing? Are we going to put all that in jeopardy by turning back the clock? Does Israel really want to return to a fortress mentality with the image of the arrogance of power? I have come to know the Israelis, and I am worried about them.

Global Viewpoint: You once thought peace was irreversible. Is war again possible?

King Hussein: If people with a sense of responsibility control the situation, peace is still irreversible. But we have had extremists on both sides. First, we had the Hebron massacre in 1994. We had the acts of violence inside Israel. We had extremists who assassinated my grandfather. We had extremists who killed Rabin. I am very distressed to sense now that the closed-minded people are influencing the movement of events in the opposite direction of peace. I am distressed that the minority is able to intimidate the vast majority of us in the whole region.

Global Viewpoint: Sixty percent of Jordanian citizens are Palestinians. Jordan is also the most democratic of all the Arab states, a place where public opinion really does matter. If there isn’t some progress on the peace front very soon, are you so certain that Jordanians will stick with your commitment to peace?

King Hussein: We do have democracy, and in that democracy we have always had a minority that opposes peace. What I say today, I believe, represents the feelings of my people. People will, however, draw their own conclusions if things continue the way they are.

Global Viewpoint: You thought less than a year ago that Saddam Hussein might be driven from power. Now, as a result of his successful incursion into the Kurdish north, and his hold on power, his standing in the Arab world seems to have been somewhat revived.

King Hussein: Yes, he is in greater control of Iraq than he has been for a long period of time. I will continue to differentiate between my feelings and the feelings of my government toward Saddam on the one hand, and toward the people of Iraq on the other. We seek unity for Iraq and democracy, and at some point before too long, I hope, an end to this nightmare so that there will be an opportunity for a dialogue among the mosaic of the Iraqi people. Then they can decide for themselves what their relations ought to be in a modern, dynamic society.

Global Viewpoint: Saddam was weakening, now he is back. Peace was moving forward, now it is off-track. It is one step forward, two steps back.

King Hussein: You are right. This current situation shows that if we don’t proceed vigorously forward in attaining a comprehensive peace in the region, the danger is there for all sorts of things to happen including—and I wouldn’t wish it upon Netanyahu—reliving the experiences of 1990 when he had to don his gas mask before the TV all of us had to duck missiles flying over. Then, instead of the message of the three great religions spreading out from this region to the world, all of our futures will be jeopardized. Only a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem—the root cause of turbulence in our region—can avoid a tragic situation that extremists will be certain to exploit. The alternative to peace is too horrible to contemplate.