Thursday, September 23, 2010

King Abdullah of Jordan on The Daily Show

King Abdullah II of Jordan was on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, discussing the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the future of the region in an extended interview. Embedded video clips and a full transcript follow below the fold.

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King Abdullah II of Jordan
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - King Abdullah II of Jordan Extended Interview
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Jon Stewart: My guest tonight is the reigning King of Jordan. Please welcome to the program King Abdullah II. Nice to see you, thank you for coming. Very nice to see you.

King Abdullah II: Thank you.

Jon Stewart: It's funny to see you — you and I are pretty much the exact same age, and our lives have mirrored each other in so many ways: your accomplishments in the army and with your people, you work with poverty, and I bartended in a Mexican restaurant for a while. Do you feel the weight and the responsibility of all that is happening in the Middle East right now? This is such a momentous moment, and you are literally in the middle of it.

King Abdullah II: Yes, because, I mean, there's an opportunity to really change our part of the world around, and to lose that opportunity and to resign our peoples to another decade or two of destruction, weighs on my shoulders, as it does on a lot of people in our part of the world. And if we don't get it right, then I think we're all in trouble.

Jon Stewart: Now, we — you know, people in this region have been fighting each other over this land for — what time is it now? — and the process, they say now, "We have a year" — but isn't the real deadline, the settlements freeze expires in a week?

King Abdullah II: That is what the challenge is today. For the first time, the Israelis and Palestinians are back to direct negotiations. We lost almost 9 months, 10 months, for the moratorium on settlements, which ends on the 30th of September [2010-09-30]. The discussions that we had in Washington started out better than any of us could've expected. Both sides have made a lot of ground, and if the issue of settlements is still on the table on the 30th, then everybody walks away. And if they do, how are we going to be able to get people back to the table? And I don't see that happening in the near future, so, if we fail on the 30th, expect another war by the end of the year.

Jon Stewart: Expect another — ?

King Abdullah II: Expect another war by the end of the year, and more wars that I foresee in the region over the coming years. You're already in two wars in our part of the world, you have troops in two other hot spots, I can see potential crisis #5, 6, or 7 — unless we solve this problem, not only do we as the Arabs and Israelis pay the price for it, but your loved ones in harm's way will continue to be in the trenches with the rest of us, so everything is riding now on whether we can get both parties beyond the 30th, and so much is riding on our future.

Jon Stewart: Does that — laying that on the table, almost, does that put too much power in the hands of those who could easily subvert the negotiations? Because clearly now, you know, facing the unfortunate facts of the region, there are people on both sides who would very much like to see this go away. How fragile is it — the settlement issue — and if that's the issue that turns us to war....

King Abdullah II: Well, we all got painted into a corner on the issue of settlements, unfortunately. And where we should have concentrated is on territories and the borders of a future Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. So now we've got this unfortunate issue of the 30th of September, and there are people waiting in the wings for us to fail, and we, I think, as the moderates, are becoming definitely the minority, and we're losing our voices, and what people will say as we go beyond the 30th is, "Look, we've been telling you for years now that the moderates having dialogue with Israel is not the way to go. Violence is the only way." And then we run out of an ability to answer the extremists in our region, so I think we're on a defining crossroads, whether we're going to go down the abyss or not.

Jon Stewart: When you talk about extremists — and help us out, because unfortunately for us the delineation now between extremist and moderate is unclear. We think of the extremists as Al Qaeda. Are you talking about the leadership of these countries?

King Abdullah II: We have extremists, I think, all over the world. I mean, if you look at the challenges, unfortunately, there's elements in all three of our religions that are pushing us into the abyss. We have our fair share of them in our part of the world, and they're just waiting for us to fail. The extremists are those that don't want to see Arabs and Israelis have peace, Israelis and Muslims have peace, and that is the major challenge that we have.

Jon Stewart: So, now we've painted only with grays. Give us some color in this. Give us a little bit of autumn color, give us a little bit of spring, a little bit of a green bud that you feel like gives you a hopeful scenario, because right now, I don't mind telling you, I'm a little nauseous. I feel a little nauseous.

King Abdullah II: You know, we're living there and —

Jon Stewart: I know; you're very calm about it.

King Abdullah II: We're kind of used to this, but I think where we are today is that, where are we going to take — what is the next step we're going to take? Our future is either continued war and destruction that's going to bring everybody in, or people just getting to the table. The atmospherics between the two leaders are there — I mean, I saw the sincerity in Washington. We've got a long way to go, but it's not like we're starting from the drawing board. Everybody knows what needs to be done on territory, on refugees, on Jerusalem. And so getting to the end game can be done; it's just, do the leaders have the courage and the backbone to be able to do it? That is what is in question, but again, I believe in humanity, I believe in the people of our region — Israelis and Arabs — that when you put it to the people, "Look, this is the best deal I could get," because there's no way that either leader is gonna be happy with what he gets. At the end of the day, he's going to have to go back to his people and say, "Look, I did the best I could. This is what I have for you. Now, are you gonna vote for peace or are you gonna vote for war?" And I have to believe in humanity, that, you know, for the future of our coming generations, that the overall people on all sides will vote for light and not for darkness.

Jon Stewart: It's gotta happen.

King Abdullah II: It has to.

Jon Stewart: But playing a little Stratego® here — in the region, it feels like two competing powers are going for a moment: Iran and Turkey, to some extent. It feels like they're both kind of competing in this idea of, like, Hey, maybe we're in ascendance, the West is not —

King Abdullah II: That's what people have to understand here. Obviously, you made remarks to Iran. People have found, or certain powers have found —

Jon Stewart: He's not gonna hear that, is he? I mean, he wasn't just —

King Abdullah II: I'm sure he watches you every day, as I do. [Jon Stewart laughs, audience cheers] Look: the problem is, you have non-Arab actors that have realized that to be popular in our part of the world is to hijack the [air quotes] "injustice" of the Palestinians and the future of Jerusalem, and this is why Iran is central — not only to the problems that I think America is facing, but all of us are facing. And this is why they're front and center. If the Israelis and Palestinians sit down and solve the problem, Iran cannot play mischief in our part of the world. The first people that will stand up to Iran and say, "Why are you threatening Israel?" is going to be the Palestinians themselves. But because they have hijacked this cause, their star is up here and we moderates have very little voice to be heard.

Jon Stewart: So in some respect, you know, in some respects you're saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is kind of the nuclear reactor of trouble within the region —

King Abdullah II: Everything is interconnected —

Jon Stewart: Right.

King Abdullah II: — with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, whether it's Al Qaeda —

Jon Stewart: Won't the extremists just find another excuse? Isn't there always another excuse? Won't they then say, "Well, actually, we were talking about Kashmir; that was the problem"?

King Abdullah II: But it no longer becomes global. What happens is that, if you have a settlement between Israelis and the Palestinians, Al Qaeda, which is an international organization, becomes a domestic issue, because what is their rallying cry? Just as Iran, the plight of the Palestinians and the future of Jerusalem. If they make peace, which allows 57 Arab and Muslim countries to have normal relations with Israel — that's a third of the world — then they have no longer a soapbox to stand on. What happens then is Al Qaeda will be an extremist organization in your country, trying to take over your nation. It becomes a domestic issue, and not an international issue. And that's the big difference. Iran, also: how could Iran — you know, where is Iran now? It has its influence in Iraq, it has an influence in Afghanistan, through Hezbollah they're involved in the Mediterranean, they have good relationships with Hamas, so they're sitting on the Mediterranean because of the Israeli-Palestinian cause. If we solve that problem, they no longer become the big —

Jon Stewart: And that's the largest foundation that we can pull out from underneath them? That's the largest rug we can pull out?

King Abdullah II: You then put them back in their box, you put Al Qaeda back in their box, and all the other boxes. Evil will still persist.

Jon Stewart: It has a way of popping up every now and then, it does.

King Abdullah II: Unfortunately, yes, but it becomes then a localized issue, which then governments, I think, will have to address, and that is reform and restructuring the way the Middle East deals with its people.

Jon Stewart: Boy, if it were to work this way.... Do you have two minutes? Are you in a hurry? Is the king in a hurry? Can you — what I was thinking of doing is, we were going to throw to a commercial and come back and maybe speak to you a little bit longer, if you please, and just put it up on the interwebs.

King Abdullah II: Okay.

Jon Stewart: Uh, hello. We're back. Let me — you know, one thing that I wanted to get across, maybe, to an American audience — and I don't think I realized this — I was reading your interviews — uh, Tiger Beat, those kinds of things — no, I was reading interviews that you've done with American journalists and interviews you've done in your own part of the world, and I was so struck by the difference in tone and the difference in subject matter. Here, they say, "Oh, the Middle East peace process, Jordan is in the middle; what do you think of prospects for the future? What do you think...?" Over there, every single question: "What will you do about Israel's vicious actions against the Palestinian people?" They're very emotional, they're very direct, and it is absolute.

King Abdullah II: Absolutely, and the problem is not just in our part of the world. As I said, this [Israel-Palestine issue] has been hijacked by, in this particular case, some non-Arab actors, but throughout the Islamic Muslim world — that's what I'm saying, 57 Muslim nations, a third of the UN. I mean, I was in India, which is not a Muslim nation, but has the largest Muslim population, and when I met with the Muslim community there, they were saying, "When are you Arabs going to solve your problems with the Israelis, because it's hurting us here in India." So, wherever you go, this issue emotionally resonates far beyond the borders of our region.

Jon Stewart: And what about, even, for yourself: Jordan is in, you know, I would think, a difficult position in terms of the natural resources — I mean, I think you've discovered uranium but you don't have the oil resources — you have a tremendous Palestinian population there, I imagine Israel looks to you as well for a little bit of security as well on that border. What can Jordan do, and what can't you do?

King Abdullah II: Well, I mean, we describe ourselves as between Iraq and a hard place. [Jon Stewart laughs; audience cheers and applauds] And, you know — but to us this is a normal day's work.

Jon Stewart: Right.

King Abdullah II: And because we have I think a very honest and straightforward relationship with the Israelis, built by his late majesty King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin, and obviously we have such a close relationship with the Palestinians, it puts us in a unique position to be able to help both parties. And, you know, we've had our "two steps forward, one step back," but because their future security is our security, we have a vested interest to bring a "win-win" for everybody here. And it's not just, you know, if the Israelis and the Palestinians — you've got to remember, if we can get past the 30th, which shows sincerity that the Israelis and Palestinians are actually going to move forward, we're then talking about a comprehensive peace, so look to beyond the 30th very quickly, Syria and Lebanon probably being brought into the equation, and the Arab and Islamic world being able to reach out to Israel for the first time. There's something called the Arab Peace Proposal, which has been around for 7 or 8 years — which is signed by all the Muslim countries, including Iran — that says that if you give the Palestinians their future, then we want to all normalize with you. Now, whether the Iranians actually believe it or not, they are actually signatories to that.

Jon Stewart: If that — playing that out, so, Syria walks in; I imagine, then, the support for Hezbollah dries up from Syria and also from Iran. Don't they then immediately go, "All right, then, we gotta go in. We gotta start a war."? If you remove the proxies from these organizations, wouldn't they say — isn't their recourse then — "All right, boys, line it up, let's go"?

King Abdullah II: President Bashar has his own difficult decisions to make. I left from Washington and went straightaway, basically, to see Bashar, to explain to him that I felt that there was sincerity from the two leaders to be able to move forward. I said, "Listen, I'm not asking you to believe me. If we get beyond the 30th, and we can get beyond the settlement issue, then you need to start thinking about your role and how you want to play it." And the message I get from Syrian leadership and Lebanese leadership is that, if the Israelis and the Palestinians can move forward, that shows sincerity on each side that they actually want to solve this problem, then the comprehensive part of it will play and they will want to come on board and solve their problems once and for all with Israel.

Jon Stewart: What role does ego play in — look, at the end of all this, it is a human endeavor, and I wonder in that part of the world, where you see a leader like Saddam Hussein, who clung to power with a bluff, based on his own feeling that, "If I show weakness, I'm done in the region" — in that interplay between Iran and Saudi Arabia — certainly Saudi Arabia's gotta be very nervous about what's happening in Iran — Syria, Turkey — how do you manage that so that everybody is satisfied that they have been respected, and is it possible to satisfy that?

King Abdullah II: It is. Again, we have a lot of our domestic challenges: you know, we have the largest youth cohort in history. We have to come up with 200,000,000 jobs as the Arab world over the next several years, and the only way you're going to do that is with regional stability. So, it's not just the politics — which takes, unfortunately, 90% of our time — but providing a future for the youth of our nations. And, you know, I'm 48 years old; I don't think I'm that old, but 70% of the country is younger than me, and that's, I think, indicative of the whole Middle East. So if we don't solve this problem, we've got another time bomb coming, which is young generation, more and more educated, that want a decent future, that want jobs. And unfortunately it's taking all those resources away because of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and we're not paying enough time and effort to this younger generation that demands, I think, a good chance at life.

Jon Stewart: How about the United States and our role, you know, within the region? Obviously, we brought democracy to the region — you're welcome! [audience laughs] If there's anywhere else you'd like us to bring it, we'd be happy to oblige — umm, have we — you know, it sounds like your mindset is, if we had focused on Israel and Palestine perhaps a little bit stronger, less on some of these other things, we may have done ourselves a little more good before spreading ourselves somewhat thin. Have we strengthened your hand in the region? Have we hurt your hand in the region?

King Abdullah II: I think with the conflicts that are still ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lack of ability of moving the Israeli-Palestinian process forward, are weakening the moderates, and I think if this continues, will we as moderate voices be around in 10 years time? I think that is a major issue that people have to think of very seriously. The problem with the United States is, kicking or screaming, this has dragged every single American President into the issue whether they like it or not. And so if you choose to ignore it, it's going to take a war to drag the United States back in, but how many Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs have lost their lives and how much destruction has happened? And that answer changed today. You're actually based in our region: Iraq, Afghanistan. You've got two other countries that you've got people already in, and I see, like I said, #5 and #6 coming very, very soon.

Jon Stewart: The Horn of Africa? Is that —

King Abdullah II: The Horn of Africa. So you're as threatened as we are. If we don't solve this problem, you're going to be in the fight as much as we are, and young Americans will be giving their lives away for something that can be solved between two nations. It just unravels the whole complexity of the Middle East.

Jon Stewart: Is Jerusalem — you know, when you really do try and unravel the politics of it, it comes down to Jerusalem being the seat of power for these three major religions —

King Abdullah II: Isn't that a wonderful thing? [Jon Stewart laughs] If we do it in the right way, I mean, this is the problem —

Jon Stewart: But can any one group have control over — should any group bear the responsibility to have control over a city of that importance, and is there an international solution to Jerusalem?

King Abdullah II: We should all bear the responsibility. This is the symbol, I think, that brings all our three religions together. I think, there's one saying that always sticks to mind: Unfortunately, there's enough religion in this world for us to hate each other, but not enough religion for us to love one another. If you truly believe in God — your God, my God, the Christian God, it's the same God.

Jon Stewart: I'm workin' on Sukkot, so I don't know what I'm doin'.

King Abdullah II: But truly if you believe in God, as we all do, and the Torah, the Bible, and the Holy Qur'an, the basic tenets that binds us all together is the love of God and the love of your neighbor and your brother. And I think this is the symbol in this century to bring the world together, of having all of us working together — and again, homework has been done. There are a lot of ideas out there of how Muslims, Christians, and Jews can run Jerusalem as a symbol of hope, which would have such tremendous impact throughout the world. It is not impossible; a lot of work has already been done about it, and I think that's the future that we have to look forward to.

Jon Stewart: Well, from your mouth to one of those Gods' ears, and I can't thank you enough for coming by. It's a great honor for us; please come by and see us again. King Abdullah II.