April 21, 1989
In 1989, Robert MacNeil interviewed King Hussein in which, among other things, they discussed an Israeli proposal for local elections in the occupied West Bank.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Now the third in our series of interviews with Middle Eastern leaders, this time with Jordan's King Hussein. The King has been in the United States, the last in a procession of Mid East leaders to visit President Bush as the new administration begins crafting a Middle Eastern policy. But as King Hussein was visiting such tourist sites as Mt. Vernon, there were riots in his country protesting recent price increases. He's expected to go directly from the United States back home and skip a planned stopover in England. In Washington, a key topic of discussion was an Israeli proposal for local elections in the occupied West Bank, territory controlled by Jordan until the 1967 Middle East War. We interviewed the King this afternoon in New York.
|Disturbances in the Kingdom.|
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Your Majesty, welcome.
KING HUSSEIN: Thank you very much.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: You are going back to Jordan without going to Britain as you had planned, because of the food riots in your country. Some observers see this as the most serious challenge to your rule for at least a decade. Do you see it that way?
KING HUSSEIN, Jordan: It's a challenge to all Jordanians. We are passing through difficult times. Our economy's sound and the promise of the future is great, but nonetheless, we have had to devaluate the Jordanian dinar and recently engaged the International Monetary Fund in talks, and that providing us with the potential to reschedule our foreign debt, half of which is military and half economic. This is a result of the awful situation we found ourselves, in when promises of the Arab states did not materialize as a result of the Baghdad summit, and the size of this foreign debt is equal to the commitments that were not forthcoming. So the situation developed in such a way that it has posed a strain on people, maybe a lack of adequate comprehension of the challenge that we have to face. But I believe that the overwhelming majority of Jordanians are facing it well and I'm sure that our conditions will return to normal very shortly.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: It was reported today that in some cities in the South you had closed the mosques for Friday prayers, which sounds like a drastic step, evidence of the gravity of the situation as seen by your government. Is that...
KING HUSSEIN: I'm not aware of any such actions. I know that the Friday prayers went extremely well today and there was no problem whatsoever. More recently, in the afternoon, there was and probably still is going on some disturbance in the city of As-Salt. But it has been bad in terms of the people involved, and of course, the authorities are doing whatever they can to handle the situation with much patience and compassion as possible.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: The Crown Prince Hassan, who is in charge when you're not there as Regent, suggested to reporters that the motivation was not strictly unhappiness over food prices but that some Islamic fundamentalists may have been organizing these disturbances. Do you believe that?
KING HUSSEIN: I hope that anyone who's interested, rest assured, that as soon as I get back I will try to find out exactly what has happened and what caused it. It is sad that this should be the impression of Jordan, a country that is both stable and has been over a long period of time, and has always faced up to challenges adequately through the will of its people. I am obviously saddened by what has happened and at the same time I will get to the bottom of it when I get back, but I am proud, on the other hand, that the overwhelming majority of the people of Jordan, despite the difficulties that all of us are passing through, are for law and order and for Jordan to continue to move ahead and contribute its share for stability in the entire area.
|Cause for optimism?|
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Turning to the general Middle East situation and your trip here, you've been saying, you said yesterday that you are more optimistic than you have been in many, many years. Why?
KING HUSSEIN: There is a compliance of events that the world has seen in the recent past. There is a mood, there is a sense of direction. There is a determination to resolve problems, wherever they exist in this world, wherever they jeopardize regional stability or pose a threat to peace. I believe that developments in our part of the world have also been positive. Our disengagement with the West Bank provided the opportunity for the PLO to meet all the demands ever made of it, to assume its responsibility as a legitimate representative of the people of Palestine, and to accept Security Council Resolution 242, and 338, denounce violence, and indicate readiness to negotiate resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli problem and obviously all of us are hopeful as well that a comprehensive peace will be achieved and achieved soon. As far as my visit to the United States is concerned, I feel happier now than I have felt throughout the many visits that have brought me to the this great land in the past, ever since the time of the late President Eisenhower. I feel that our friends here appreciate the need for movement and positive movement to resolve the problem that otherwise could threaten not only all concerned in the area, but maybe this whole tendency we have seen, which has given us such optimism in the world as a whole.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Do you mean that President Bush sees it more clearly than it has been seen recently?
KING HUSSEIN: I believe he does see it very, very clearly. He's a man I respect and admire and an old friend. And I've had a chance to meet with the Secretary of State and with other top officials in Washington, and with the representatives of the American people. And I have the impression that there is a determination to move and to contribute towards resolving this problem.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: In addition to the steps you've mentioned, your withdrawal from the West Bank or disengagement from the West Bank, the PLO saying it was - it was willing to recognize Israel and fill the other conditions, the United States now opening talks with the PLO and now Israel coming forward with a suggestion for elections on the West Bank, who takes the next step?
KING HUSSEIN: I believe that the requirement is for a view of an entire process that we need to be engaged in to arrive at the comprehensive peace. The foundations are there, 242, 338, land for peace, renunciation of violence, resolving the Palestinian problem in all its aspects, peace between Israel and all her neighbors under international auspices. But on the other hand, I, for example, cannot with regard to the suggestion over the elections contradict myself. My position and whatever else my brethren adopt is a position of support to the PLO as the front party, importantly a question, and certainly in regard to that stance, the PNC and before the United Nations to encourage a dialogue with the Washington to be substantive and at the same time, it is their their constituency that we are talking about in the West Bank and Gaza, not mine, so on the other hand, I don't believe that elections per se are a solution to the problem, elections under whose auspices, who's eligible to run in these elections or to vote in these elections and for what purpose. But if we look at the suggestion, and obviously, the PLO will do that before us, and our friends in Washington equally and elsewhere in the world, the question of Palestinian self-determination some form or another, the PLO is definitely the recognized leader of the Palestinian people, in any event, this particular dimension could be an element in a process. We have to know where we are going.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Does that mean you would support the Israel plan, the Shamir plan, for a two stage progress towards self-determination and a permanent solution?
KING HUSSEIN: I've had enormous difficulty, sir, with supporting the concept of the so-called "transitional arrangements".
ROBERT MAC NEIIL: Which is what he proposed the elections for, isn't it?
KING HUSSEIN: As far as I'm concerned, you transit from one point to another. One would certainly like to know what the final point is. As far as I'm concerned, and I'm committed to it, it is a just, comprehensive peace. We must take into account the Palestinian dimension, the interests of all parties to the conflict, including Israel, and a solution of the problem totally, so then we begin to see what needs to be done to get us there. And obviously the PLO is ready to do that.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: The PLO is ready to do that. Do you think that Israel has yet given the PLO sufficient recompense for its having said, yes, we recognize the right of Israel to exist?
KING HUSSEIN: Not as far as I can see and I hope that the Israeli position will change and change rapidly. We have a golden opportunity now to contribute for the betterment of our people, both sides- to the conflict, and for a better future of peace and dignity and the preservation of people's rights to the resources toward building something that they've never had. Everybody's ready. It's Israel's turn to be ready. What we understand is that there are sizable, a portion of the Israeli population that is also eager to receive progress, so let's hope that the message reaches the leadership in Israel whichever it be and for it to make its contribution.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Do you hope, expect that President Bush will play a role in seeing that that message reaches Israel?
KING HUSSEIN: I certainly hope that this will be the case. It is in our interest, all of us, to see progress and to see a solution before despair leads to extremism taking over on both sides, and we can't in this world remain hostage to the narrow-mindedness of extremists on either side.
|Pressure on Arafat.|
ROBERT MAC NEIL: On either side. Is there a time pressure for Mr. Arafat to show to other factions of the PLO and the more radical people in the Arab world the results he has achieved for the concessions ...
KING HUSSEIN: I feel very strongly that he has to show results and has to show them soon.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: How soon?
KING HUSSEIN: I can't give a certain time limit, sir, but I don't think that time is with us. There is this opportunity and we can't miss it.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Does Mr. Bush see it that way?
KING HUSSEIN: I believe that the President is aware of the need to move.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Would you agree with this statement, that it is the Intifada, the uprising in the occupied territories, that has been the catalyst that has caused these various movements to happen so far?
KING HUSSEIN: I believe it has indeed, and people rising after so many years of occupation and oppression to cry out to the world to notice their predicament, and to help them has contributed much. And there have been many, many losses, but let's hope that in the end they will be justified and that they will be in the course for peace and for a peaceful solution to the problem.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Do you think it will take continued action by the uprisers, the demonstrators on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, to put increased pressure on Israel to bring results.
KING HUSSEIN: I don't know what may or may not happen, but I believe that people in the occupied territories are continuing the Intifada and are determined to be heard.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Do they have your support in that, I mean, moral support?
KING HUSSEIN: They certainly have my admiration and respect. I have no influence over them. They rose by themselves to defend their identity and their rights. And what they seek is what their leadership does, justice and peace.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: On the Israeli Shamir election plan, it was reported that when you and Mr. Mubarak when you were together found agreement, you both thought that it was just a maneuver to avoid real peace talks, is that correct? Is that correctly reported that you believe that?
KING HUSSEIN: Well, if you take it in abstract, it doesn't make any sense; it is totally out of context with the needs of the situation. But one would certainly hope that this is not the case and one would hope that all of us would be aware of a need to move and move rapidly forward towards peace and its establishment.
|The Shamir plan.|
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Are there circumstances under which you would or conditions under which you would endorse the Shamir election plan?
KING HUSSEIN: Sir, for me to endorse it or otherwise object to it, it is a Palestinian dimension and we will consider to support the PLO and its positive stance and readiness to assume its responsibilities on behalf of the Palestinian people and on the other hand, I cannot, as I said, contradict myself bv speaking of conditions. I would not like anyone to impose restrictions on the PLO or their ability to move in whichever way they could to secure peace supported by all of us.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Since you have disengaged from the West Bank administratively and said the PL0 is the representative and you don't want to be confused with -them as a representative of the Palestinian people, are you just a spectator now?
KING HUSSEIN: No, I am not. Jordan has a longer border and cease-fire line with Israel than any Arab state; it has longer borders and cease-fire lines than the West Bank and Gaza put together. We are totally committed to the cause of peace and to resolving the Palestinian problem through support for the Palestinians, in what we believe is a very positive and constructive mood and stance that they have taken and all of us are ready. I mean, no solution can be reached unless all, of us are involved. And we certainly will be and we will do everything we can to help, to help the Palestinians, to help our friends in the United States, to cooperate with all in the world to bring peace to our area.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: As we understand it, Mr. Bush's plan and the Reagan administration's before him, of land for peace, does not mean that the United States favors a Palestinian state per se, but would more favor a confederation with Jordan. You and Mr. Arafat were reported last year, last fall, to have agreed in principle on a confederation. Does that agreement still stand?
KLNG HUSSEIN: As far as I know, the Palestinians and the PLO in particular and President Arafat has repeatedly stated that the future is one of a link with Jordan on a confederal basis. But for a confederation to come to be, you have to have two sovereign people, two free people, who decide to put it together, so all in good time d at the proper moment, and we are certainly ready. And we know that the ties between us and the Palestinians are extremely close and we're ready.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: So is that Jordan's role in this to... I'm putting this crudely...is that Jordan's role, to make some form of Palestinian state palatable at some stage and the United States to guarantee it, but through a federation?
KING HUSSEIN: Before the disengagement, we were engaged in talks with the PLO, and the federation dimension came up and we wanted it as a way to enable the Palestinians to participate in resolving the Palestinian problem. We can't resolve that without the Palestinians and they are the prime party concerned. Since the disengagement, the Palestinians have continued to suggest that they would like a confederate arrangement and I believe that the foundation of trust and confidence that exists now gives us more of a chance to build in the future a relationship that is meaningful and which may be to the satisfaction of all in the area and in the world and be a means to securing greater stability and certainly progress in that part of the world.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Do you connect your present troubles at home, the so-called "food riots", with...you said that as a result of the Baghdad summit, the other Arab states failed to follow up on promises of aid to Jordan...you connect that directly with your efforts to find a solution to the Israeli problem, do you, this is your punishment, Jordan's punishment for it?
KING HUSSEIN: I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that this is the case. Libya, Libya never came through from the beginning. Algeria was able to help for a year and then had its own problems. But we had another summit in Amman and we were. assured by the rest that they will make up for the short fall of some. However, we face reality, and in any event, I do believe very much that Jordan has had to pay a lot for its beliefs, for its freedom, and probably it is the destiny of Jordan to continue to do so.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: You seem to have a particularly warm relationship with Mr. Bush. Do you think it's realistic that he could be the President that achieves what so many other Presidents have tried to do?
KING HUSSEIN: If he can't, probably no one will.
ROBERT MAC NEIL: Well, Your Majesty, thank you very much for joining us.