- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Of all the countries involved in varying degrees in the Middle East conflict, Jordan always has been one of the most moderate voices calling for peace. And of all the Middle East’s leaders, Jordan’s King Abdullah, much like his father King Hussein before him, has always offered a clear, crisp, intelligent analysis of the situation.

But Abdullah is worried about the future of the region. And when Abdullah is preoccupied, he has good reason; Jordan benefits from one of the better intelligence services in the Arab world. It would be unwise to ignore his warnings.

The Jordanian monarch spent a week in Washington, meeting with President Obama and leaders on Capitol Hill to drive home the point that time is running out. Unless a major breakthrough in the now-comatose peace process is achieved in the months ahead, the region may well be on its way to another major escalation of violence.

Indeed, when looking at the region’s recent history, wars have erupted whenever talks had hit a dead end. Speaking to a group of Washington diplomats, pundits, politicians and journalists over lunch, Jordan’s king said that only the U.S., with its prestige, power and influence in the Middle East, could intervene to prevent further deterioration in a very volatile part of the world.

“I do not want to talk about missed opportunities, I want to focus on the urgency of not missing any more,” Abdullah said. Yet what is perhaps just as worrisome is that no one involved in the Middle East peace imbroglio seems to have a “Plan B,” a backup in case the U.S. does not come through. Abdullah and other regional leaders are gambling on a single racehorse - the foreign policy of the U.S. All the more reason to heed Abdullah’s warnings.

“The United States has a stated, strategic interest in ending this conflict,” said the king, adding that few crises in history have presented such a potent mix of threats - regional instability, violence and worldwide divisions actively exploited by extremists.

Yet, as in any conflict, all the U.S.’s clout will prove useless unless the parties involved have the desire to move ahead. In that respect, the Middle East conflict is no different from other conflicts in other parts of the world. Intransigence and extremism, no matter on which side it emerges, remain the biggest impediment to peace.

Progress, said the Jordanian king, was “imperative.”

“We have seen what comes of process without progress. Every missed opportunity has alienated more people on both sides,” the king said. “There must be a settlement that fulfills legitimate rights of both parties - the rights of Palestinians to statehood, and the right of Israelis to security.”

However, many analysts are asking whether the election of right-wing hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s new prime minister might set back the cause of peace even further.

But historically, it has been Israel’s most conservative prime ministers who have made the largest peace overtures toward the Arabs. The first was Menachem Begin, who returned the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for diplomatic relations and a peace treaty that holds to this day. And the second was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who returned Gaza to the Palestinians.

The king reiterated that a large number of Arabs are in favor of peace and that despite all provocations during the past seven years, the landmark Arab Peace Initiative has held. The Jordanian monarch recalled the main points of the agreement: ending the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, creating a Palestinian state and providing security guarantees and normal relations to Israel.

A peace treaty with Israel at this point would offer the Jewish state acceptance and recognition by all the countries in the region and normal relations with its neighbors. In addition, said Abdullah, Muslim countries around the world have also expressed their support to a peace treaty. There are still 57 countries in the world today that do not recognize Israel.

Abdullah called the Arab Peace Initiative “the most important proposal for peace in the history of this conflict.”

Finally, the king said he believed peace can succeed, and Jordan, for one, would settle for nothing less.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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