LONDON King Abdullah II of Jordan has embarked on a bold but secretive peace-building campaign aimed at eliciting public guarantees from all Arab states that Israel will be accepted as a state and “integrated” into the region.
He revealed that he has received pledges from President Bush to back the move, which would be a major breakthrough in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict but only if and when its success is assured.
The declaration the king is seeking would offer Israel for the first time collective guarantees for its own security and acceptance from 22 Arab nations, stretching from north and west Africa across to the Arabian Sea.
It would constitute a dramatic and unprecedented shift in the overall Arab position: Of Israel’s key Arab adversaries, only Egypt and Jordan have ever recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish state since the United Nations agreed to partition Palestine in 1947 and Arab armies invaded the newly declared Jewish state in 1948.
The remaining Arab states have only ever acknowledged the existence of Israel indirectly through endorsing two U.N. Security Council Resolutions after the 1967 war. These demanded its withdrawal to secure and recognized borders.
In a radio talk show and a briefing to foreign correspondents in London, where he was the official guest of Queen Elizabeth II, the Jordanian monarch outlined a strategy that, if accepted, would constitute the Arab world’s most widespread shift toward peace with Israel.
The king’s descriptions of the current Mideast conflict appear to distance him from anti-Israeli stances taken by other Arab leaders, and are in marked contrast to the vitriolic criticisms of the Jewish state recently expressed by his closest Arab negotiating partner, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Jordanian monarch called on his fellow Arab leaders to recognize that the world’s new realities after September 11 made the Arab-Israeli conflict secondary to the combating of worldwide terrorism. It was, he said, false to argue that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict was the key to reducing global terrorism, though terrorists did use the conflict as an excuse for their crimes.
He also demurred from the usual Arab accusation that Israel, rather than the Palestinians, is to blame for the current impasse.
“We have to get the violence removed from both sides and get them back around the peace table,” he said.
King Abdullah, who succeeded his father, the late King Hussein, two years ago, said measures to bring about a Palestinian state would not come about unless Israel receives the necessary formal Arab assurances, and this has “unfortunately not been stipulated enough.” The pan-Arab declaration would need to provide the underpinning for “the integration and security of Israel into the [Middle East] region.”
The idea of “integrating” Israel into the region has until now been anathema to most Arab countries. Even Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has declined to promote extensive trade and cultural links, arousing regular Israeli claims that the Egyptians favor only a “cold peace.”
The king said he agreed with cautionary remarks made to him by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Israel would never disappear, Mr. Blair had told him, but it remained to be seen if “Palestine” would appear.
“To this day, as an Arab, I don’t know whether or not there’ll be a Palestinian state,” said the king.
The so-called “two-basket” deal a Palestinian state in return for strong security guarantees is presently being hammered out, according to the king, in a coordinated campaign by a grouping comprising the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, Jordan and Egypt.
Jordan’s prime minister, Ali Abu Ragheb, announced Tuesday that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to tour the region within the next two weeks, preceded this weekend by a European Union delegation.
Indications are that the stiffest resistance to the “recognition and integration” declaration will come from Syria and Iraq.
Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, once the most radical Arab leader, recently surprised an Arab summit meeting in Cairo by proposing a not-too-dissimilar pan-Arab declaration, but tied it to Israel’s acceptance of East Jerusalem as the future Palestinian state’s capital.
Crucial to the king’s strategy is to have the full endorsement of the U.S. president.
“He is ready to move,” the 39-year-old monarch told a British reporter. But King Abdullah said that “the way he [Bush] describes it you can’t play that card if there’s a chance of failure. What happens if that fails? You are going to have to wait for years. It must be 99 percent clear, and I agree with him.”