- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

PETRA, Jordan. — Jordan’s King Abdullah II has modest ambitions: to help forge a new process for global peace and security. Not a small order by any means, even for a king.

Peace and security — and the fight against terrorism — were the underlying themes of the Petra Nobel Laureates conference, in which several Israelis participated, including Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

For this, Jordan’s king was given an ” ‘A’ for courage” by one of his Nobel laureate guest — one of several dozens of the planet’s best and brightest brains gathered for a two-day conference in Petra, pitting their combined minds and energies to advance peace, particularly in the volatile Middle East.

Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Abdullah supported a two-state solution, saying peace could come only if there is “justice for the Palestinians” and “security for the Israelis.”

“The king’s grandfather was murdered for less,” Walker Kohn, an Austrian 1998 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, told United Press International. “Getting Arabs and Israelis together is never an easy task.”

In his opening remarks to the austere gathering of Nobel Prize winners, the king said: “This morning I look around this room, and I see a House of Wisdom — a global House of Wisdom for the 21st century and beyond.” Abdullah called “the power of ideas “one of humanity’s greatest sources of energy.”

It is that very energy the Petra conference hopes to tap into — generating ideas for a brighter future amidst religious fanaticism, intolerance and continued world terrorist threats.

Extremism, the king said was “antipeace, antiprogress and antidemocratic.” Fanaticism and extremism from all sides need to be fought with ideas. Those were the ideas, the king said, that needed to be advanced by Petra participants, something achievable by thinking “out of the box.”

“At the dawn of the 21st century, planet Earth is still in peril,” said Elie Wiesel, co-host of the Petra conference. He warned the world is “impressively self-destructive.”

“Terrorism, remains a dark threat,” said Mr. Wiesel, adding terrorists “are preaching a culture of death.”

Addressing the participants, which included the Dalai Lama, a slew of Nobel laureates in all the sciences and arts, and actor Richard Gere, Mr. Wiesel said the conference aim was to “insert hope where it does not exist. This why we are here.”

“Today, humanity is at a critical crossroad,” said Abdullah. The Jordanian monarch noted it was up to world leaders to give hope to the younger generation. Half the region’s population is 18 years old, or less. “They have no memory of a time without regional conflict,” said the king.

Indeed, Middle East violence has not spared a single generation over the last 60 years or more, with each generation having had to fight at least one war. Echoing President George W. Bush’s wishes, the king said there is a need to “create more freedom and opportunity, so people can fulfill their potential.”

Abdullah referred to “a wave of reform aimed at democracy and development” in the Middle East, calling the process “vital steps” to meet the expectations of young people.

Louise Blouin, a Canadian who runs a foundation named after herself, told UPI she believed the more communication there is, the more progress there will be toward peace. Miss Blouin knows something about communications; she owns 165 publications. “Better education is the way to avoid conflict,” she said. “We have to stay away from religion.”

A task that will certainly prove almost as difficult to realize as Abdullah’s wishes for global peace and security. “Religion over the centuries brought bloodshed,” Miss Blouin said. “At the end of the day we have the same God.”

Without a doubt a sane argument, though one that will be hard to convince many in the Middle East. This is particularly so in the Arab-Israeli dispute, where Islamic groups, such as Hamas, rapidly attract more followers than the mainstream Fatah organization and other more traditional parties.

The Petra conference has its work cut out for it. But as Mr. Peres told UPI, there is no future in terrorism. “We don’t have a choice.” The Middle East, said Mr. Peres, is bound to move toward a free market economy and open borders.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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