New York, New York
Rita E. Hauser [REH]: Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention? I know you all love to socialize. But the time is here for us to start our meeting. And we are very fortunate, indeed, to have an old friend of the Council and of many people here. He’s been busy renewing friendships and acquaintances. Since many of us know Doctor Marwan Muasher in his many incarnations, Doctor Muasher was Ambassador of Jordon to the United States from September ‘97 to January ‘02.
Prior to that he was the Minister of Information in Jordan. And, of course, he was well known as Jordan’s first Ambassador to Israel after the peace treaty was signed. He was also very deeply involved in the Middle East Peace Talks that let up to the Peace Treaty between the two nations. We have asked today to speak on the record.
And your questions and answers will also be on the record. But Marwan, as he’s known to so many of us, has told me at lunch that he will be a little somber, very realistic and talk to us today about how he sees the Road Map and the peace process in general, and the situation with Iraq in particular. So it’s my very great honor to introduce to you our dear friend, Marwan Muasher. (Applause)
Marwan Jamil Muasher [MJM]: Thank you very much, Rita. It’s truly a pleasure to be among you again, even if I’m doing it in particularly difficult circumstances. I accompanied the King two weeks ago to Washington, where we had a sleep over at Camp David, and had a chance to talk to the President about the peace process, and about Iraq. I’m afraid I’m not going to bear good news about the peace process but then I will not be telling you anything new.
The peace process is, I believe, in one of its worst and most difficult times ever. But, I also want to caution against declaring it dead, or against declaring the Road Map dead, because we believe that the Road Map still offers a very sound framework that is accepted by all sides for the solution of the conflict. It is a framework that took a long time to develop. And it is a framework that has now the acceptance of not only the international community, but also the U.S. administration and the U.S. President.
If we are to now start another effort, I’m afraid it will take time that we don’t have. And I’m afraid that we will see a long period before we can get the U.S. President to again agree to a different framework. And therefore, what we in Jordan are concentrating on is not announcing the Road Map dead, although it’s certainly very sick, but of trying to find ways to inject new life in it, And trying to find what is it that has made it fail so far in achieving its objectives.
We think that all sides have not done what they could do in order to move the Road Map forward. Everybody is at fault. And I’m not leaving anybody out, including us and including Arab States. I think the Palestinians could, and should have done more on dealing with the security situation in a way that would have created the proper conditions to move forward.
We are not talking here about a civil war. And no one is either interested or capable to think that a civil war is going to help this process, including the Americans. But what we are talking about is a set of specific commitments that would deal with the security situation in a successful manner, and that would hopefully in the end transform all other organizations within the Palestinian society into political organizations without carrying arms.
We are talking about closing the arms tunnels, the illegal arms tunnels. We are talking about closing the arms factories, confiscating illegal weapons on Palestinian security check points, freezing funds that are going to illegal organizations, et cetera. These are commitments that could and should have been carried out by the Palestinian side.
But we also think Israel did not live up to its own commitments. We are talking about stopping of settlement activity. We are talking about easing the check points, releasing prisoners, changing the daily lives of the Palestinians in a way that would boost up the popularity of whoever is in power on the Palestinian side to carry out some very difficult tasks. Abu Mazen certainly wanted to do it.
But, as you know, Abu Mazen’s popularity, as all other Palestinian leaders, with the exception of Arafat, is not very high. And the way to move forward is to, we believe, help Abu Mazen, all of us, but including Israel and the United States, by changing the daily lives of the Palestinians, by having Abu Mazen show something for his efforts. Instead, he was not able to show much. And where it was time for a conflict between him and Arafat, it was Abu Mazen who left and not Arafat.
Abu Ala is going, in our opinion, probably to face the same fate, if he is not again, if we do not learn our lesson, and if he is not helped by Israel and by the United States in changing the daily lives of the Palestinians to their betterment. We see no reason why the new Palestinian government is going to succeed at what the old Palestinian government failed to do.
The wall is becoming a very important issue. A lot of people tell me the wall is not included in the Road Map. It is true, because where we developed the Road Map, there was no wall. But that is not to say that we should continue building this wall. It is one thing to talk about the wall as a security measure to stop terrorists from infiltrating into Israel. But it’s another thing where you start building the wall inside Palestinian territory.
Fences make good neighbors only when you build the fence on your own territory. They do not make good neighbors when you build it in your neighbor’s territory. They make terrible neighbors. And that is what the fence is doing. If the fence continues in the way that it is, it will practically divide the West Bank into a north and a south region and cut off almost all communication routes between the north and the south. And therefore render any Palestinian state unviable in the future.
It is very important to stop the wall and to stop it now, at least inside Palestinian territory. And it is something, we believe, the United States understands, as well as stopping settlement activity. And I think that if there is something positive that we came up with, it is understanding, particularly on the wall issue.
However, we can’t keep crying over spilled milk. We have to keep finding a thread to move forward, because standing still is going to result in a very precarious situation. One of the ideas that we have suggested is for the United States, or the quartet to spell out, to flush out the commitments that are made in the Road Map into a specific set of demands from each side, the Palestinian and the Israeli sides, with target dates associated with it.
And then sit down with each side and agree on exactly what is to be done in the next week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks. And then hold both sides accountable. And we can throw in the Arab States as well. We can also agree on what the Arab States need to do with specific target dates.
But I’m afraid that unless we have this kind of micro management by somebody like the United States, it is becoming obvious to all of us that the two parties on their own are not willing or able to move forward. And we, we’re speaking on the record here, I wonder whether inadvertently the two parties are helping each other not moving forward. We have to have third party intervention. And only the United States can do that.
I cannot tell you that this is the mood in Washington. And you know that. The mood in Washington is that, you know, all the blame is on Mr. Arafat, and that if the two parties are not able to move forward, we better go into a holding pattern. A holding pattern of the diplomatic game is fine. It’s not fine, but I mean it’s one thing. But you cannot hold the status quo. You cannot hold what is going on the ground. And if it that is, indeed, what the United States intends to do, then I’m afraid we’re going to go into an extremely bad security situation for both sides. And God knows how we will get out of this one.
There are ideas being thrown forward. You know, a trusteeship over the West Bank, evacuation of settlements, et cetera. But we did not find the United States in any mood to be talking about any big steps at this point. I believe that we will reach the point where big steps will be needed if we are to put the peace process on an irreversible course, because so far, all what we have done is attempting to carry out small steps that were reversed in the past and will be reversed, are being reversed now.
And until both publics are convinced that some steps are being taken that are irrevocable and that would put the peace process on an irreversible course, we might not have much success in the future.
On Iraq, I think the situation is a bit more promising than on the peace process. I think that we found more flexibility in Washington on the need to involve the international community in the next phase. There is a draft resolution being developed. We do not know yet how it will come out. But I think that there is, like I said, a realization that we need to chart out political courses in which the United Nations and the international community have a bigger role than what has been the case so far.
We have argued before and continue to argue against a federal arrangement in Iraq that would be based on ethnic or religious lines. In our opinion, this would be a recipe for a potential division of the country. And we were glad to find out in Washington that the United States shares this view, and that any arrangement in Iraq should have a strong central government. We cannot be talking about dividing the country in a federal arrangement on a religious or a geographic basis. That is a recipe for disaster.
That is a positive development that we saw. Another positive development is that the United States, as I said, realizes that any new UN resolution should chart out for the Iraqis a clear political process that would include the writing of a constitution and elections held under UN supervision and not under US supervision. It is very important that any elections be given a U.S. umbrella for them to be seen as credible within Iraq and in the region. And we also found agreement on these points as well.
As far as transfer of authority, we think that this should be done gradually in a way that insures that the Iraqi government is able to control the situation in the country. Jordan is not ready to sent peace keeping troops to Iraq. And the simple reason for this, whether under the U.S. or under the UN, the simple reason being that Iraqis don’t want us there. And we should be very candid about it.
Iraqis have made clear that they are not interested in seeing Arab peace keeping forces in the country, and do not whole to be in a position where they are in potential direct confrontation with other Arab troops. Instead, what we will do is to train the Iraqi police force, or part of the Iraqi police force. What we have agreed on now is to train 30,000 people in Jordan, who will come to Jordan in batches of 15 hundred.
And over the course of the next year we will hopefully be able to train 30,000 of them, because in the end, only the Iraqi security services and police force are the ones that can hold the country together and control the security situation. No foreign troops will be able to do this for a lengthy period of time. We also found agreement on this. And therefore I hope that the new UN resolution will take care of all this in a timely and in a reasonable way.
We should also start talking about target dates. I don’t know, frankly, whether the new UN resolution will mention specific target dates. But they are being mentioned anyway. Secretary Powell referred to six months as a reasonable period to write a constitution. And we think this is positive to give people a sense of what length of time are they required to wait before the regain their full sovereignty. We certainly should not be talking about a lengthy process in which the United States would stay in Iraq for two or three years.
That is not going to be positive. It will not assure either the Iraqis or people of the region that the process will result in an end of the occupation. But I think the United States realizes this and I have every confidence that the new UN resolution is going to reflect that.
One last word on Islam. We are very concerned that the image of Islam, that is not just being painted and is already here, is the one that the Osama bin Ladens of this world, you know, have painted. And this is extremely dangerous for the future of the relations between this part of the world and our part of the world. And it is extremely important that the moderate Arab States, that the moderate Islamists take the initiative back and prove that we can have pluralistic societies that exist In Islamic country.
We cannot have the Osama bin Ladens keep claiming that they are speaking on behalf if Islam. And towards that end, we in Jordan, are going to be very serious in accelerating the political reform process, not talk in religious terms, but do the kinds of things that are required in any democratic system, judicial reforms, freedom of the press, the role of women, all the political parties, everything that is required in a transparent and democratic system.
But we want to prove being an open, relatively open politic and economic society in the region, we want to prove that this does exist, can exist, and that everything should be done to make it exist so that the gap that is presently very wide between our two parts of the world is bridged again to the satisfaction of both of us. Thank you very much. (Applause)
REH: Thank you very much, Marwan, for a very realistic assessment. We will open the floor to questions. It’s on the record. The usual, state your name, your organization, and I will call on you. I’d just like to ask you a question. You can get to it anywhere you like. You didn’t mention it. It wasn’t in the terms of reference. But your King recently had a visit to Iran. And that’s obviously another major hot spot. And any commitments you would like to make about the impressions that were gleaned in Iran, I think would be very welcome to the audience. So now for questions. Yes?
Lucy Komisar: What do you think of the proposal which is from time to time floated, that the strategy of the Palestinians ought to be, “Okay, you don’t want to give us a state, let’s have one state with equal rights for everybody.?”
MJM: Let me tackle this question from the Jordanian angle. We see only three possible scenarios developing in the future. Either the two sides come to agreement on a two state solution, which would be the preferable scenario, of course, for everyone. If that becomes not possible, then the Palestinians, of course, will say that. But the chances of Israel accepting that are zero. And therefore, the second scenario that would see is for Israel to rule over the Palestinians in really an apartheid kind of system. There’s no other way to describe it if they are not able to come to a two state solution.
There is a third scenario, which is to transfer the Palestinian population out. We do not see a fourth scenario. Transfer of the Palestinians out means to transfer them to Jordan. And that is what Jordan has always been worried about, despite all the assurances that we are given by the Israeli government, because while we agree that this is not an option now, unless a two state solution develops, it will become an option. And it is why we must have, must have a viable Palestinian state and an end to the occupation from our point of view.
Let me respond to Rita’s question before I move on. The King had a very interesting visit to Iran. This is the first visit by him or King Hussein since the revolution. As you know, we differ with Iran over mainly two issues, the peace process and of course Iraq. And we believe, and we felt that it was important to initiate a dialogue to see what the Iranians’ position is.
What the king has found is willingness, a wish by all factions in Iran to have a dialogue with the U.S. And we have relayed this to the administration, no acting as mediators, because we’re not mediators, and we do not wish to be mediators. But we’ve relayed this wish so that if there is an interest in this country, you know, the administration is free to pursue this.
Iran, as you know, holds a number of senior al Qaeda members. And, of course, there is also the nuclear issue. These are the two issues over which, I believe, maybe a dialogue can start. But we are not judging whether this should take place or not, we don’t know what the intentions are. We believe that we saw genuine interest from all the parties and we relayed our impressions to Washington.
REH: Thank you. Marwan. Yes. I’ll take one question here.
Audience [unknown]: Minister, would you say a few words about the policy currently, or the activities of Syria. You spoke about Iran. Is Syria helping us in Iraq, or hurting us, or what?
MJM: Don’t get me into trouble. No. I mean, I think all Arab States, including Syria, have taken a responsible decision on how to deal with the new situation. As you remember, the Arab League meeting last month, took the decision to accept the interim authority as the representatives of Iraq in an interim way until a constitution is written and a more permanent government is formed.
We, as neighboring countries, of Iraq, including Syria, have a different position probably from anybody else, because we have, you know, vested interests that are different from all. We are neighboring countries. We have trade relations. We have every interest in the interim authority succeeding so that we do get to the end of the occupation and the election of a new government.
In the absence of elections, which cannot be held now, after the demise of the old regime, we cannot assume a holier than though attitude and say we are not going to deal with this interim authority because it is not elected, or because it is appointed by the U.S. The fact on the ground is this is the only, now, authority in Iraq, that their objectives and our objectives, as Arab States and as neighbor states, are one and the same.
We both want a unified Iraq. We both want a written constitution. We both want to end the occupation as soon as possible. We both want the situation to return to normal in a timely fashion. And therefore, we have every interest in coordinating and in cooperating with the new interim authority. This is the position that Syria has taken as well.
REH: Ken Bialkin.
Kenneth Bialkin: Thank you. I’m Kenneth Bialkin. In your remarks, you touched on two points in the Palestinian-Israel thing. You talked about ending the occupation and you talked about the fence. But you did not talk about one issue that’s very important, and what does one do about terror, suicide bombing, and the militant branch of Islam, which refuses to accept the existence of Israel. And no matter what happens, whether there’s a fence or not, will continue their bombing unless they’re put down. What is your suggestion for how to put down the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa, who are going to break everything up if they’re allowed to do so? Is there any alternative to a physical suppression?
MJM: Well, Jordan’s position is well known. Let me repeat it. First of all, suicide bombings, in Jordan’s position are wrong from a moral and a political point of view. They have not helped the Palestinian cause in any way. They have added to the Israeli sense of insecurity. They have deviated from the real objective, which is the need to end the occupation. And therefore, suicide bombings should stop totally. That’s one point. Second, we do not believe in a diversity of arms among the Palestinian Authority. Diversity should apply only to political positions and parties, but not to arms.
In Jordan, we have a very successful experiment in this regard. The Moslem Brotherhood in Jordan is a powerful, strong political party that has members in Parliament and that is actively involved in Jordan’s political affairs, and that has positions on the conflict that are not different from the political positions of Hamas.
But they have one major difference. They do not carry arms. And as long as they do not carry arms, then they are free to say what their political position is, just as there are Israeli parties in the Knesset that are opposed to the peace process, too. And, in fact, there are Israeli parties who call for the expulsion of Palestinians. So long as they do not carry arms, they are free.
We think this is where the Palestinians should move. So we totally agree that the security situation should be fully addressed, fully addressed. Where we disagree is on how to do it. What we’re saying is, Abu Ala, or Abu Mazen alone will not be able to do it. If you keep telling the guy, that’s what you need to do, that’s what you need to do, it’s fine and dandy. It’s not going to happen without boosting his popularity in the street, without him showing things in return, without Israel helping.
We can, and we have, you know, we have hammered the point a million times with the Palestinians. But without the help that they need, they will not be able to do it. Should it be done? Yes. Will meaningful progress occur before it is done? No. But we need to see how we can do it.
Raghida Dergham: Raghida Dergham, Al Hayat. Mr. Minister, a point of clarification first. Did you convey from Tehran to Washington, you spoke of al Qaeda operatives, were the Iranians willing to somehow give them to the United States? Is this what you meant? This is a point of clarification before I ask my question.
MJM: No. No. We did not do that. I was just referring to possible areas of discussion. We did not convey any official message. We did not convey any proposals. We were not asked to convey proposals. We conveyed our own impressions.
Audience [unknown]: And so my question is about your fear of policy of transfer of the Palestinians. Obviously the administration in Washington is going with the logic of security established first, and then we’ll see what else goes on. Actively, the wall is being built and the transfer is becoming more of a reality. What is the time frame, from your point of view, that this would bring the transfer issue to be realistic? And speaking of realistic, when speak of American forces in Iraq for two or three years, beyond that, it would not be positive, do you realistically think that is possible, two or three years only?
MJM: Look, I don’t want to sound, you know, bells of alarm on the transfer issue, because it’s not an issue that is on the table today. What I’m saying is that in a few years time, if we are not able to solve the conflicts, and if the Israelis are not ready to accept Palestinians as full class citizens, then no one can tell us the transfer option is not there. That’s what I’m saying, that despite all the assurances which are given by Israel and by the United States, we are not convinced that unless a two step solution develops, which are not convinced that the transfer issue has disappeared from people’s thinking or will disappear from people’s thinking in the future.
The wall is a serious problem. I mean, Israel says the wall is temporary. But let me tell you. I mean, in our part of the world you don’t spend $1 billion on temporary things. And we are quickly approaching the day. Not just with the wall, but with settlement activity, where unless this stops, you will not a viable Palestinian State.
We are not talking about a Swiss cheese kind of a state, because a Swiss cheese kind of a state in not only a source of frustration to the Palestinians, it’s a source of insecurity for Jordan. Unless the Palestinians can enjoy a state on the whole of the West Bank with territorial continuity with Jordan, they will be frustrated and that frustration will spill over into Jordan.
So, it is very important for us to stop this activity now while we can. In two or three years—time, yes it might be too late.
REH: David Phillips?
David Phillips: My name is David Phillips with the Center for Preventive Action and the Council on Foreign Relations. In mid-October, Jordan will host a meeting in Aqaba of the OSCE and Mediterranean Partner States. What advantages do you envision for establishing an OSCE type structure in the Middle East? Do you see some mechanism emerging out of the Aqaba meeting? And what role might Jordan play in leading this process in the future?
MJM: Well, our hosting of the conference at this stage, just first of all attempts at bringing the parties together. This is the first meeting in which we will have representatives from several Arab States and Israel in addition to European state. We thought that in itself is a confidence building measure that would add to a positive atmosphere in the region. But the concept itself need to be discussed.
And we are not yet at the stage where we can say, you know, where we’re heading. Which thought it’s a good start to have it in the region, to have it in a place like Jordan, and particularly at this particular time, because we need to keep the process moving. But I would stop for now at this stage. We are not yet at an advanced stage there. This is only the beginning of the process.
REH: Lally, Lally Weymouth?
Elizabeth Weymouth: Hi. I, first of all, congratulate you on your excellent presentation, Minister. And I would like to ask you, I thought that Abu Mazen was fairly impressive. But you say the reason he failed is that the Israelis failed to build up his popularity. I would say to you, in all honesty, don’t you think the person who undermined him, day after day, was Yasser Arafat? And my question to you is, after all, Abu Mazen tried to get control of the security services. He couldn’t do it. He failed. And Abu Ala is now going to face the same struggle with Arafat. Should Arafat go? Has the time come for him to go? And if you want a two state solution, are you going to get it as long as Yasser Arafat is there?
MJM: First of all, what I said was all sides could have done more. I didn’t say he failed only because of Israel. But I certainly will not say that he failed only because Arafat undermined him. What I’m saying is everyone should have been more positive with Abu Mazen, including Arafat. But that it would be a mistake to throw all the blame on Arafat and not to acknowledge that this guy cannot do it without Israel’s help, he’s weak. He does not control much of anything.
And he needed both logistical support, popular support, all kinds of support that he did not get from all sides. That’s our position. Look, we are not in the business. I cannot say, you know, I cannot tell you whether the process will move forward with Arafat or without him, just as I cannot tell you also will it move forward with Sharon, or without him.
I didn’t pick Arafat. The Palestinians people did. I didn’t pick Sharon. The Israeli people did. We have to work with who we have. And who we have at this point is Arafat and Sharon. There’s nothing, you know, whether we like them or not, that’s what we have. We did not pick them. We have to move the process forward with them. Arafat is elected, too, with 85 percent of the vote, in fair and free elections in ’86. So they’re both elected.
Khalid Azim: Hi. I’m Khalid Azim from Morgan Stanley. My question is, you talked about a perception of Islam in the West. What can the West do to get, to better understand Islam? And also, could you comment on the projection of Islam that has come up in the West and in the world from Saudi Arabia?
MJM: Well, this is a two way street. I think we both need to do more in order to understand each other better. There was certain need to understand this region much better than it did. I also would say we need to understand the West better than we have done. And I would not put the blame on any one factor. I think both parties should do more. I also think this culture—
And I’m not one to put blame on others before I look into our own responsibilities also. I always try to do that. We cannot acquiesce in our part of the world. We cannot acquiesce in a culture that accepts the killing of civilians, of women and children for political purposes. No matter how noble the cause is, we cannot acquiesce in this culture without inviting real trouble and real implications regarding our future. We have done this, some of us, before.
And look at the results. We now have bombings in Saudi Arabia. Ten Jordanians were killed. We have bombings in Morocco. We have bombings throughout the area that did not have anything with the peace process. But the threat of uniting all these is this notion that you can use these types of methods for political purposes. We are dead against that.
What we’re saying in Jordan is these methods are unacceptable from a moral and from a political point of view. And we should regain the initiative of making that known throughout the world.
Isobel Coleman: Isobel Coleman with the Council on Foreign Relations. In your remarks, you talked about Jordan’s commitment to furthering domestic political reform. Could you talk a little specifically about what you’re thinking in terms of domestic political reform, and what impact this might have on Jordan’s political landscape given that in the June elections the conservative, more fundamentalist parties did surprisingly well, and the more liberal reform oriented did poorly.
MJM: Well precisely. I mean, when you try to build a democracy, I mean, you know, you don’t always like the results. But it’s a necessary process. We cannot say, “Because we did not get the results...” Although, well actually, no. Let me not go through that route. Let me not go through it. It is a necessary process. And it’s an evolutionary process. And you cannot do it over night. And it has to be a home grown process as well.
This idea which started here in some circles of somehow expecting democracy to be injected with a syringe into the region’s blood doesn’t work. It never worked anywhere. I don’t see why it can work in this region. It has to be home grown. And that’s what we are attempting, the home grown evolutionary process that looks at all aspects of development. In our area in the world, many times, you know, the notion was, “Let’s take care of our economic development and people will be happy. And they won’t care about...”
What everyone is finding out is that economic development without political reform doesn’t work. If you don’t have an independent judiciary, it doesn’t work. If you don’t have a free press, it doesn’t work. If you don’t have a proper role for women and for all, you know, parts of society, it doesn’t work. These are all aspects that have been neglected for far too long and that has contributed to a negative image of the region in the world.
The United Nations Human Development Report on the region, for example, is a case in point. I mean, it points out two to three major challenges that the Arab world faces. Political freedoms, lack in knowledge of the gap between the industrialized world and our part of the world, and the role of women.
Maybe these are not the only challenges. But they’re certainly very important challenges that we cannot keep being defensive about. We have to stare at them right in the face and say, “Yes. We do have problems in these areas and others. And we need to be more serious in addressing them than in the past.” What I’m claiming is that in Jordan we intend to do so. But I don’t want to keep talking about this and giving you, you know, sweet talk. I want to be able hopefully to come back next year and say, “This is what we’ve done in these areas.
David Robinson: I’m David Robinson from the Carnegie Corporation. Totally different subject. I notice that you have your degrees from Purdue University in electrical engineering. And I’ve been much involved in my life in bringing foreign students to this country. I’m concerned about the visa process. What the good relations between Jordan and the United States, are you able to deal with the problem of student and others coming to this country? Is this an issue for you?
MJM: It’s interesting that you mention that, because I just spent this weekend at Purdue, and had a very lengthy conversation with Purdue’s president about this very problem. We’re extremely concerned about this. If you lot a Jordan’s cabinet today, Jordan’s cabinet is about 29 people. 15 of them are US graduates. 15 of them are US graduates. In a generation’s time, this will no longer be the case, because of the visas, because of the restrictions that this country is putting on foreign students.
And whereas we all understand your security concerns, we urge the United States to do it in a more calculating manner so that this cultural exchange does not disappear. If it does, it’s going to result in much worse developments in the future. And it’s something I talked to the President about and I hope something will be done about this. We used to have at least 60, 70 students, Jordanian students at Purdue each year. We have less than ten now. It’s a very worrisome development.
REH: Young lady, I’m sorry I don’t know your name.
Heather Kiriakou: Heather Kiriakou. I’m a Visiting Fellow here at the Council. Mister Minister, I wanted to push you to go a little bit further based on a previous question about relations between Muslim countries and the West. Can you please give some strategic and tactical examples of what the United States, specifically the Bush administration, can to do improve relations and to encourage political and economic reform?
MJM: Well, you said it, to encourage reform I think would be great. But I hope we are not talking about forcing reform in an unnatural way. Everybody needs encouragement and everybody needs support. And we welcome that. But that is the notion I want to guard against. Let us work on this as partners, not as recipients of, you know, boxed models that are insensitive to the region or to the development of the region, because some things just, as good wine, require time. You can’t force it.
You can’t force things to happen over night. What you can do is to encourage things to happen, and to help us along that road. And I think that there are many who understand this process and are doing something about it. But there are some who are not. And that goes for our part of the world, too. We need to do more of this type of understanding.
What we’ve talked about in terms of the visas is a case in point. I mean, if we are to encourage exchanges between the two parts of the world, restricting foreign students is not going to help. You can apply security measures in a way that does not, you know, compromise security. But what we are seeing today is different.
Let me give you an example. I have, you know, I deal with such cases almost on a daily basis in Jordan. I have two kids, both seniors, both in their last semester of school, whose mother died in a car accident. They go to Jordan to attend the funeral. They’ve been in Jordan for the last five months not able to go back again to the States. You don’t do these things. They’ve been here for four years. You could have checked on these, you know, before they left. But these types of procedures, I think, are going over board, and are creating a negative impression of the United States in our part of the world.
REH: Young man?
Kareem Idriss: Mister Minister, thank you for your talk. Kareem Idriss, Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Last February, Saudi Arabia floated a peace proposal that was unprecedented in that it gave unanimous consent on behalf of the entire Arab world to normalize relations with Israel. It was ratified by all countries in the Beirut Summit a month later. Why didn’t it take off? And can the Arab countries do more after they have presented this? Thank you.
MJM: Yes. This is an area where I think we could have done more. And I will be the first to say that we have not been successful at marketing the Arab initiative the way we should have. Maybe events are over. When does the difficulties of the last year, the intifada, the Israeli invasion, et cetera? Still, I believe that we could have done much more to address the West and to address the Israeli public in a way that we have not done.
Let me briefly mention what I think the Arab initiative offers to Israel. And I was, you know, extremely involved in developing it. And I’m always amazed, less amazed now by the fact that whenever I mention these four points, the audiences are always in shock...or, as if this is the first time they’ve heard it. Well, it probably is the first time they’ve heard it. And that means we have failed to get the message across. The Arab initiative offers Israel four specific things. It offers Israel first of all collective security guarantees by every single Arab States, not by Arab States neighboring Israel, but each and every member of the Arab League, all 22 of them. It offers Israel, and I’m almost listing them in order of importance, starting from the least important. It offers Israel a collective peace treaty, and normal relations with every single Arab State.
Now we come to the two thorny issues. It offers Israel an end to the conflict, meaning that after a settlement is arrived at, there are no further claims on Israel, which is a basic demand by Israelis who want to know that Arabs do not want an agreement to be used as a spring board to have further claims on the Israel State after that. And the most important, it offers Israel an agreed solution. Let me repeat, an agreed solution to the refugee problem, meaning that Arabs do not intend to send three or four million Palestinians back into Israel and threatening the nature of the Israeli State.
These are four very powerful offers, that in our opinion, address the basic needs of every single Israeli citizen, the need to be accepted, the need not to be thrown at with further claims, the need of the Israeli State to remain as it is, with no threat of 4 million Palestinians going back, and the need for security. All these were addressed in the Arab initiative, all of them.
It also, I think, significant that despite all the difficulties of the last almost three years now, or 18 months, since the Arab initiative was passed, despite all these difficulties, not one single Arab state withdrew its signature. Not one single Arab state said, ”I no longer want to prescribe to this vision.“ And that is, again, very important. Now, not all Arab states are equally proactive about this, in marketing this in trying to get, you know, a peace treaty. But in any issue, you don’t find, you know, everyone who’s equally proactive. The important thing is the Arabs’ offer stands today as it stood the day it was adopted.
Robert Lifton: I’m Bob Lifton. When I met with King Abdullah in Davos, it was a meeting which was presenting a very bold plan for economic change, for political change, and it went far beyond what any other Arab state was doing. What is the status of that? Has it moved forward? And what are the results of it? Are you seeing any change in your economic conditions of the people there?
MJM: We’ve done rather well economically. We moved from almost zero growth four years ago, to five percent growth, real growth. Last year, we were projected to have another five percent this year. Because of the war in Iraq, this will drop to 3.8 percent. But it’s still very good. If you compare us to the region, no one else in the region ... I’m on the record, I’d better be careful - but to my knowledge no one else in the region has better than one percent growth, to my knowledge. And some with negative growth. So, we’re doing well. We’re doing well because we took a decision to liberalize our economy in a major way. We joined the WTO in ’99. We enacted intellectual property right law that now places us at the forefront of all countries of the region. We privatized key sectors including energy and telecommunications. And we signed a free trade agreement with the United States.
Let me tell you what the impact of that, together with the qualified industrial zones has been. We moved from about $10 million in exports to the United States in 1999 to about a projected $600 million today. That has put the United States as our number one export destination. It has overtaken any country in the region to which we were exporting before.
Exports have risen at least 15 percent during the last five years, at least. So, economically we’re doing well. But we realize that we cannot sustain economic development without a parallel political development. So right now, our efforts are...we’re staying the course in the economy. I mean, that’s, we’re on a solid course. It is producing results. We’re not going to do thing differently. We’re very interested now in educational reform, both in content and it method.
We’re now, for example, introducing the Internet to all public schools, starting from grade one, and English to be taught at all public schools starting from grade one. Computers in all public schools from grade one. We’re creating an environment that is conducive to creative thinking, to IT, all that. We’re changing the content of our curriculum to suit these needs. And our software development is already growing at an exponential rate.
But having said all this, as I said, we cannot sustain this without political development. And this is the new era will focus on political development, on the need to build a truly free press, truly independent judiciary, and political party system that would have real political parties with popular support, with real programs, et cetera.
You know, we’re not reinventing the wheel. So, I don’t need to list all the things that we’re attempting to do. Again, I honestly do not want to keep talking about it. I want to be able to come back next year and tell you, ”This is what we’ve done in each one of these areas.“
REH: Well, we certainly will invite Marwan back next year to give us probably an update, a little more maybe optimistic view. But I’d like to close with, what is clearly premised in a pessimistic view, which is what I hold at the moment. In the academic circles and elsewhere, there’s very serious work going on now in the eventuality that things really collapse between Israel and Palestine, and the peace process really dies. And they’re looking at forms of trusteeships, mandates, and so on, which are briefly referenced. Do you think any of that is realistic? Is there any scenario where you can see a UN asserted mandate or trusteeship?
MJM: First of all, I think ideas should always be, you know, be thought of. I mean, we should never stop developing ideas, even if the present course is with the Road Map. Because, as I said, we are not ready to declare the Road Map dead yet. And I hope it won’t be dead. But that should not, does not mean that we should not keep thinking of ideas in case we run into a dead end.
The idea of a trusteeship might become interesting, or in fact, acceptable if it is trusteeship over the whole of the West Bank. If we are to talk about trusteeship over the present areas that the Palestinians control, meaning 40 percent of the West Bank, then it is not an acceptable idea. Because, I’ll tell you what our fear is, our fear in Jordan, our fear in the Arab world, and our fear among the Palestinians.
The fear is that what Israel might be interested in is a Palestinian State with provisional borders, an interim state for a long period of time. In other words, stopping at phase two of the Road Map, not going beyond that phase. And that fear is not unjustified. I’m speaking on the record, so I’ll just stop at that. This is not an unjustifiable fear. And I hope it’s not true.
But if it is true, then if someone comes to us with this idea of having a trusteeship over 40 percent of the land, then the immediate reaction will be we are afraid that this will become the permanent solution, and that this 40 percent will be the new Palestinian State.
But if someone says the trusteeship is over the full West Bank, so that this is an interim period to help the Palestinians bring up their capability maybe in the same way that the Iraqis will bring up their capability. But in the end, the trusteeship would be handed over to the Palestinians over the full West Bank, it becomes an interesting idea.
REH: I think we all owe a great round of applause to Marwan Muasher. (Applause)