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Friday, March 9, 2007

Rosner takes on Abdullah's speech

King Abdullah of Jordan told the American congress the only things he could possibly say, given who he is and the fact that he is a fairly decent fellow after all. Mostly, he said nothing, in a way that is pleasing to the American ear and does not offend the Arab world.
Rosner wrote:
Maybe it's not fair to ask the weakest of all countries, the shakiest of all regimes, and the fragile of all Kings, to be the one leading the pack.
This sentiment reflects a permanent delusion of Israeli foreign policy, that the Jordanian monarchy is unstable.
Of Israel's neighbors, Jordan is the only country that really has the same form of government and the same basic policies that it did in 1948 and in 1923 for that matter. Nonetheless, the sentiment persists that the Hashemite monarchy is about to fall tomorrow. Until the Asad dynasty took over, Syria changed governments as often as some people change automobiles. Egypt had a Nasserite revolution and effectively, a Sadat revolution. It is waiting for the next one. Lebanon doesn't have a government and has not had a government since about 1976, in the way that "government" is ordinarily understood, but the Jordanian monarchy is still there. Strangely, everyone still insists it is the most unstable government in the region. It was unshaken by the assassination of Abdullah I, and the PLO and Syria could not overthrow it in the 70s. It survived the death of King Hussein as well.
The Hashemites were lucky to be on the right side of the cold war, shrewd enough to maneuver between the perils of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the challenges of modernizing Islamic society and clever enough to make the right alliances. Above all, among Arab governments, the Jordanian government is remarkable for providing competent and responsible administration that is responsive to the real needs of its people. Behind the loyal Bedouins of the Jordan Legion stands the might of the United States, Britain and Israel, who would hopefully never be foolish enough to abandon the Hashemite regime. As long as that is true, whoever would be stupid enough to rise against this monarchy would probably be squashed like a bug.
Ami Isseroff 

Rosner's Blog 
 Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent 
King Abdullah's not-so-courageous call for peace
King Abdullah of Jordan is a likable fellow. "How can anyone not like him? ", as Jerry Seinfeld's mother used to ask. And today in Congress, he was as nice and reassuring as one can ever be. "No more bloodshed, no more lives pointlessly taken", he said. "The goal must be a peace in which all sides gain".
Can Congress disagree with that?
Abdullah's speech was long in cliches and short in substance. Americans have gotten used to seeing this friendly, peace-loving king as the Arab world's voice of moderation and wisdom. "King Abdullah is a good friend and a close ally", said Sean McCormack of the State Department today. However, today's speech was a very weak display of these attributes. All the King was doing is trying to make everybody happy. And you know what? He didn't even succeed at that.
The usual suspects reacted in their usual way (and I'm probably also one of them). The American Task Force on Palestine applauded the speech, and so did Americans for Peace Now. "We deeply appreciate the devotion and passion with which he delivered his outstanding address," said Debra DeLee, the president of APN.
Others were not as appreciative. Congressman Steve Israel (D, NY) stated after the session that he was "surprised by the focus of his speech." Rep. Ron Klein of Florida stated that "I was disappointed his speech did not contain more specifics concerning the Palestinian Authority's position toward Israel. This was a missed opportunity".
Congressman Israel gave an accurate assessment of the problem with Abdullah's speech: "He was trying to give two speeches at the same time. One was for citizens of Jordan. The other speech was to a U.S. audience urging a jump start of peace talks. I'm not sure that you can satisfy both audiences with the same speech at the same time."
Let's see what he had to offer:
"[the conflict is] pulling the region and the world towards greater danger": That's easy to agree with.
"There must be a peace in which Israelis will be part of the neighborhood": That's nice, but still needs to be cleared with the other occupants of some parts of the neighborhood.
"[progress must be made] not in one year or five years but this year": We all wish, but is it a realistic goal?
"the wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration... is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine": That's a debatable analysis. If the Arab-Israeli conflict were to somehow miraculously be resolved, would that mark the end of all resentments and frustration in the Middle East? How exactly would such a development solve the problem of the Lebanese who suffer instability, fear Syria and struggle with internal rifts?
"40 years of occupation": This is just inaccurate: It is forty years of Israeli occupation, preceded by the unmentioned Jordanian occupation of the West Bank.
"their [King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin] courageous work for peace received bipartisan support from your leaders": True. And that receives an A+ for good intentions leading to nowhere.
The King doesn't give us any hint as to the reasons for recent failures apart from the lack of sufficient involvement. That's a perpetual argument: if there is no peace, one can always argue more involvement is needed. And if there is still no peace, one can ask again for even more. It is as if no power can overcome "involvement."
Is the failure of the peace process Israel's fault alone? Abdullah was not blatantly blaming Israel today, but he did say as much a couple of days ago: "The main responsibility (for achieving peace) lies with Israel, which must choose either to remain a prisoner of the mentality of 'Israel the fortress' or to live in peace and stability with its neighbors."
And what about sharing the blame with other actors? Abdullah didn't mention the extremists of Hamas today - not even once. He was also careful with Iran and Hezbollah. You know what - He only criticized in name the parties he is not afraid of: Israel, and to some extent the U.S., from which he seeks more involvement and less "bias."
Seriously speaking, no one in his right mind would question the King's desire and dedication to peace in the region. Abdullah does have one offer he wishes to lobby for as he enters the more substantial talks with the policy makers of the Bush administration. The King believes that an adoption by all sides of the Arab plan - the second incarnation of the Saudi plan - can be the key to a breakthrough. He also believes that "[there is now a] rare and historic moment of opportunity", as many Arab countries become more nervous about the growing influence of Iran on the region.
Does it make sense? On paper it certainly does. Israel has already announced that there are many useful elements in the Saudi plan - and clearly, if some modifications can be agreed upon, this plan could serve as a starting point for negotiation.
The King's speech today did not bode well for the actual chances of achieving his own goal. If adjustments are needed, it will require some courage on both sides, some public acknowledgment of the need to make "difficult choices". Clearly, such choices will have to be made on the Israeli side - and the Israeli government has not hinted that it would be willing to make them (whether it is politically capable to do so, that's a different story). But where is the Arab leader who is ready to call on his friends to make a compromise - not just by generally stating the need for accepting Israel into the neighborhood, but rather by naming names, pointing fingers and defining the actual choices?
Maybe it's not fair to ask the weakest of all countries, the shakiest of all regimes, and the fragile of all Kings, to be the one leading the pack. Therefore, if one was looking to King Abdullah to be this leader today in Congress - one was looking in the wrong direction.

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