Time is Ripe for a New Way of Thinking’
King Abdullah is the ruling monarch of Jordan. He spoke with Global Viewpoint Editor Nathan Gardels at the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
GV: The Syrian-Israeli peace process has bogged down. Are you optimistic it will get back on track anytime soon?
King Abdullah: I know it looks pessimistic at the moment, but I’m sure the situation will look a lot different in six months. It is normal after so many years of conflict to have bumps in the road. However, both sides speak the same language. Both have taken the strategic decision for peace. I carried a verbal message to both [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and President Clinton in which [Syrian] President Assad asked me to convey on his behalf that “Syria is genuinely interested in peace.” The media have not helped when they attacked Assad. Face and dignity are very important to the Syrians. This is not 40 years ago, when the public on one side doesn’t know what the public on the other side is thinking or saying. What you say in the Israeli papers shows up in the Syrian papers. The media are a very influential force for the good, but it can be very damaging too. Things would go a lot smoother if the media put a more positive spin on events.
GV: Jordan is planning a “cyber city.” Some regard Israel as the Silicon Valley for Europe because of its high-tech industries. And there is your comment about Bashar, Assad’s son and presumed heir, that “I like you because we are both men of the internet.” In 10 years, do you see the next generation in Syria cooperating as Jordan and Israel are now doing in the common search for prosperity?
King Abdullah: I hope so. But it won’t be 10 years; it will be much, much sooner. The upcoming generation in Syria is ready for change, but they must be given the opportunity. The younger generation across the Arab world is very different from the older one. I’m 38. Many in my generation were educated in the West and know the West as well as their own cultures. They want for their part of the world the same fairness and prosperity they have seen elsewhere. They know how other parts of the world are, and it is attractive to them, just as the youth of Eastern Europe were attracted to the success of the West during the Cold War. And, in Jordan, 60% of the population is younger than me. These children have a lot in common with children everywhere; they watch the same cartoons as the children in China or South America. We must be able to show some success, however, if the new generation is to get its chance. Development can’t just involve Jordan and Israel, especially as the world moves into the digital age, but must include Palestinians, Syria, and Lebanon. That kind of Regional approach will help Bashar and his generation to break down the old barriers. To leave them behind would only create the conflicts of the future. Europe has proved to be a success because France and Germany gave up their enmity after World War II and decided to cooperate. We can do the same thing, turning the Middle East into a new , fertile crescent. Politics don’t bring people together, but the economy can. Practical circumstances, including coordinating the use of scarce water, also will push along this cooperation. Water shows how we are connected. If Turkey dams the water upstream, then so must the Syrians, and then we have difficulty getting the supplies we need in Israel and Jordan. So Israel and Jordan have explored shipping water to Haifa for use by the Israelis so they can share some of their other supplies with us. That kind of cooperation is a basis for hope. I believe that the time is ripe for this new way of thinking. We have lost so much ground as the world moves on. We need peace not, as is so often said, for our children and grandchildren alone; we need peace for us, now.