Ahmad Obedeit, former Prime Minister, Jordan
Jawad Annani, Acting Foreign Minister, Jordan
Leonard Hausman, Director,
Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East,
Dennis Sullivan, Professor of Political Science,
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
JEFF MARTIN, Producer: This is Common Ground.
LEONARD HAUSMAN, Director, Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East, Harvard
University: Jordan needs peace with Israel because it needs the economic boost that it can get
from having a very rich neighbor. So the King did exactly the right thing.
MARTIN: In 1994, King Hussein of Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, in spite of some
deep reservations among many Jordanian citizens. One benefit of the treaty, Hussein told his people,
was that it would open up the possibility of economic cooperation with Israel and that could spur
improved living conditions in Jordan. But to date Jordanians have seen little of that promise come
to pass. Frustration has mounted and even those Jordanians who still support the treaty highlight
other reasons for their support.
JAWAD ANNANI, Acting Foreign Minister, Jordan: You make peace because you want to establish
long-term conditions for this area, the whole Middle East region, to find, finally, to rest its soul
and find peace and tranquility.
MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground, we’ll look at the Middle East from a Jordanian perspective.
Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Jeff Martin. The history of the
Middle East goes back several millennia and the politics of the region are incredibly complex.
There are many realities depending on your perspective. One of those perspectives lies in Jordan,
where King Hussein has often tried to play the role of the peacemaker in the region. In 1994 Jordan
became only the second Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. But as Kaleel Sakakeeny
reports, the people of Jordan have yet to be sold on the promise held out in that treat.
KALEEL SAKAKEENY, reporter: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is small, about the size of
Kentucky. It’s size however, belies the crucial role the small desert kingdom plays in the trouble-plagued
Middle East. A bustling and seemingly thriving country, Jordan is located in the heartland of this
complex region. It’s bordered on the south by Saudi Arabia; to the north are the Syrian Arab Republic;
it’s eastern neighbor and one-time principal trading partner is Iraq; and to the west lies Israel.
And therein lies the importance of the role Jordan plays in the search for peace. When King Abdullah was
assassinated in the Al-Agsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1951, his grandson, the present King Hussein, assumed
control of the kingdom. His rule is considered by most observers to be the most liberal, Western-oriented
regime in the Arab world. Buttressed by strong Bedouin tribal support, the King has escaped many assassination
and coup attempts as he has tried to guide his kingdom into the 21st Century. He has
tried desperately to avoid being drawn into another devastating war with Israel. For the country
whose population is nearly 50% Palestinian, Jordan has unavoidably been a key player in the ongoing
Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and a desperate searcher for peace in the region. In spite of the busy
streets and markets, Jordan’s economic problems are acute. A recent World Bank report estimated that
the rate of absolute poverty is at 21.8%, and a level of abject poverty at 8.9%, or one-quarter of
the population. With an average monthly income of about $150, and no real natural resources, Jordan
has teetered on the brink of economic disaster, if not extinction. To shore up its failing economy,
in 1994 it became the only Middle East country to make peace with Israel, the second Arab country to
do so after Egypt. The ceremony, signed on the White House, was not popular among Jordanians. Many felt they were
selling their souls, their identity as Arabs and their solidarity with the Arab world, for economic
gain. King Hussein sold the peace with Israel to his people on the grounds that badly needed economic
stability and prosperity would follow when the treaty was signed. But where, his people are now
asking, are the promised joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian projects? Where is the U.S. aid and
access to more trading partners? The Jordanians are getting increasingly restless and King Hussein is
coming under unprecedented pressure to deliver on his promise. In Jordan I spoke with Jawad Annani
about Jordan’s failure to realize the promised economic gains as a peace dividend. He is the Deputy
Prime Minister for Development and a Minister of State Affairs. He was Acting Foreign Minister at
the time of this report and is in charge of 11 ministries, including the Central Bank of Jordan. A
long-time Cabinet member, Dr. Annani was trained in the United States at Vanderbilt College. I
asked him to provide us with a snapshot of this Bedouin Kingdom, balanced as it is on the brink of
the 21st Century.
ANNANI: Well, the GNP in Jordan is about $7.5 billion a year. That makes it about $1,800
per capita. The population is about 4.4 million. Jordan’s main resources are minerals, especially
fertilizers, phosphate and potash. We have also agriculture, and the third part is manufacturing,
good manufacturing. But the concentration is on services. Our country is a large producer of
services, which constitute about 63% of our total GDP. We are a democracy. We have a bicameral
parliamentary system. We try to have a constitution that was enacted in 1952 and it goes exactly
along many lines of what the United States constitution, same principles which are there. Basic
democracy, freedom. Human rights.
SAKAKEENY: You said that one of the barriers to Jordan’s developing its full resources is
the fact that it has often been a haven for nationalities fleeing one or another political upheaval
in the Middle East. How has this hampered economic development?
ANNANI: We have 80,000 Iraqis who have come and resided in Jordan. And during the Lebanese
War we had about 80,000 Lebanese or so refugees in Jordan. So therefore there is a continuous
struggling and friction within the society. Of course we are a people who come from the West Bank,
were evicted from, as a result of Israeli policies of colonization and deprivation and the mass
punishments. And so this is what makes Jordanian society concentrated in an urban society. And in
urban centers you had to provide shelter and food and all the services for people overnight. It was
sort of a crisis situation. So the people who come from other parts of the, people in other parts of
the country were not given as much services as the people inside. And you find that good part of
poverty is actually rural poverty.
SAKAKEENY: Truthfully, Dr. Annani , Jordan’s painful economic situation motivated it to make
an unpopular peace with Israel. And King Hussein promised that peace would bring prosperity. This
hasn’t happened and the people are getting restless. What’s going on?
ANNANI: The peace process took 3 years and a half to mature, until we reached the Treaty,
and signing of papers means there has ended the state of war and state of belligerency, but it does
not mean that you set yourself on the right path towards economic take-off.
SAKAKEENY: What do the Jordanians expect then?
ANNANI: They’ve said, “Okay, at least we will get Egyptian treatment.” Egyptian treatment
in the sense that we’ll get $2 billion, or Israel, when it signed peace with Egypt, it got $3 billion,
when Israel was supposed to be a much richer country. But that did not materialize. And it took 3
years between signing of the treaty and so on before Jordan began to get $200 million, thanks to
the American Senate and House, to the Congress, and to the Administration as well. At the end of
the day what is happening to our trade? We lost the Iraqi market. We lost the Gulf markets. Those
have not been duly compensated in terms of trade with the West Bank or trade with Israel. Our trade
with Israel is still about $20 million a year which is very small. Our trade with the West Bank is
only, our exports are only $6 million, while Israel’s exports to the West Bank and Gaza is $2.4 billion.
SAKAKEENY: Well obviously the idea of a Jewish state enjoying more extensive trade with the
Palestinian Arabs than the Jordanian Arabs has to rankle. To many Jordanians, I guess the fact that
about half the population of Jordan is Palestinian adds insult to injury. Clearly the peace process
with Israel was supposed to produce joint Jordanian and Israeli projects, like water and tourism
projects and the major Jordanian Valley schemes and so on. These are all designed to benefit the
economies of each country. But why hasn’t this happened?
ANNANI: Well, there have been several projects that we have benefited, but if, the only
projects which have been implemented, if they meant more gain to Israel. Nothing that Israel was
willing to sacrifice. For instance, they wanted peace and they wanted to continue to dominate the
West Bank by sheer occupation. So, in terms of trade to the West Bank, we have not been exporting
much. The Israeli’s still continue to dominate that market. In terms of trading with the Israeli’s
themselves, they say, “Okay, you are cheap, you know, your labor is cheaper,” and so on.
When the Israelis show magnanamity is when the United States for instance steps in.
SAKAKEENY: So you’re saying that not much of anything has changed since the peace treaty
was signed. But since King Hussein promised prosperity with peace, today the mood in the country
seems to be one of frustration.
ANNANI: At the beginning, at the early stages of the peace process they were saying,
“Ah, you want to go and make peace with Israel because there is economic gain with it. Shame
on you, you accept material gain for, you sacrifice God’s acceptance of you.” Now, they’re
saying, “Come on, you did not even make economic gains out of this. Come on, what kind of peace
is this?” But, however, you have to talk about the mainstream. The mainstream believes in
peace and believes in the benefits of peace. But they are saying “Where are they? Well, we don’t
see them. We don’t feel them.”
SAKAKEENY: But you told me there are many other reasons for peace in the Middle East, other
than immediate economic gains. What did you mean?
ANNANI: You make peace because you want to establish long-term conditions for this area,
the whole Middle East region, to find, finally, to rest its soul and find peace and tranquility. To
allow it to, allow its latent capabilities to show up, to appear and be harnessed for the future.
Future generations. And if notice King Hussein, for instance, keeps saying that. Peace that will be
accepted and enjoyed by this generation and future generations. Or generations to come. But it
depends on your vision. But there is of course a lower acceptance of the peace process than the
case was in 1994. Much lower, I think. But it is not, it’s only surface refusal. And if conditions
change people will switch over.
SAKAKEENY: And if they don’t, things may turn ugly. So how can the United States help defuse
the situation, which has the region in such a state of tension.
ANNANI: Well, the United States has to be much more assertive. I mean, no peace is going
to happen, no normalization of relation will take place in this region. Syria and Lebanon will
continue to look at peace with dubious, dubiously, as long as Israeli’s do not treat the Palestinians well.
SAKAKEENY: Then you believe that Jordan’s economic and social problems are clearly and directly related
to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?
ANNANI: Palestinians are the heart and soul of the whole peace process. If there is no
peace with the Palestinians, there is no peace. Period. And the United States has to be much more
assertive on this particular issue. It cannot allow a few militant religious groups in Israel to
dominate the peace process just because we want to maintain the authority?? of government in power.
SAKAKEENY: You’re obviously not pleased with the role of the United States as peace broker.
ANNANI: Brokering peace? Well, brokering, we will accept this term. But actually,
brokering means that you have to bring the two parties to agree. And so far, we feel that more of
the policies have been centered on forcing the Palestinians somehow to accept slightly moderated
Israeli conditions. Peace was basically rested on the principal of return of land for peace.
SAKAKEENY: So even the Palestinians are worse off now than they were before the peace
treaty with Israel?
ANNANI: Yes, sir! I mean, go ahead and look at Gaza. During Intifada even, the people in
Gaza had a much better living. They have a sixty, or between fifty and sixty percent of unemployment.
You’re talking about abject poverty. And you have about 30-40% of the people live in abject poverty.
It’s one of the most crowded places in the world. They need infrastructure an so on. Naturally the
Palestinians are angry and they don’t feel that the peace process has served them very well.
SAKAKEENY: Tell me what went wrong.
ANNANI: The peace process did not come.
SAKAKEENY: Back in the United States, we discussed the perceptions of Minister Annani with
Leonard Hausman, the Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East,
at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hausman is a frequent visitor to the region and a crucial
player in developing the economies of the Middle East. Dr. Hausman, Jawad Annani has stated that
Israel could have been more forthcoming in promoting real economic progress. What’s your assessment?
HAUSMAN: I think that, yes, the Israeli government could have done more. The Palestinian
government could have done more. I would say in that order. I think that some of the tardiness of
the Israeli government in moving ahead with the peace process has caused frustration, and understandably.
SAKAKEENY: You know the region better than most and you know the intensive level of frustration
that the Jordanians are experiencing. Do you think King Hussein made a fatal mistake in signing a
peace that as yet has produced no economic dividend?
HAUSMAN: Jordan needs peace with Israel because it needs the economic boost that it can get
from having a very rich neighbor. So the King did exactly the right thing. For him it’s in his
country’s interest to normalize as rapidly as possible. He did the right thing in the interests of
his people. He’s a farsighted leader. Not everything has gone perfectly well. He cannot be
criticized for that. I think that he will have been proved to be a visionary in his country’s
interest within another two years.
MARTIN: We’ll pause here for a break. You’re listening to Common Ground.
Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available.
Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of
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activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
While Jordanian officials characterize their country as a democracy, it is certainly not a country
which embraces the kind of civil liberties that Americans enjoy. Criticism of the government must
be couched in careful terms. Yet with the Middle East peace process almost completely stalled, some
Jordanians are speaking out in a surprisingly loud voice against King Hussein’s peace overtures to
Israel. Kaleel Sakakeeny reports.
SAKAKEENY: The search for Arab unity among the 30 or so Arab countries has been as elusive
as the search for peace in the Middle East. In spite of repeated efforts, the Arab nations have
been woefully divided across a spectrum of issues, including their relationship to the United States,
Israel, economic policy, human rights, and the kinds of government they represent. This is not especially
surprising considering that the Arab nations are more different than they are similar. There is
little obvious similarity, for example, between the Western-oriented, liberal country of Morocco,
bordering the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Oceans, and say the arch-conservative theocracy of the
oil-rich desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Recently, however, the moribund peace process to the
Middle East and the perceived intransigence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may have provided
an impetus for Arab-Islamic unity not seen in these parts for a long time. The peace treaty between
Israel and the Palestinians has unraveled and the celebrated peace between Israel and Jordan, only
the second Arab country to make peace with Israel, is stirring discontent among Jordanians. Of
significant interest was a three-day conference of 55 Islamic states that opened December 9 in
Tehran, Iran. The conference was closely and carefully watched by observers in major world capitals.
The widely-respected Washington Report on Middle East Affairs said “The Arab and Islamic
states have signaled that acceptance of the regime of Netanyahu was clearly out of the question.
His intransigent government may well serve as a catalyst for considerable unity among the one-fifth
of the human race who are Muslims.” This kind of unified expression is rare indeed among so
many disparate countries. It served to highlight perhaps, the coalescing of Arab-Islamic world
sentiment brought about by the stalled peace process. We’ll look at the trend toward increasing
unity among the Arab and Muslim countries, look at it through the prism of Jordan. As we will see,
the results of the just-concluded Jordanian elections sent a warning shot across King Hussein’s bow
that Jordanians in the street are not pleased with the Middle East peace agreement. The sentiment
is echoed by other Arabs in other countries. To put the issue in perspective, we spoke first with
Dennis Sullivan at Northeastern University in Boston. Professor Sullivan is a Professor of Political
Science and a Special Assistant to the President of the University. He is a highly respected consultant
on Middle Eastern affairs, an Arabist who speaks the language fluently, and a much-quoted observer.
Professor Sullivan, in light of the stalemate in the Middle East peace process, are you seeing an
emerging Arab-Muslim world solidarity?
DENNIS SULLIVAN, Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University: Despite the valiant
attempts of Arab leaders to mobilize 20-plus Arab nation-states around the central theme, and centralizing
theme, it’s clearly impossible. Given the nature of the nation-state system, the political divisions
within the Arab world, etc.. Now on the other hand though, at another level, at a popular and populist
level, I think there’s a great deal of sentiment toward Arab unity and Arab feelings of solidarity,
especially when a particular Arab people, be it the Iraqi people under crippling sanctions or the
Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and international neglect, at that level I think Arab
unity has a populist acceptance.
SAKAKEENY: So this Arab-Islamic unity seems to be occurring in spite of, and perhaps even
in some cases, in defiance of, Arab rulers. How does U.S. foreign policy figure into this?
SULLIVAN: Clearly, American foreign policy is perceived as being anti-Arab. Because why?
Because it is so pro-Israel at times. Or it is pro-Saudi, which is not necessarily a popular regime,
either inside or outside Saudi Arabia. So is has seemed that way. So the policies themselves actually
would seem to trigger Arab sentiments of Arab unity, such as the Iraq crisis, being one of the most
recent examples of that. And then the long-standing support for Israel and not for the Palestinian
people. And only in recent years has the United States suddenly become enlightened to the plight of
the Palestinian people. And it’s only, obviously, for political and strategic reasons, not because
the American government promotes any kind of concern for real human rights.
SAKAKEENY [with sound of Moslem call to prayer in background]: This emerging sense of Arab
unity may on display here, in Kingdom of Jordan. In the just-concluded parliamentary elections, for
example, only 50% of the people voted. The elections were successfully boycotted by several grass-roots
parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front. The felt the elections were
fraudulent and were used to rubber stamp King Hussein’s non-productive peace with Israel. The leader
of the opposition to King Hussein, is Ahmad Obedeit. As a former Prime Minister Obedeit is high regarded
as Jordan’s preeminent statesman. He also served for 8 years as Head of the Jordanian Intelligence
Bureau. So intense was his opposition to the political direction of the country that King Hussein
had no choice but to ask Obedeit to resign. He did. He is now a private citizen, speaking passionately
about what he sees is Jordan’s wrongheaded foreign and domestic policy. Dr. Obedeit, much has been
made of statements issued from the recently-concluded Tehran Conference of the Organization of Islamic
States. In fact, undersecretary of state David Newton said, and I’m quoting here, “The linkage
between progress in the peace talks and the unity of Arab states is real. Ignoring that reality would
be detrimental to U.S. interests.” How do you interpret the results of the conference?
AHMAD OBEDEIT, former Prime Minister, Jordan (via a translator): The Muslim states have met
and there was a firm belief that actually there should be a minimum unified position among the Arab
countries and Muslim countries, actually to deal with the challenges that are lying ahead in terms
of peace and everything else. The relationship with the United States, the Israeli dimension and terrorism.
SAKAKEENY: Well you were clearly angry enough at the direction of the government of Jordan
and the King’s policies that you urged a boycott of the elections. Obviously you intended the boycott
to be a repudiation of the government’s peace treaty with Israel and an act of solidarity with Arabs in
other countries. Can you explain further?
OBEDEIT: Israel still occupies all Palestine. Israel still, actually, they are saying it
will change the identity of Jerusalem, and they still occupy South Lebanon and they still occupy
the Golan Heights. Israel does not yet recognize the rights of the Palestinian right of return and
self-determination. Israel actually has very strong policies in terms of settlements. So therefore
the new Parliament has to have also a very crucial role to play in normalizing the relationship with
Israel, notwithstanding all the above. Therefore, there was this stance this election should be
boycotted. Okay? Until there is a commitment and a belief that there should be parliament, an
integral parliament with a mind of it’s own which might have a view different from that of the executive authority.
SAKAKEENY: I appreciate that these views are almost never expressed publicly. Where do you
see Jordan’s future lying?
OBEDEIT: I believe when we look at the future, it’s future era, in stability or in peace.
Okay? And I believe what’s happening now is neither the stability nor peace. Our future actually
is with the Arab world. Our future economy is the Arab world. They are our market. They are our
dimension and depth. We don’t want any more wars. The Israeli’s should not need also to be in war
again. Okay? What they are doing is not bringing us closer to peace, and actually it’s not guaranteeing
the Israeli’s the peace not the security that they want for their own people. I believe that our
future should be in peace, but also with very strong relations with the Arab world.
SAKAKEENY: But if there is an increasingly unified Arab-Muslim stance, how will this affect
U.S. foreign policy in the region?
OBEDEIT: I have to say that I am, I am not very optimistic about the position of the United
States government. However, I believe if a genuine position is being created among the Arab states,
that might help in changing the United States’ policy towards the region.. To a more positive role,
actually, in the peace process. Even if a partial role. I believe that the United States has to recognize
that it has interests in this region. The United States also has to recognize that the American
taxpayer would one day stop supporting the government of Israel.
SAKAKEENY: Both you and Professor Dennis Sullivan in the United States speak of a growing
grass-roots movement toward unit among Arab and Muslim populations. How much pressure will they be
able to exert on the ruling governments?
OBEDEIT: I believe that now there is insufficient pressure by the people, by the grass-roots,
by the movements, by the political parties, to actually induce a change at the level of the government
and decision-makers and upward.
SAKAKEENY: Is the pressure coming?
OBEDEIT: I think so. Yes. Things are definitely deteriorating. This will create a situation
in Palestine, in Jordan, and in the Arab countries, especially those surrounding Palestine, and actually
this will definitely create an induced change at the political decision level.
SAKAKEENY: Abu Dubai, a progressive and well-off Arab Gulf state, just hosted a 3-day
conference on the future of the Arab world. One Canadian-American speaker reminded the audience
that since the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in the 13th Century, the destiny of the
Arab world has been controlled by others. Now, the speaker went on to say, it is time for the Arab
countries to plan their own futures and renaissance. Perhaps that’s what Dr. Ahmad Obedeit meant
when he said that the future of Jordan is with the Arabs. This is Kaleel Sakakeeny in Amman, Jordan.
MARTIN: The Middle East from two different Jordanian perspectives has been our topic in
this edition of Common Ground. For Common Ground, I’m Jeff Martin.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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