By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
The Jordanian Ambassador to Washington Marwan Muasher said Israel’s military action against Palestinian civilians is “truly grave and insane.”
He told Albawaba.com in interview in Washington that Israel cannot talk about a peace process while it flexes its muscles in this manner. “Our public opinion is outraged at what is going on and we also need to send Israel a strong message that it cannot go on with such activities and hope that the peace process will continue,” he said.
He stressed that the Jordanian government is not considering cutting diplomatic ties with Israel at this time. “We review every step as developments occur, but we also have to make sure that we do not take any action that would deprive us of a very important channel to use in order to help bring the violence down,” he said.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
Q- What is your assessment of the current crisis between Israel and the Palestinians and what impact will it have on the entire region and the peace process?
A- The situation is very grave. What Israel is doing is truly insane. This is not just excessive force; it is hitting civilians and the people that you are negotiating with. We cannot talk about a peace process while Israel flexes its muscle in this manner. Violence has to go down and it is difficult to go back to the status quo; there has to be a realization that the main problem is the occupation, which has to end. This reality has to be absorbed by everybody, including the United States, which is now the main sponsor, if not the only sponsor of the process.
Q- Jordan has announced that it will not allow its ambassador to Israel to present his credentials in protest of the Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. How is this step going to affect Jordanian-Israeli relations in the future?
A- Israel is not making it easy for anybody in the region with its actions. Our public opinion is outraged at what is going on and we also need to send Israel a strong message that it cannot go on with such activities and hope that the peace process will continue. I think there is a dire need for a fact-finding mission to go to the region. There is also a dire need for international observers to step in and help bring the violence down. We now see Israeli tanks, Israeli missiles hitting civilians, and the situation has deteriorated to a point where I think international intervention has become a necessity.
Q- How is the withdrawal of the Jordanian ambassador from Israel going to affect your relations with Israel?
A- The relationship with Israel today has to be at an all time low. We cannot ignore what is going on; we want to use our diplomatic channels with everybody to help bring the violence down and get back to negotiations. We need to send Israel a very strong message that it cannot continue to do what it is doing and hope to maintain normal relations with countries it has signed peace treaties with.
Q- The Organization of Islamic Countries has called on Arab countries with diplomatic ties with Israel to cut those ties in solidarity with the Palestinians. Will Jordan be ready to cut its ties with Israel,in accordance with the demands of many opposition groups in Jordan?
A- We have to ensure that every step the Jordanian government takes is a step that would help the Palestinians and the cause of peace. This is what drives our position and our intention. We review every step as developments occur, but we also have to make sure that we do not take any action that would deprive us of a very important channel to use in order to help bring the violence down.
Q- Jordan’s Prime Minister said in a recent interview that the diplomatic ties with Israel would help serve the Palestinian interests. Can you explain how would that help the Palestinians?
A- If you would look at, for example, the Soviet Union and the United States during the cold war, relations were not only icy but confrontational, but they did not cut diplomatic ties. Embassies are not there to spread the good news, but sometimes also to send strong messages of condemnation or to use that diplomatic channel in order to arrive at a diplomatic solution. Cutting a diplomatic tie is a step of last resort, and I think people do not take it unless the situation is hopeless. We would still like to help the Palestinians by maintaining our channels with everybody.
Q- So you think Jordan can still play a positive role by using its good offices with Israel?
A- Absolutely. If you look for example at the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Egypt recalled its ambassador from Israel but it did not cut diplomatic ties. You need to maintain certain channels; this is why I think what Israel is doing today is grave and insane because it is hitting at headquarters and at people that it is negotiating with. If you cut off this channel, you won't have anyone left to negotiate with in the future.
Q- Some people have been critical of Jordan for suppressing the anti-Israel demonstrations, how do you respond to such criticism?
A- If you look at what went on Jordan, there were 250 demonstrations that took place in the last two and a half months. We did not suppress any of them except when these demonstrations took a turn against either property of individuals or against laws of the state. In one instance, demonstrators started breaking windows and cars where the government of course has to step in. We had another incident where demonstrators wanted to attempt to cross the border with Israel. That, of course, cannot be allowed because it is very grave. But I think for the most part, demonstrations took place peacefully and in coordination with the government. People have expressed their feelings quite openly. More importantly, the Jordanian people and government have played an important role, not only in demonstrating to show support, but also by sending tangible help to the Palestinians through medical supplies and through treating wounded Palestinians in Jordanian hospitals.
Q- How is the shooting of an Israeli diplomat in Amman this week going to reflect on relations with Israel?
A- We are quite clearly against such incidents. We cannot allow people to take the law into their own hands. We have to respect diplomatic relations at all times. We are of course working very actively to try to apprehend the person who shot the Israeli diplomat. Having difficult or bad relations is one thing, but shooting people is quite another thing.
Q- The Arab world is totally outraged by the bias of the United States to the Israeli side in the current crisis and the peace process. What can you and other Arab ambassadors in Washington tell the Clinton administration about this bias?
A- There is no question that there has been strong bias against the Arab and Palestinian positions in the last two months. This has been clear in the media, in the administration and in Congress. This is most unfortunate because somehow the victim has been depicted in this country as the victimizer and vice-versa. It is something we certainly attempt to change, but with all the financial resources that are available to the other side, it is not an easy thing to do.
Q- But how do you explain the total bias of the Clinton administration against the Palestinians, especially after the Camp David summit in July?
A- I think the administration itself tended, especially after Camp David, to blame the Palestinian side and that added to the perception that indeed the Palestinians were the ones to blame. But since then, the administration at least has come to realize that the situation is not so black and white, and that what has been presented at Camp David in terms of solutions on Jerusalem and refugees fell far too short for any Arab side to accept. There has been an oversimplification of what went on by blaming it on Mr. Arafat’s character, when in fact it had more to do with the substance of the proposals presented at Camp David. Since then, there is a more realistic appraisal by the administration of the Arab and Palestinian red lines that I hope would be translated into future negotiations.
Q- How do you characterize the US-Jordanian relations at this time?
A- The US-Jordanian relations today is truly at its best. We have moved to forge very strong ties with the United States. We cooperate closely on many issues, including the peace process. In recent years, we have moved to forge closer economic ties. We signed a free trade agreement two weeks ago which a major qualitative jump for the Jordanian economy. We are the fourth country in the world to sign such an agreement, which not only shows the US commitment to Jordan’s political and economic stability, but it also shows the degree to which the Jordanian economy has progressed. That would allow the US to enter into such an agreement. We hope that investors around the world will use Jordan as a platform from which to enter the US market as products made in Jordan will be able to get into the US market free of custom duties and free of quotas. That is crucial to create jobs and attract investment to the country.
Q- What is your impression of the US presidential elections and would it make a difference to Jordan whether Bush or Gore win the White House?
A- Truly, Jordan today enjoys bipartisan support in the United States. We have always understood the importance of having good contact with both parties. We have always maintained good relations with both presidential administrations, and also both parties in Congress and all the decision makers in this town and in this country.
Q- As a former Minister of Information, how do you see the role of the media in covering recent events in the region, especially the role of the Arab satellite stations like Al-Jazeera?
A- Arab satellite stations are playing a new role in the Arab world, not only with respect to the recent events, but in general by presenting issues that state-controlled stations have shied away from like political and social issues that were considered taboo to discuss. With satellite dishes being available now really to anybody, Arab viewers now have the option to watch any Arab station that they want. This is creating a great deal of pressure on governments to rethink their strategy in terms of maintaining state control over such media organizations.
Q- Does that apply to Jordan?
A- In Jordan we are moving very positively towards opening up the media system. We have now a law that would allow private television stations to operate in the country. In fact the first one will operate in a few months. We have assigned a board from both the public and the private sectors to run Jordan television, because in order to maintain credibility in this day and age one has to present all points of view, and one cannot really mouth feed information to people, expecting that the only channel they see is their state channel. I think we are realizing this in Jordan may be earlier than others, but I see a clear trend towards opening up the system and relinquishing state control over media organizations and towards an evolution of a more independent media in the Arab world that would contribute to a more meaningful way towards the process of political openness and reform in the Arab world.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)