Jordan's foreign minister may be willing to make some waves but Jordan, he says, is not going to rock the boat
Every time Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani Al-Molqi moved in or out of the meeting room at the Hilton Hotel where Arab foreign ministers were preparing for the Arab summit he was surrounded by TV crews and correspondents. He had been catapulted in to the limelight by Jordan's proposal to re-launch the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal that involved making a précis of the two-page long initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia and adopted by the Arab Summit in Beirut 2002 offering full normalisation with Israel in return for a comprehensive settlement, including the return of occupied territories, of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The three-paragraph resolution proposed by Jordan may well have stressed the will of Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel when the demands of international legitimacy are met. In the opinion of many, though, it all but abandoned the Palestinians' right of return in accordance with UN Resolution 194 and failed to mention East Jerusalem, two of the thorniest aspects of the conflict.
The Jordanian proposal was ultimately amended to address the fears of those Arab delegations, including Algeria, the host of this year's Arab summit, that thought it would effectively turn the event into a summit of normalisation.
"We never proposed that the Algeria summit be focussed exclusively on normalisation. That was never on the cards. We would not propose that Arab countries with no borders with Israel opt for normalisation before the Arab-Israeli conflict is fairly settled," Al-Molqi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Al-Molqi, speaking after the amended proposal was passed by Arab foreign ministers on Sunday afternoon, stressed that Jordan is not Israel's public relations manager in the Arab world. Nor is Jordan trying to eliminate "any of the legitimate rights of Palestinians" by choice or by invitation.
"What Jordan was seeking was to send a clear message to the international community that Arab countries are not opposed to the concept of normalisation with Israel and are actually offering such normalisation within the context of a fair and comprehensive settlement of the Arab- Israeli conflict," he said.
Al-Molqi brushes aside suggestions that Jordan was seeking to re-issue the Arab Peace Initiative drained of any meaningful content vis-à-vis the issue of refugees and of Arab East Jerusalem to coincide with King Abdullah's visit to Washington. Such accusations, he said, are par for the course and Amman has become inured to suggestions that it is using its Arab ties to open doors for Israel at the behest of the US. Nor does Al-Molqi rise to the bait when it is pointed out that the Jordanian proposal appeared on the table only days after a visit to Israel in which he joined his Israeli counterpart in underlining the need for Syria to implement Security Council Resolution 1559 that calls for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon and the disarming of Hizbullah and other Palestinian factions in Lebanon.
"There are those who want to downsize Jordan's role. We know who they are, and we will not allow them to belittle Jordan's growing role," Al-Molqi said.
"Some people look at Jordan and say it is a small country with a small population and as such should have a small role. I would say to these people, forget it. You will not succeed in containing the Jordanian role... [or] the long history of Jordan in defending Arab and Muslim rights."
"King Hussein worked very hard with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to help Egypt return to the Arab fold in the late 1980s. Why is this not talked about?" El-Molqi asked. "And like Egypt, Jordan only normalised relations with Israel within the framework of a peace process that ended the Israeli occupation of Jordanian territories."
Al-Molqi was unwilling to either criticise or praise those politicians who have demonstrated an interest in pursuing normalisation with Israel before the "Arab-Israeli conflict is settled on the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese tracks", though he would "advise our Arab brothers who do not border Israel to hold their peace until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved".
Israel will not necessarily show sensitivity to Arab rights "in accordance with international legitimacy", he believes, should normalisation come about prematurely.
"The Israelis sometimes think they can have their cake and eat it. We should encourage them but not give in. Meanwhile we should try to win the support of the international community and this was the whole point behind our proposal to the Algeria Arab Summit -- to send the right message to the international community."
While frustrated by the reaction of many to his proposal, the Jordanian foreign minister "was not surprised" by the off-the-peg accusations.
"They said we were doing this to please Israel. They said we had agreed on the plan with the Israelis when I visited Israel and they even said that we were putting pressure on Syria but not Israel. But the fact of the matter is that when I was in Israel and I talked about the need for Syria to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 -- which is something many other Arab officials say -- I also talked about the need for Israel to implement UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338."
That UN General Assembly Resolution 194 went unmentioned during the joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart is not, El-Molqi believes, a reason for anybody to "hurl accusations".
Jordan would, he explains, have used its good relations with the US to help Damascus engage in a healthy dialogue with Washington had "relations between Jordan and Syria at the time allowed for this. But they only improved after 1559 when there was limited space for any manoeuvring".
Any suggestion that Jordan is turning its back on the Arab world and instead pursuing alliances with Israel and the US he denies categorically.
"We are not trying to draw alliances away from the Arab world. We are pursing good relations with everyone but we know that we belong to the Arab world. We just want to work to make this region a better, more developed and more peaceful place."
"King Abdullah wanted to come to the summit but was bound to attend a meeting in the US to encourage investment flow to Jordan. We tried very hard to re-schedule the meeting, planned over five months ago, to allow the king the opportunity to come to Algeria but we could not."
The date and venue of the Arab summit was decided in May 2004. The king's absence though, should not, says his foreign minister, be interpreted as a sign of disinterest in Arab affairs.