King Abdullah: Little Hope for Mideast Peace Process This Year

By Evan Harris

May 21, 2011 6:10pm

King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key advocate of the Middle East peace process, says he does not have much hope for progress on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in the coming months.

“My instincts tell me not to expect much over the next couple of months, unfortunately,” King Abdullah said in an exclusive interview with This Week anchor Christiane Amanpour. “I just have a feeling that we’re going to be living with the status quo for 2011.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently visiting the United States, where he met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday, before addressing a joint session of Congress next Tuesday. Netanyahu spoke strongly against President Obama’s Thursday address in which he publicly called for the pre-1967 borders of Israel to serve as the starting point for future peace negotiations.

Abdullah said the current realities on the ground leave him pessimistic, including Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.

“When he speaks to me, I see his vision of peace with the Palestinians, peace with the Arabs and I’ve always left those meetings feeling very optimistic,” Abdullah said of his discussions with Netanyahu. “But unfortunately, the circumstances that we’ve seen on the ground for the past two years does not fill me with much hope.”

Former Senate Majority George Mitchell, who resigned this month as President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East after serving two years, said that while President Obama’s comments on the 1967 borders were “a significant statement,” they do not signal a major shift in policy, especially when land swaps are taken into consideration.

“The president didn’t say that Israel has to go back to the ‘67 lines. He said with agreed swaps,” Mitchell told Amanpour. “Swaps means an exchange of land intended to accommodate major Israeli population centers to be incorporated into Israel and Israel’s security needs. Agreed means through negotiations.  Both parties must agree.” 

Mitchell noted that Obama’s Thursday statement on borders were identical to a proposal made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who served until 2009.

“In a later interview, let me read to you what he said: ‘I presented Abbas with a comprehensive plan. It was based on the following principles. One, there would be a territorial solution to the conflict on the basis of the 1967 borders, with minor modifications on both sides,’” Mitchell said of Olmert’s previous comments.

Despite a long history of stalemate, Mitchell said he remained positive that progress can be made if both sides are willing to negotiate.

“Both sides, I believe, want peace,” Mitchell said. “The problem is, do they want peace enough to make the painful concessions that are necessary on both sides?”

Mitchell added that he believes the political turmoil throughout the region has “created a high level of uncertainty and some degree of anxiety on both sides.”

“I don’t want to try to paint a falsely optimistic picture.  It’s very difficult right now,” Mitchell said. “When you’re surrounded by turbulence and you’re uncertain about what’s going to happen, you tend to step back and say let’s wait and see what it looks like when the dust settles.”

To see more of Christiane Amanpour’s exclusive interviews with King Abdullah II and former Middle East envoy George Mitchell, watch “This Week” on Sunday.

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