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Jordanian Prime Minister On The Future Of The West Bank


The head of Jordan's government has a warning for Israel and for its ally the United States. Jordan's prime minister spoke with Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Omar Razzaz is a longtime Jordanian political figure who's now the top official beneath Jordan's King Abdullah.

OMAR RAZZAZ: Jordan exists in a very tough neighborhood. And it's - this neighborhood's been tough for decades.

INSKEEP: Jordan borders Syria and Iraq and also Israel. If you look at a map, you'll see that Jordan touches the occupied West Bank, which is called that because it is the west bank of the Jordan River. The West Bank is territory that Jordan controlled until Israeli troops took it in 1967.

Jordan is one of the few Arab countries that have since made a peace treaty with Israel, but it is watching with alarm as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to annex portions of the West Bank. Israel maintains that it has both security needs and historic ties to that land while the Palestinians, who've long lived there, want it for a future state.

What happens if Israel begins annexing territory in the occupied West Bank as the prime minister, Netanyahu, has promised to do?

RAZZAZ: Well, we hope it won't happen because Jordan and His Majesty, the king, we have been for a just and peaceful settlement in the region which includes a two-state solution with a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Any unilateral action undermines that and puts the whole region - and if I might say, the world - in a dicey situation. This is not in anybody's interest, frankly, at all.

And if the two-state solution becomes not viable because of this annexation, then my question is what is the alternative? What is the other option to the Israelis? Is it - are they thinking of a one-state democracy for two people? Or is it going to be a state of apartheid, which the world was glad to not have in its membership since the end of the South African apartheid state.

INSKEEP: What happens if this annexation goes ahead? Is Jordan in a position of saying, we will advocate a one-state solution in which Palestinians would seek their rights within the Israeli state?

RAZZAZ: Well, Jordan has historically been committed to a two-state solution. And it is still a viable solution if Israel does not go ahead with annexation. If it does, it's creating new facts on the grounds that will undermine the two-state solution. And by undermining the two-state solution, we need to know what is the plan that does not undermine long-term peace and stability in the region? And I don't think there is one.

INSKEEP: Prime Minister, as you probably know, some figures on the Israeli right have been asked, when you take land in the occupied West Bank, what happens to the people? Do you end up with stateless people or, as you mentioned, an apartheid state? And one answer given by figures on the Israeli right is, well, the Palestinians can become Jordanian citizens with Jordanian passports. And, in fact, they once did that. Would you accept them?

RAZZAZ: That's a pipe dream. That's wishful thinking. That's not going to happen. The whole Jordanian society from - starting from His Majesty, the king, to the government to the people are steadfast about this. Jordan will not be Palestine. Palestine is a state that needs to be its own territory. And Palestinians - so we are unified with the Palestinians on fully rejecting the idea of transfer.

INSKEEP: Do you think the Trump administration is hearing your concerns?

RAZZAZ: Jordan's relationship with the U.S. is strategic. And we communicate all the time, and there is a common understanding of our constraints and their constraints and an understanding of where Jordan stands on this issue. So the strategic nature of that relationship allows us to coordinate, express our views and have our agreements and differences every now and then.

INSKEEP: But do you think they hear your concerns specifically about annexation, Israel's promise to annex parts of the West Bank?

RAZZAZ: Yes. His Majesty, the king, has expressed his concerns about annexation, unilateral action in every international forum that anything short of a two-state solution will send - you know what it would do? It will close the - whatever hope, prospect for hope there still is. And when hope disappears, frustration and anger - and that tends to, and has in the past, led to extremism. And we've seen extremism in the region. And as, also, we've seen around the world, extremism also becomes global. So everybody will pay the price of this.

INSKEEP: Do you think you're being taken seriously by the United States?

RAZZAZ: Steve, I think I've answered your question. We've made our views very clear, and that's what we do in every setting with our strategic partners.

INSKEEP: One other thing I want to ask about - the Trump administration has attempted various moves against foreign students, international students in the United States. The Trump administration has also made moves to reduce legal immigration. Setting aside illegal immigration, they've moved against legal immigration. And I'd like people to know that you were educated in the United States, which is true of a lot of people who've risen to senior positions in countries around the world. What did you get out of your U.S. education?

RAZZAZ: Well, my own individual experience was it was - studying in the United States was a huge benefit for me because it was a context in which students from all over the world were there. We learned a lot from each other about each other. But also, it was a great opportunity for American students, who had a chance to meet students from the world and learn about the world. So that's my own experience.

INSKEEP: Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, thank you very much for the time.

RAZZAZ: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He is the head of government under Jordan's King Abdullah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.