August 17, 2012
Review of King Abdullah of Jordan Memoir - “Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace”
King Abdullah II’s memoir (publ. 2010) is an important read. The 50 year-old King of Jordan is intelligent and enlightened, and his story offers an inside look at a moderate Arab leader and one of the most stable nations in the Middle East.
Educated in America and England, Abdullah understands the western world as few Arab leaders do. In reading the memoir, it is important to be conscious of what the King says and does not say, especially when speaking about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He is sharply critical of terrorism and fanaticism, eloquent about his Islam as a religion of peace, and proud of his Hashemite legacy.
Though Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, when it comes to the Jewish state Abdullah is almost always critical while almost never critical of the Arab world. His lack of self-criticism strains credibility, and that is the chief weakness of this memoir.
Abdullah is ever-willing to shine a bright light on the dark underbelly of Israeli policies. However, without his giving fair and appropriate context for why Israel has done what it has done, he cannot be seen as helpful enough in bringing about a resolution to the conflict. Peace requires acknowledgment of what has gone wrong on all sides.
Abdullah emphasizes the importance of protecting the holy sites of the three great religions that regard Jerusalem as sacred, but he neglects to note that under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between 1948 and 1967, his grandfather King Abdullah I and his father, King Hussein, did NOT protect Jewish holy sites. Every synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was blown up after the 1948 War, and no Jew was allowed access to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, for the next 19 years when Israel took control over all of Jerusalem.
Though the King harshly characterizes Israel’s 2009 war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza as a war crime, and sites the UN Goldstone Report as justification for this condemnation, he does not mention that the Goldstone Report that charged Hamas to be also guilty of war crimes, nor that Richard Goldstone retracted his conclusion about Israeli actions. Nor does he mention that the offensive came after Hamas launched 12,000 missiles at Israeli civilian targets inside Israeli territory, which Hamas cynically launched from heavily populated areas, including mosque and hospital rooftops and school playgrounds. Israeli leaders, in truth, delayed launching this war for years because of their concern over the likely loss of innocent Palestinian life.
Abdullah believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of all problems in the Middle East, and that Arab and Muslim extremism would be reduced if the core conflict were resolved. Perhaps this is so. However, he does not note that Muslim on Muslim and Arab on Arab violence has resulted in far more deaths and injuries of innocent men, women and children over the past decades than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has in its entire history.
The King neglects to mention, as well, that in order to protect the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from overthrow by Yasser Arafat’s PLO in 1970, his father, King Hussein, launched a war resulting in the death of 10,000 Palestinians.
Abdullah says not a word about Arafat’s deliberate targeting of innocent children on Israeli Kibbutzim, of civilians in Israel’s Pizza parlors, worshipers at Passover Seders, and commuters on Jerusalem buses. How can he expect the Israeli side to think he is fair-minded if he ignores these dark facts of history.
He castigates Israel’s decision to build the security fence without acknowledging why Israel was forced to do so, nor that not one suicide bomber has successfully infiltrated Israel from the other side of the fence since it was built, thus saving countless Israeli lives.
He does not critique the Palestinians for refusing to prepare their own people for peace with Israel. He fails to note that anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate is taught to Palestinian children in school text books and that the shaheed (martyr) has become heroic in Palestinian culture. Finally, and not insignificantly, he glosses over Hamas’ principled objective to destroy the state of Israel.
Context is important when thinking about and evaluating the Middle East. Therefore, to place all blame one side as Abdullah does with Israel will not help this conflict move towards resolution.
Having said this, King Abdullah is a sincere, intelligent, moderate, and responsible Arab leader who I believe truly wants peace in a two-state solution to this conflict. He rightly calls upon the United States to be an active agent in bringing the two sides together. He will be among the first to say that the road will be hard and arduous. But, it will be eased, I believe, if both sides acknowledge the truths of the other and then embrace much of his vision for the future.