CNN Interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on King Hussein

CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
7 February 1999

WOLF BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to LATE EDITION.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: You were supposed to be in Amman today for a meeting with now-King Abdullah, you and your Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon. Tell us about your thoughts today as you learn that King Hussein was dead.

NETANYAHU: A feeling of great sadness, because this was a noble spirit, and a courageous leader, and great champion of peace. He, I have no doubt, will be remembered for being the architect of modern Jordan and being one of the principle architects of Middle Eastern peace. He was also a great human being, and left an indelible impression on all those who knew him and came into contact with him, as I did.

So it was the loss both of a great political leader, but also a loss of a great human being. And you know, when that happens, people feel it personally, I feel it personally, and I think that every last person in Israel feels that as well.

BLITZER: Why was he so important in the peace process, since Jordan, after

all, is a relatively small country, a poor country? Why did King Hussein play such a pivotal role?

NETANYAHU: Well, for two reasons. Jordan may be a small country, but it borders on the longest border with Israel and therefore, it’s no secret that all Israeli governments have viewed the stability of Jordan as an important factor in Middle Eastern peace and Middle Eastern stability. And King Hussein, to his credit, was able to bring that stability into being for the last 46 years. That’s an enormous achievement.

The second reason was that he infused into the peace process a special spirit. It goes well beyond the signing of documents, of a peace treaty, because it has to be followed up by the special spirit of reconciliation. I can remember, I’ll never forget, when a Jordanian soldier went berserk and shot six or seven Israeli school girls on our common border. Just murdered them outright.

And King Hussein got on his plane; landed in Israel; came with me to Beit Shemesh — the town where these girls came from — and walked into the living rooms of these people in grief, the mothers and fathers; knelt down before them. He had tears in his eyes; he had words of comfort on his lips and condolence. This was a great act and he was a great man.

And that kind of empathy told the people of Israel that this was not a tactical peace because there is such a concept in our region. You make peace tactically with Israel. You get territory with Israel for a peace treaty, then you decide in the future if that peace holds and if you use that territory for other purposes. With Hussein, we knew this was real. It was a real peace.

And that visit in Beit Shemesh was, I think, one of the most dramatic moments that told the people of Israel, this man stands for genuine peace.

BLITZER: You heard President Clinton earlier today speak about the role that King Hussein played in helping the Wye River Peace Agreement with the Palestinians and the Israelis, get off the ground. Was the president exaggerating or did King Hussein’s showing up at Wye River, even in the midst of his cancer treatment, play that kind of critical role?

NETANYAHU: Well it was precisely because he came during his evident struggle for life, that it made such a telling impression on all of us. We were obviously in the midst of very difficult negotiations with the inevitable crises and impasses, and he came in.

And I remember that I came to see him in the house that he was staying in, he had changed in appearance, he had become bald and emaciated, and for a moment I had a brief shock and then a recognition — you saw the eyes and the warmth in those eyes and you saw this was the same man.

NETANYAHU: And he came in, and I remember that I came to see him in the house that he was staying in. He had changed in appearance. He had become bald and emaciated, and for a moment I had a brief shock and then a recognition that you saw those eyes, and the warmth in those eyes, and you saw this was the same man. And he didn’t get into the details of the negotiations, and didn’t want to get into the details. He merely had a very clear and impassioned plea, a gaze that said do what you can, do what you can for our children and our grandchildren. And I was deeply moved by that. I can tell you that it had, it served as an example, a formidable example of our common quest for a better future for our countries, and our children and our grandchildren. It made a deep impression.

BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, one of the last interviews, if not the last formal interview, that King Hussein gave was to our own Christiane Amanpour on January 20th, during which she asked him about Israel, and the Palestinians and the role in the peace process. Listen to what King Hussein said specifically about where the peace process stands right now between the Israelis and the Palestinians:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING HUSSEIN: It’s been many years, and we are still waiting, and progress has been very, very slow, very slow. There is a general feeling that the treatment of Palestinians, in particular, has not been right. And I don’t see how a future relationship can develop properly and solidly if this is the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I wonder if you wanted to react to, if you could hear precisely what King Hussein was saying, that the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians is really not where it should be.

NETANYAHU: Well, I agree with that. I think that we’d like to see more Palestinian compliance with the provisions of the Wye Agreement and the Oslo Accords. But I think beyond these inevitable difficulties, I think that peace is inexorable. I think that we’ll move forward.

And I’m much more sanguine about the future course of peace because I recognize that crises are inevitable. I also know that beyond occasional differences of opinion, that King Hussein had with me and incidentally with my predecessors as well on occasion, that there was a unity of vision of the necessity of peace, the importance of peace, the inevitability of peace. And this is something that we’re committed to and we’ll work to achieve. Very much to achieve that peace among the sons of Abraham that he believed in and that we believe in.

BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, what can you tell us about the new King of Jordan, King Abdullah? Have you ever met him? Do you know him? What do you anticipate will be Jordan’s policies under King Abdullah?

NETANYAHU: I’ve not met him. I did speak to him on the phone a few days

ago. He was very gracious and very warm and made it absolutely clear that he will continue the policies of his father, with peace with Israel as a cornerstone of Jordan’s national policy. That is very much a cornerstone of our national policy, so I think the prospects to strengthen the peace even further are very, very good.

BLITZER: Now you’ll be going to Amman for the funeral, with Israeli President Ezer Weizman. What will be the message that you will bring from Israel to the people of Jordan and to the new king of Jordan at the funeral on Monday?

NETANYAHU: Well, I’ve asked actually the senior ministers in my government, as well as the senior opposition leaders, to come with me, including Mr. Peres and Mr. Shamir, two former prime ministers. Because I think the great message is that there is the unity, wall to wall, of the people of Israel, beyond, behind this peace and behind the policy that was forged by King Hussein and Israel. That is the continuity of peace between our two peoples and our two nations.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it was kind of you to join us from Jerusalem today. And thank you so much.

NETANYAHU: Thank you very much, Wolf. And I hope that we’ll all find succor in the knowledge that here passed one of the giants of the last half century, but that his work and his belief in the ability of real and genuine reconciliation between Arab and Jew, has been put to the test and has passed the test.

BLITZER: Thank you so much for joining us.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.