The Daily Show is listening to King Abdullah. Is anyone else?
On the Daily Show tonight, Jon Stewart is hosting Jordan's King Abdullah. Abdullah gets full points for hipness, but restoring his country's influence is another matter.
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“When you look at the way decisions are made in Western governments, you would tend to believe that at the end of the day it’s cost-benefit analysis more than the popularity or the structure of the message,” says Mohammad Al-Momani, a professor of political science at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan.Skip to next paragraph
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The treaty with Israel
Jordan, which renounced its claims to the West Bank in 1988, is one of two Arab nations that already has a treaty with Israel.
But in April Abdullah said his country’s relations with Israel were at an all-time low and warned that conflict could erupt if diplomats “continue to go around in circles.” Consequently, Abdullah is in no position to work closely with Israeli authorities.
None of this is news to King Abdullah. Unlike his father who often relied on the force of his personality to act unilaterally, his son has taken a more modest approach, recognizing the limitations of his country. Instead of working alone, Abdullah now sees the importance of working in conjunction with other Arab leaders, says Prof. al-Momani.
Still, for Jordanians who remember life under King Hussein, their current king’s approach can often prove disappointing. A common sentiment among many Jordanians is that King Abdullah is all right, but he’s no King Hussein – but neither should he be expected to be.
“Why should he be a King Hussein? King Hussein was King Hussein and he’s dead now. King Abdullah is King Abdullah,” says Kamal Abu Jabar, a former Jordanian foreign minister. “King Hussein was a traditional sheikh of sheikhs and he operated from that vantage point. King Abdullah is a modern king. He’s computer savvy, he’s adopted technology, and he’s trying to industrialize the country.”
Waiting for Obama
At least when it comes to foreign policy achievements, namely progress in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many observers argue that any blame for the lack of progress lies squarely on Obama, rather than Abdullah.
Throughout the Arab world, many people, political leaders included, looked to Obama to usher in a new era of American relations with the Middle East. Now, more than a year after his Cairo speech, many Arabs feel that he has not delivered on the promise of change.
In the past year alone, the number of Arabs who had a positive view of the US president dropped from 45 percent to 20 percent, and negative views climbed from 23 to 62 percent, according to a Brookings poll conducted this summer.
“I think it’s Obama who lost the momentum. It’s not the first or the second or the third leader who met him,” says Oraib Al-Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman. Obama's election raised “ expectations in the Middle East … [then] people lost their faith in the new president.”
All King Abdullah can offer President Obama is advice, says Mr. Al-Rantawi. If the White House does not act, King Abdullah is limited by the same constraints that existed long before Obama arrived in office.
When it comes to brokering a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most analysts agree that the US is the only nation with the power to act as a credible mediator.
“It is not what influence [that] King Abdullah, or [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, or any other Arab leader have, it is the actual concerned parties – Israel and the Palestinians – realizing that they are almost out of time, and if nothing is done now the future is going to look quite grim,” says Riad Kahwaji, founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.