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Kirsty Cockburn
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PRINCE HASSAN INTERVIEW - Wednesday, 19 July, 2006

GEORGE NEGUS: Your Highness, thank you very much for your time. Can we try and put this whole situation with Israel and Lebanon into some sort of perspective? One Middle East source said to us today that there is a great air of despondency in your part of the world. "Things have never looked so bad. It looks like Israel wants a fight of the final battle." Do you feel as despondent and as negative about the situation as that? That sounds pretty grim.

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: I would agree with much of that. In south Lebanon there's now a movement of Israeli troops reported into south Lebanon and the kidnappings of the soldiers were described by Prime Minister Olmert as an act of war, so we've moved from a war on terror into an actual all-out war declared by the head of Hezbollah in south Lebanon and the question is nobody really knows where the endgame is - that's why it's so grim.

The Turks, for example, today were warned by the United States not to enter into northern Iraq to address Kurdish terrorism which is plaguing them for years and the Prime Minister of Turkey is pleading double-standards, so it's a very bad precedent.

GEORGE NEGUS: You and your family have been involved in this situation for decades now. You're saying it's grim, you're saying there's no endgame in sight. You've always been the moderating force in the region - you and the family. What do you feel at the moment? Do you think that's a futile effort? Is there no point in trying to stop this? Is it going to escalate? Are things going to get much, much worse, as we say, before they get better?

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: It's gutting to feel - I worked in the Balkans during that bitter hatred leading up to the Dayton Conference and if you recall the Dayton Conference came too little too late and everyone was advising the Europeans and the Americans that you can't stamp out terror by military action alone - that's only power play. What is important is the diplomacy that goes with it.

What we need here - and for 58 years of the existence of the state of Israel we have been saying it before and after every war of which we've had four or five now - what is the political endgame? Circling the wagons, ethnicity, self-absorption with religion putrefying civilised society is basically killing moderation. Centrist voices are simply not being heard. My fear is that some Israelis on the right wing, in particular, want to make Israel a dominating minority in a mosaic of minorities, rather than a state within the West Asian context in a community of states.

GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think that this really, in the long run, has very little to do with the three captured Israeli soldiers and more to do with some sort of master plan by the Israelis, with or without American knowledge and consent, to actually change the entire geopolitical face of the region by moving, firstly, against Hezbollah, then maybe against Syria and then maybe against Iran? Are we looking at the beginning, if you like, not the end, of a master plan?

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: If you hear the Prime Minister of Israel speaking in the Knesset, he mentions Iran, Syria and Lebanon in one breath. A couple of days ago one of their ministers was talking about the importance of a superpower taking out Iran and Israel playing the role of a regional superpower in the interim, but, unfortunately, there is no end in sight for a regional structure, as in the Balkans, a stabilisation pact, a cohesion fund. Nobody is thinking regionally, and it's all quiet on the grounds that what the United States thinks and does at the appropriate moment - we're waiting for the Secretary of State of the United States to visit the region, but what is that appropriate moment? You can't stamp out a terrorist organisation by military action alone.

GEORGE NEGUS: At the moment, though, Your Highness, we've got this awful situation where a blame game is going on - an eye-for-an-eye game, if you like, who fired the first shot? Without blaming either side, what should both sides be doing to give us any chance at all of some sort of cessation of the violence?

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: As your own intelligence inquiry, the Flood Report, suggested, you cannot stamp out terrorism by power play alone. So I think that that parallel track to which Israeli ministers have referred of negotiation over the subject of the return of the kidnapped soldiers, the possible release of prisoners. I think that was coming anyway after the first soldier was kidnapped three weeks ago - the possibility of the return of prisoners might have been a goodwill gesture towards the Palestinian leadership, but, as you know, it's all a question of saving face, and that possibility was closed by the Hezbollah action.

But I think what the Israelis must do is clearly to recognise that this war is going to continue if they so state it and their intentions are very clear into a future which is totally unknown so there must be a cut-off point because otherwise all Israel's friends in the world I think would be extremely embarrassed to see this whole region incandescent with flames that we can't quench.

Secondly, I think that it's always been the equation - Israel's security requirements on the one side and the Arab legitimate rights on the other, so if we're talking about living with a viable Palestinian state, some form of a recognition of the fact that the peace process, if not entirely dead, is in limbo, but what we have at the moment is a limbo of fear and this fear must be transcended, but with every passing day, the hatred industry is winning. And, therefore, I call the international community to recognise - don't just send in international troops, send in also people with the vision to develop a stabilisation pact for this region.,/i>

GEORGE NEGUS: So sending in a UN peacemaking force is just not enough. You're saying somebody has got to get together diplomatically and politically and, if you like, bang Israeli and Hezbollah heads together and say "Let's see some sense in this. Put the guns down, both sides." Or is that just wishful thinking?

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: It's wishful thinking at the moment because, as we see in Iraq, for example, there's no distinction between the so-called resistance, the Jihadis - they are the types, of course, who are opposed to any form of Shia or Sunni working peacefully together - and they've been one of the provocations in this whole equation - and between common criminals and what's happening today in Lebanon is almost a repeat of that situation of lawlessness. I think the Lebanese Government has a thankless task and if the idea is to replace that situation with some kind of an extended zone of influence - I mean, what was the use of the Syrian army withdrawing only for the Israeli army to enter Lebanon?

GEORGE NEGUS: Do you really hold out any hope that this well recede the situation or is the apocalypse we've talked about in the past possible this time? Maybe this could be the spark that draws in other nations and we find ourselves in a World War III scenario. .

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: If we are going to stabilise the Middle East region, the same rules of engagement have to apply as applied in the Balkans, in South Africa - truth and reconciliation, recognition of the rule of law, no double-standards, a regional conference to be prepared by wise heads away from the propaganda and the publicity because if we get into the American domestic elections in November, I don't think anybody's going to be interested and maybe that's why there's furious fighting to gain positions before that eventuality takes place.

GEORGE NEGUS: Thank you very much for your time, sir. I hope that next time we talk it is on a more pleasant and positive basis. .

PRINCE EL HASSAN OF JORDAN: So do I. Thank you, sir.

GEORGE NEGUS: Thanks very much.