The Way Forward: A Conversation with H.E. Ayman Safadi, Foreign Minister of Jordan
This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on October 25, 2023. Watch the full video here.
Jon B. Alterman: Good morning and welcome to CSIS. I’m Jon Alterman, senior vice president, Brzezinski chair in global security and geostrategy, and the director of the Middle East Program.
Today, it’s my pleasure and honor to introduce an old friend, Ayman Safadi, who is the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He’s been in the former role for three years, the latter role for six. A longtime Jordanian government official, former spokesperson for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq. He spent decades as a journalist and was editor of both the Jordan Times and Al Ghad.
Ayman, welcome to CSIS.
Minister Ayman Safadi: Thank you, Jon. Good to see you. We would have hoped to meet in better times, but I guess we are in this sort of a nightmare. And thank you for the opportunity to be able to stop.
Dr. Alterman: Thank you. So you just came down from New York. You addressed the Security Council yesterday. What was the essence of your message to the Security Council?
H.E. Minister Safadi: That war is not going to produce security or peace for the Palestinians or the Israelis; that this nightmare has to stop; that we all should come united in demanding an end of the war, an end of violence, get back on a peace track that would deliver the peace for the Palestinians, for the Israelis so that nobody has to go through the agony that we’ve seen unfolding since the beginning of this month, that we don’t have to be in this terrible place again. What happened is disastrous on all levels: human, security, political, you name it. The amount of hatred that is going to remain with us after the guns go silent is something that we’ve been for years trying to get over and get people to accept the humanity of each other. So I think I guess the simple message is: We’ve got to stop fighting. We’ve got to start talking. Only peace would ensure security and safety of both peoples.
Dr. Alterman: One of the things I noticed about your statement is you didn’t mention Hamas a single time. Can you help me understand what went into that decision?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Jon, look, I mean, we’re clear on where we stand on how we need to solve this conflict. Jordan and all our countries met a few days after October 7, and all of us came out very unequivocally condemning the killing of Israeli civilians, saying –
Dr. Alterman: Mmm, the way I read the statement, it condemned the escalation in violence. It didn’t –
H.E. Minister Safadi: No. No, no, no, no. We condemned the killing of civilians from both sides, very, very clear. We urged the release of prisoners, hostages, all of that. We said that only peace would deliver security for all. So, no, we’re very, very clear on that. But we don’t have to prove our humanity, Jon, every time we speak.
Dr. Alterman: No, no.
H.E. Minister Safadi: You know, we – because this question keeps coming up. We condemn killing civilians consistent with our – with our values, with our faith, with our humanity. Again, if you recall, the words of His Majesty during the Cairo summit, 1,000 years before the Geneva Convention, Arab Muslim soldiers were marching with clear orders not to kill a man, not to kill a child, not to kill a woman, not to kill an elderly, not to even cut a tree. So these are our values and we will not be who we are if we don’t do that. So that is there.
The other issue is, is that with emotions so high putting things in context could sometimes be interpreted as justification, which it is not. Nobody ever will justify the killing of civilians. But we have to put things in context to understand why we got to this moment. We have to do that so that to learn from it, not that we need any more learning. I guess we all know what needs to be done. But to be reminded of the mistakes that have been made in the past and to be able to move for a future that will make sure that this will never happen again. So we’re beyond condemnation of this and that. I think what we need now is action.
And not only did we condemn this killing of civilians, we’ve been working for decades in Jordan – you know, from the days of His late Majesty King Hussein and throughout the full, you know, reign of it with His Majesty King Abdullah. We’ve been working to prevent such catastrophes from happening. So I think let’s just put things in context and say the pain is enormous. Nobody can deny that. But cannot be squeezed between one pain and the other, and then act out of rage, and then find ourselves deeper into the abyss where – to which we’ve been – we’ve been pushed.
Dr. Alterman: So I want to ask a tactical question. Jordan’s called for an immediate ceasefire, as have many Arab states. If there’s a ceasefire without militarily weakening Hamas, where do you think that leaves this broader conflict?
H.E. Minister Safadi: The challenge, Jon, is that Hamas is not an army that is in charge of a specific piece of land that the Israeli army can go and engage army to army and end this war. If Israel goes into Gaza right now – and let me be very clear with you. Let’s say Israel goes into Gaza and kills everybody who ever uttered the word Hamas from three years old to 100 years old, kill a 100(,000), 200(,000), 300,000. You’re going to be left with 2 million people. What are you going to do with this? So I think we have to ask the tough questions. We have to ask, you know, what kind of Gaza would be left once this military operation ends? And, again, is it going to be leading to creating conditions where people will be in a position to celebrate peace and move forward, or will the conditions of misery and occupation and lack of opportunity will be conducive to the creation of even more violently inclined groups of peoples? These are – these are real questions.
Dr. Alterman: Can you get there without militarily weakening Hamas from its current position?
H.E. Minister Safadi: We could have gotten there a long time ago.
Dr. Alterman: No, but now going forward.
H.E. Minister Safadi: But that’s why I’m saying. We could have gotten there a long time ago if we offered hope to the Palestinians if we solved this conflict, if we eliminated conditions that allowed the narrative of Hamas to resonate. And, again, this is not just military. Hamas is not just fighters. Hamas is an idea embraced by many as a path to solve this conflict.
Now, we never endorsed violence in Jordan as a path to solving the conflict. We’ve always urged negotiations.
Dr. Alterman: And you outlawed Hamas in 1999.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Absolutely. But, to be honest, to be able to make sure that the narrative of peace prevails you have to make – to convince people that this narrative is standing between them and a future of peace and dignity that they deserve. That narrative has not been there. On the contrary, I mean, there has been complete absence of political horizons. There has been complete marginalization of the Palestinian issue.
There has been almost complete dehumanization of the Palestinians, and people are asking legitimate questions. Again, nobody in their right mind would(n’t) condemn the atrocious scenes that we’ve seen. But people are asking legitimate questions. Is this war going to end this or is it going to lead to more of this? What about the 6,000 Palestinians who have died in the days since this terrible nightmare engulfed all of us? They have families, too. They have names. You know, they have faces. They have memories.
So let’s not fall head on into the space where we find ourselves in right now. Let’s create our own space of peace. Let’s all come together. Let’s (—inaudible—) the ones, no matter how hard they are – and I’m sure they’re hard for everybody – and see how can we move together to put an end to this conflict once and for all.
Dr. Alterman: So I want to get to that. But before I do I just – you mentioned His Majesty’s comments in Cairo last weekend. He said that when the bombs stop falling Israel is never held accountable. What kind of accountability does Jordan think Israel needs to be –
H.E. Minister Safadi: Again, the conflict did not start with October 7.
Dr. Alterman: No, I understand.
H.E. Minister Safadi: We have – we have a history and Israel has not been accountable. Let’s be honest.
Dr. Alterman: But what does accountability mean in the Jordanian –
H.E. Minister Safadi: Accountability means that all that is being done in violation of international law should not be allowed to pass. Denial of Gazans their food and water in violation of international law should not be allowed to pass. Denying fuel to hospitals and medicine to people who need it should not be allowed to pass because it is a war crime.
And I think the key thing here is that I think to make sure that Israel joins all of us who want peace and work with us for peace and move on with that track – remember, Jon, and we had those conversations before. In February in Jordan we brought the Israelis and the Palestinians together for the first time in over 10, 15 years. You had Palestinian and Israeli security and political officials sitting across each other from the table with the presence of Egyptian and Jordanian and American officials as well and we spoke of the danger inherent in continuing the status quo, and we agreed on humble measures that would have at least restored hope that would have allowed Palestinians to put food on the table and they were not implemented. And then we went to Sharm-el-Sheikh again and we agreed on the same thing and none of the agreements that were signed to by Israelis were implemented. I think that the challenge is where do we want to go.
I’ll tell you from our perspective we want to go to a future of peace and we believe the only path to this peace is a reality in which there’s a Palestinian state living in peace and security with an Israeli state.
Can you ask the Israelis what they want? Just ask every Israeli official.
Dr. Alterman: I have.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Did they ever give you an answer? They never give an answer. Do they want the two-state solution or not?
Dr. Alterman: Yeah. Depends who you ask.
H.E. Minister Safadi: I’m telling you, I’m talking about government policy and I’m talking about measures on the ground that gives you the best answer, more eloquent than any words. If they don’t want the two-state solution, just tell us, what do you want? Do you want a one-state reality? If it is a one-state reality, is it going to be a democracy or is it going to be apartheid?
So these are questions as painful as what we see unfolding now, since October 7. We cannot just ignore that. We will be at this again and again and again unless we are able to solve this conflict. And I’m telling you, I mean, you saw the images that came out of – from Israel on October 7. We saw them, too, and they were painful. But I – but I’m sure – I don’t know if you here in the United States are seeing all the images that are coming out from Gaza now.
Dr. Alterman: See a lot of them.
H.E. Minister Safadi: But we are seeing them, too, and they are very painful, too. And again, between this pain and this pain, rage will not get us to the right place. Have you ever seen one man, angry man who made a right decision?
Dr. Alterman: Not often.
H.E. Minister Safadi: We need to, you know – you know, imagine if it is – this about nations. I think what we need to do, again, is just common-sense reason needs to come back and we need to ask the – the quintessential question is how do we stop this and how do we prevent it from happening again.
Dr. Alterman: Good. Last weekend or last week, President Biden was going to have a summit in Amman with the Jordanians and the Egyptians and the Palestinians. It was canceled because of Ahli Hospital bombing, for which it turns out Israel was likely not responsible. Was that a missed opportunity? And how do we make up for missing that meeting at this point going forward?
H.E. Minister Safadi: First of all, as you said, the meeting was supposed to happen the day after, you know, that terrible attack on the hospital, which, by the way, we need an independent investigation to ascertain who’s responsible for it, with all due respect. And I’m saying that because I need to be truthful: People are not going to believe Israeli intelligence. I don’t think that –
Dr. Alterman: How about American intelligence?
H.E. Minister Safadi: American intelligence is based on Israeli intelligence. And we saw President Biden first saying babies were beheaded and then saying, you know, they were not, because the intelligence that he saw was not – was not accurate. So let’s get – I mean, let’s get to the heart of this. Let’s get an independent inquiry into what happened, and then let the evidence come out, and then people would see the fact and will accept the truth. But thus far, there’s no acceptance of that across the Arab/Muslim world, and I will lie to you if I tell you there is. You know, but that’s the reality.
Dr. Alterman: No, but that may be an indictment of the Arab and Muslim world’s attitude toward the news and reality.
H.E. Minister Safadi: No, but – no, no, no. No, no, no. No, no. That’s a judgment on history. Remember Shireen Abu Akleh?
Dr. Alterman: I do remember Shireen. I knew Shireen Abu Akleh.
H.E. Minister Safadi: What happened first? The first – the first narrative that came from Israel was Palestinians killed her.
Dr. Alterman: But that wasn’t the American – that wasn’t an American intelligence narrative.
H.E. Minister Safadi: No, no, but that American, that – no, no, no. That American intelligence within one day came based on Israeli intelligence. And we saw in the case of the beheading of the baby that the president retracted that statement. So there is history here. There is a credibility deficit there. Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel first came out and said Palestinians killed her. It took a year for them to come out and admit that it was an Israeli soldier that killed her. So, again, I don’t want to here say conclusively, but I will say is let there be an independent international investigation into this and then let the truth come out.
On the president visit, look, it happened at that time. President Abbas immediately had to leave Jordan and go back to the West Bank, understandably so after what happened. Without Abbas, the meeting would not have really achieved a lot. And to be honest, we have tremendous respect for the office of the president of the United States. His Majesty has tremendous respect for the president and appreciation of what he does.
Dr. Alterman: And there’s mutual affection, of course.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Absolutely. And we really value the role of the United States. And we know without a leading American – I mean, American role, we can never get out of the quagmires to which we continue falling.
That said, I think what we did was preserved the opportunity for when the president interferes there is something that can be done. At that moment, at that time, it just wasn’t an opportune moment. And from our perspective – you know, a country that, again, values tremendously its relations with the United States, appreciates enormously the value of the office of the United States, and again, with His Majesty personally having tremendous respect and affinity towards President Biden in particular – our call – and it was not done abruptly; I mean, that decision was reached after long consultations with the Egyptians, with the Palestinians, after – with the Americans. And I think the collective decision was that let’s preserve this opportunity for when something tangible can come out of this, that could –
Dr. Alterman: But it did make it a very one-sided trip, that you went and embraced Netanyahu, and then –
H.E. Minister Safadi: Yeah, but, look, I mean, we did not create that reality. I mean, we’re all reacting to a reality that we in Jordan had nothing to do with creating. You know, we’re reacting to a terrible situation that is affecting us as well. But, ultimately, we are in continuous consultation and coordination with the U.S. as partners, as friends, as allies. That contact did not stop. Meetings are continuing. We’ll be receiving more American officials in the coming weeks. We received Secretary Blinken before, and we’ve engaged with him many, many times after.
We want to work together to be able to, again, to get out of this terrible reality and create a better reality. And, again, there are too many moving pieces at this point. Probably there’s too much anger, that people are not listening. But at some point, people are going to have to start listening, because the costs will be too high. And we’re trying to accelerate that moment at which diplomacy rules again. And we’re going to be hitting the ground running, trying to make sure that we don’t sink deeper into the abyss also of conflict.
Dr. Alterman: So let me ask you that question. What is Jordan’s potential role in Gaza reconstruction? Who else should play a role? What kind of roles should people play? What’s the desired end state? How do we get there, and what’s Jordan’s piece of helping us get there?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Jon, many questions that none of us have answers to. We still don’t know what kind of reality will be left once this war ends. There’s imminent talk now of Israel going with a ground operation. That’s going to be very, very difficult. It’s going to be urban warfare. The casualties on both sides will be – will be just shocking. So we don’t have answers to what is next in Gaza because none of us know what is Gaza going to look like. But what I can tell you is that all of us – all of us – need to come together this time more assertively than ever, and do more than just lip service to the cause of peace, to the objective of solving the conflict on the basis a two-state solution, and work together and say: Enough, enough.
Look, a move has been made that we had nothing to do with it that got us into this. We –
Dr. Alterman: By Hamas.
H.E. Minister Safadi: By Hamas and then the reaction. We now, the other side who want to negotiate a peace, we have to make our big move too. And our big move has to be a comprehensive plan to bring about realistic peace for the Palestinians, for the Israelis, as His Majesty said in Cairo, so that we have peace and two states between the river and the sea. That is the only way we’re going to have – we’re going to have peace. And we have to move. Words are not going to cut it anymore. We’ve seen the price of failure.
Yesterday, a journalist asked me, where’s the outrage? I said the outrage is what happened. The outrage over all those people, innocent people, who lost their lives, about the mothers who are mourning their kids. But we’re also outraged at our collective failure as an international community to have solved that conflict and to have prevented this from happening.
Dr. Alterman: So there’s potentially a Jordanian role. There’s potentially a Jordanian security role. I mean, any number of potential roles that Jordan can do.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Let’s not run ahead of ourselves at this point, you know?
Dr. Alterman: I’m not running ahead.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Let’s just wait and see what happens now. We’re doing everything we can to work with all our friends and partners to bring an end to this war, to stop the killing, to stop the destruction. We’re also working hard to make sure that we get supplies to Gaza, humanitarian and others. We’ve already had few shipments flown to Egypt. Also, we’re preparing for Jordan to be a hub for support when time is conducive to that, because, again, we’ve seen this before. It’s not our first war. You know, when the time comes for us to be able to send supplies through the West Bank, we’re ready.
We already have a hospital that’s been operating in Gaza since the war of 2009. And His Majesty decided to keep it there after the war ended because there was tremendous need for such medical care. It is still there. Right now it’s running out of supplies. We’re trying to resupply it so that it can continue to do its job. So there’s a lot of – that we’re trying to do. We’re also trying to do a lot to make sure there’s no spillover into the West Bank, which is a key priority for us, make sure there’s no spillover into Lebanon. Jon, I’m telling you, we’re working on multiple fronts for the one purpose of making sure that we get over this nightmare and we – and we help people who need help. And to send a message that is consistent with our values, that enough war, and enough death, and civilians should be protected, both Palestinian civilians and Israeli civilians. Their lives should be of equal value to everybody, and then move on.
Dr. Alterman: I want to ask you about the West Bank, but before I do, you didn’t mention the Palestinian Authority at all. Mahmoud Abbas is president 14 years after the expiry of his term. As you know, a lot of criticism of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and also in Gaza. What do you think the Palestinian Authority needs to do to rise to this moment? What does the Arab world need to do to invigorate the Palestinian Authority? What does the rest of the world need to do with regard to the Palestinian Authority?
H.E. Minister Safadi: One question that you should have added to these, Jon, if I may, is what Israel should do as well. Because that is key. I’m glad we’re having this discussion that allows us to go beyond, you know, headlines. Why – the PNA is crumbling. That’s a reality. It’s crumbling because it was born out of Oslo to deliver peace and good lives for its people. It could not deliver on both. Not totally its fault alone. Conditions on the ground prevented it from delivering the peace. It was Israel who did not continue with the commitments made through Oslo.
It does need to regain its standing with its people. And I think the only way that can happen is if that, in addition to reforms which are essentially within the PNA, but also an ecosystem that enables it to go to its people and say: Look, there is hope for you. And I will deliver this endgame for you, which means your security, and your statehood, and your freedom. Those combined will place the PNA on the position that it should be. And we’ve been warning about that. How many times did you hear us say – you, personally, from me, and before me from His Majesty – how many times did we talk, the PNA is crumbling? And if the PNA crumbles, what’s the alternative?
So now, I think it is in everybody’s interest to empower the PNA, but to empower the PNA – and, again, I know everybody here talks about reform. And we agree. And I think the Palestinians themselves see the need for that reform. And we’ve been having, all of us, having discussions about how to – how to enable that. But that should be only one component of the equation. The other component is that needs to be movement by all of us to come up with a plan that can put us on a track towards delivering the peace that both Palestinians and Israelis deserve, and want, and need. So a lot of thinking has to go into how do we do that, when we can do that.
And I can tell you, without revealing too much, that we’re not wasting one minute in Jordan in trying to see how we can put the pieces back together and move forward, because we know that with every Palestinian killed, with every Israeli killed in this madness that we see unfolding in Gaza, the chances of us coming together and the chances of ending that environment of dehumanizing the other and hate is not – is not going to be – are not going to be great. And again, I cannot overemphasize enough how important that is.
I mean, people now are thinking of the immediate, the bombings and the killings. But the residue of this is going to be tremendous amount of lack of trust and hatred and, again, dehumanization of the other. To navigate through that, you’re not going to do it with guns and bullets. We have to do it with ideas, ideas that resonate with both people, ideas that convince the Palestinians that you have a future, that convinced Israelis that you can live in peace only if that happens. Israelis will have peace and security when the Palestinians have peace and security.
It is not a slogan. It is reality. Their lives are so interconnected. Both peoples should have the right to live in peace, dignity, freedom, security. That has been our mission in Jordan. And that’s the mission that we’ll continue to work for.
Dr. Alterman: And, of course, one of the dangers is Fatah currently leads the PNA, but Hamas was doing very well in the elections in early 2000s. Had a lot of representatives in parliament. I think there’s a concern that as the PNA crumbles, the inheritor of the Palestinian national cause is Hamas.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Or chaos and we’ve been warning against that. And that’s why we’ve been urging everybody to come – (coughs) – I’m sorry – and support the PNA and allow the PNA to do its job, again – (coughs) – excuse me – by giving it political horizon, by simply – I mean, think about it in very simple terms. The PNA is an oppositional government. It has a constituency, its people. What do its people want? They want peace. They want dignity. They want food. They want good governance. They want everything that any human being wants, wherever they are. If their government is not being able to deliver that, people will no longer trust it. And that’s – it’s really a template that applies everywhere in the world, not just to the PNA. What are the conditions that are needed? What are the things that the PNA should do in order to be able to have the trust of its people as it moves in negotiating with Israel?
It needs to convince them that it is – that there is that hope out there, that its approach to it is the one that will get them there, not Hamas approach. And that, again, it does whatever reforms it needs to do to make sure that it convinces people that it has the right governance as well. It is a combination. Let’s go back to history. Hamas in 2006 won the elections, right? Nobody dealt with it. And we see what happened now. People will vote for Fatah if they believe Fatah can give them the future that they deserve. And that is not just for the Palestinians to be able to do. Israel has a major say on whether Fatah or the PNA can come and say, we have that.
Dr. Alterman: As you know, better than I do, there are some Palestinians who want to live in peace and some Palestinians who want to live in victory at some point. President Erdogan said today, Hamas is not a terror organization. It’s an organization of liberation, of mujahideen who fight to protect their land and citizens. There certainly are people in Hamas who are not about a two-state solution at all, and a lot of Palestinians aren’t interested in the two-state solution you talk about.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Jon, and there are a lot of Israelis who are not interested in peace.
Dr. Alterman: There are a lot of them.
H.E. Minister Safadi: – who are not in a two-state solution. You have the Ben-Gvirs and Smotrichs of this world, who want to wipe the Palestinians out of the face of the Earth, who call them dogs, who deny their humanity. Are we going to let those dictate the agenda for us? Are we going to let this narrative define who we are and define what kind of future we will leave for the future generations? Or should we, people on both sides who believe in peace, who believe in dignity for all, who believe in the humanity of the other, stop that and say: No. We will lead. We will drive the discourse. And we will create the future that our people want?
So we cannot – you know, we cannot look and say – on both sides you have radicals. On both sides you have – you have people who do not recognize the other. On both sides, you have people who want to believe war is the right approach. But I cannot believe that the majority of both sides, because they’re humans by the end of the day, don’t want this. They want peace. They want food on the table for their kids. They want schools for their children. They want to see their babies growing up, and they want to go home to a happy family watching TV.
You know, that is – by the end of the day, people forget. Palestinians are human beings. Israelis are human beings. And there’s much more in common between them than we are willing to recognize, because we’re blinded by inherent biases, and we’re blinded by hatred, and we’re blinded by this conflict that has just cost so many lives and cost so much opportunities for this region, for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Dr. Alterman: Are you concerned with Hamas activities in Jordan, fundraising, other kinds of things?
H.E. Minister Safadi: No, look, I mean, Hamas is not allowed to operate in Jordan. It’s not a Jordanian party. In Jordan we have laws. We make sure everybody abides by those laws. And in Jordan, again, we try to offer a model of governance, and a model of political thinking, and a set of values that hopefully is reflective of what Jordan wants, which is peace and stability for everybody. In Jordan, and beyond Jordan into the region. And we want to work with everybody to create better future for all people.
Dr. Alterman: You mentioned you’re worried about the West Bank. What are you seeing in the West Bank? Of course, many West Bank Palestinians have Jordanian citizenship.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, I mean, it’s very dangerous. And we’re extremely worried about a spillover. I mean, there’s going to be a spillover, to the West Bank. There’s no denying it. People see images and people see and react. But 95 Palestinians have been killed on the West Bank since all this started. Over 1,000 have been arrested. There are triggers that we should, you know, all work against if we are to maintain a semblance of peace on the West Bank.
And remember, long before Gaza started the West Bank was boiling because, again, there were no horizons for people. People were frustrated. They lost hope. Anger was prevailing although security – Israeli security operations into Palestinian cities, failure to move ahead with agreements signed.
So it was already boiling and that’s why we’ve been working nonstop, again, in coordination with the United States, with Egypt, with the Palestinians, with other Arab countries to make sure that we create an ecosystem on the West Bank that is not conducive to the eruption of violence but that would put us back on track towards peace. Unfortunately, we did not succeed the way that we wanted.
Our coordination did prevent certain threats in the past where we were able to make sure that violence did not engulf the whole region. But we were having challenges on the West Bank long before this and those challenges are mounting now, and we don’t want to aspire to live what Gaza is living right now.
And there are certain triggers, and I’m being very open with you that we have to be very careful about, first of all, any operations that would result in the killing of Israelis. That would be a trigger. Settler violence that could kill another, you know, tens of – or hundreds of Palestinians that will be a trigger, and the holy sites. We have to do everything we possibly can to make sure that we maintain peace on the holy sites because if violence erupts in the holy sites again then you’re talking about a whole new dynamic.
Dr. Alterman: You mentioned the images, and Her Majesty Queen Rania just had an interview where she talked about how disturbing some of the images are that are – that she’s seeing every day. You come out of a media background; that’s where we first met. How do you see our media and social media handling this conflict and do you have concerns about the way social media is handling this?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, the whole media – I mean, unfortunately, and, again, I come from a generation of journalists who saw ourselves as reporters, not advocacy, people who believed in reporting facts, believed in impartial coverage of the stories. But, you know, I think you’ll agree with me a lot of media now has become more advocacy than reporting news and this is sad. I’m speaking from a vantage point of a former journalist.
I think, look, the media all over, I believe there is – their editorial policy is being reflective of where they stand to a great way. The images that we see on American media and, again, are not necessarily the same that we’re seeing on our media in terms of focus, in terms of extent of coverage. I mean, here there’s more focus on the Israeli side of the pain. On the Arab side there’s more focus of the Arab side of – the Palestinian side of the pain and that – and there’s a lot of rage, I guess, across platforms and social media.
And I think, again, our job is to be able to help change the narrative and the only way to change the narrative is to stop this war that’s fueling this anger and come up with a narrative that shows people that there are horizons for the peace that is – again, I keep repeating it – is right for Palestinians and Israelis.
I keep saying, Jon, and you and I have talked a lot, that nobody’s doing anybody a favor by opting for peace. It is the right of every Palestinian, Israeli, and everybody in that part of the world.
Dr. Alterman: But social media is different. I mean, there’s not an editor for social media. There’s an algorithm for social media. Oftentimes the algorithm rewards the most shocking images, the most disturbing images. Platforms are doing less content moderation than they have.
The images that we’re seeing on social media are especially unregulated. There’s going to be disinformation, fake news that’s coming out on social media, synthesized information. We’re already seeing some of those things.
How does that affect the environment?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Yeah, but that’s not limited to the Arab social media.
Dr. Alterman: No, no, no.
H.E. Minister Safadi: It is all over. It is global.
Dr. Alterman: It’s all over on both sides.
H.E. Minister Safadi: And that’s dangerous. And, again, when there’s no trust, you know, rumors become – rumors spread, and disinformation/misinformation become perception, and perception is, unfortunately, reality. So I think that’s a big challenge. How do we make sure that we offer a different narrative? For as long as you have this war producing images that are – that are feeing into that social media, you’ll see – you’ll see that dominating the discourse. And there’s a lot of genuine stuff out there which, unfortunately, are only being seen on social media, but there’s also a lot of fake news. And we just have to navigate through that and hope that common sense would allow people to filter through what’s right or what’s not.
But then again, if mainstream media tells the story as it should be told based on facts with impartiality, people would stop, you know, sort of probably getting their news more – and I’m not attacking the media here. I’m a journalist, and I understand the pressures under which everybody works, the resources, availability, all of that. But reality is – again, is that Western media is focused on one part of the story; Arab media is focused on another part of the story. And that is just driving different narratives, I think, in both – in both worlds.
Dr. Alterman: Jordan, as you know, over the summer passed a cybercrime law. It was somewhat controversial. It went into effect in September. It has penalties for false information targeting national security, information that promotes sectarian strife, insults religious belief, or distributes hate speech. Do you see a circumstance in which that law would be used to crack down on people who are trying to whip up anti-Israel sentiments in Jordan?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, I mean, that law was not produced to curb freedom; that law was produced for the purpose of protecting society from the kind of misinformation and disinformation that you just talked about. We are out there. Whoever breaks that law will be held accountable through due process on every, you know, aspect of the front. So –
Dr. Alterman: Including on this – on this war?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Absolutely. I mean, look, I mean, we are a country of law and order. That law came under a lot of criticism and it – you know, it – because it came from a place of the world where, you know, people are not too convinced that we’re doing the right thing when it comes to that. But compare our law to the European law. Compare it to the British law. Compare it to the Irish law. Compare it to the French law. Compare it to the German law. We’re not too far away from each other. And as we said earlier, we are trying to deal with a world that is greatly unregulated and none of us know what the answer is. We’re all trying to do what’s right. But we’re doing it from a point of view that we’re not there to curb freedom of expression; we are there to make sure that we protect society from all the evils that could be used in social media, including dehumanizing the other, including hate speech.
You know, people criticized a lot – Jordan a lot when we used the term “hate speech.” The European Union uses the term “hate speech.” Ireland uses the term “grossly harmful information.” How is this different from that?
So, again, I mean, what we in Jordan stand for – and that is the legacy of Jordan. Again, you’ve been around for so long, Jon, and you know – you know our country. We don’t claim to be Sweden, but our neighbors are not Norway and Denmark either. You know, we live in a bad neighborhood. But we do our best. And the point of departure for us is give our people the life that they deserve with freedom, with dignity, with opportunity, with prosperity.
And every time we do that, by the way, we’re hit back. Like now, right now with this crisis, we’re doing good in terms of implementing economic and financial and administrative reforms that were starting to show potential for yielding results, to choose my words carefully, and now we’re set back. Tourism is hit. Investment is hit. Interest rate is going through the roof. That’s going to – that’s going to disrupt what we’ve been trying to do. And this is the history of Jordan, unfortunately. We have been and we continue to be at the receiving end of every crisis in our part of the world.
We’re the largest per-capita host of refugees in the world. We have 1.3 million Syrian refugees whom the world seems to be looking the other way from and leaving the challenge of providing them with education, with dignity, with opportunity, with jobs on us. That is where we are. But we will not relent in doing everything we possibly can.
And that is His Majesty’s continued objective and mission, to create a region where there is peace, there is security, there is cooperation, there is integration, there is opportunity, because we are interconnected. And unless we all come together in conditions of peace, we’ll never be able to move forward and do our number-one job, which is to serve our people in the right way.
Dr. Alterman: I want to ask you some regional questions. But if you have questions for Minister Safadi, if you could either click on the description in – the YouTube description or on the event page on the CSIS website, it will show up on a tablet I have here and we can ask your question to Minister Safadi.
You said yesterday, speaking with the Arab ministers, that this is a war between the West and the Arab world.
H.E. Minister Safadi: I didn’t say that. I said: Be careful. There’s a growing perception in the Arab and Muslim world that this is a war between the West and the Arab world, coming out of the unequivocal support that people see going towards Israel and the many, many days it took to come up with statements recognizing that denying Palestinians – Gazans food and water and medicine is wrong and start talking about that. And that was a genuine warning to friends and allies. We don’t want to be in that place.
And again, I keep – I keep saying: Support Israel. Support it unequivocally. But don’t support this war. You support Israel by helping Israel achieve the peace that will be the only guarantee – the best guarantee of its future.
So I think we need to be careful here. And the narrative that’s coming out is leaving an impact. And again, you support Israel by supporting peace. That is how you support Israel.
Dr. Alterman: The U.S. military presence in the region has increased. Do you think that helps or hurts stability in the region, and how?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, I mean, the threat of regional war this time, Jon, is real. We all know that. I mean, we’re all extremely worried about this war expanding. As I said, in Jordan we have always worked with the U.S. as a partner and ally. I don’t think – and America, I don’t want to speak on behalf of the United States, but we believe that the increased military presence of the U.S. in the region is probably a mitigation against or driven by the fears of this war degenerating into a regional war.
Dr. Alterman: And you’ve spoken a lot to the U.S. government. I don’t know if you’re going to speak to them while you’re in Washington today. What do you think the U.S. is doing right? And what does it have to do a lot more of it hasn’t done yet?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, over the past few years we’ve been – we’ve been working very, very closely with the U.S. on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, I mean, we’re managing the crisis more than trying to find a – you know, a final answer to the – to the challenge. And we did a lot of good work and they did a lot of good work in terms of preventing crises from emerging, dealing with specific challenges. But I think what we all need to do – the U.S. and us – again, this time to come around with a big move, which is a comprehensive plan for making sure that this conflict is solved once and – once and for all.
Dr. Alterman: OK. We have a question here from Kareem Chehayeb of the AP, who says: Is there a serious consensus – I assume he means an Arab consensus – on returning to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, or will negotiations not go beyond a ceasefire and delivering humanitarian aid?
H.E. Minister Safadi: We do want to go to achieving peace based on the Arab Peace Initiative. That initiative has been there since 2002. We believe it’s the most comprehensive offer for comprehensive regional peace. It offered then – not now, in 2002 – full normal ties between Arab countries and Israel in return for ending the occupation and allowing a Palestinian state to be established on June 4, 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as capital. That was the premise. If Israel is ready, I can tell you on behalf of all Arab countries we’re ready. We want peace. We’re ready to engage. We’re ready to do everything we possibly can to get to that peace. Ask this question to Israel: Is it ready?
Dr. Alterman: How do we get from where we are – both in the Palestinian communities, you said there’s a lot of anger and distrust; the Israeli community, a lot of anger and distrust. One of the things that people have talked about here in Washington is that many of the people who were killed in Israel were people who were on the center-left; that these were kibbutzniks, they were leftists who believed in the possibility of coexistence with Palestinians, and were –
H.E. Minister Safadi: And that’s – and that’s the sad of it – sadness of it all, Jon. I mean, again, I’m sure the – many of the 6,000 Palestinians that have been killed in Gaza were not aware of the Hamas operation, don’t want war; they want peace.
You know, I had the German foreign minister in Jordan a few days ago and she asked that she meet with some refugees. And we invited about 30, if I can recall, refugees from Gaza, and she and I went into that room, and we talked to them. One of them said he lost 53 members of his family in this current war – a man, forties, fifties maybe. A young girl about 11, 12 years, she said she lost – in tears, she said she lost 10 of her aunts whom she’s never seen because she’s not allowed to go to visit in Gaza. Another man said he lost his mother in 2009 war on Gaza and he lost his uncle in this current war.
All of them, though – all of them – said: We are tired of war. We are tired of bloodshed. We just want to live in peace. We want no more war. We want peace. We want to be able to raise our children. One of the young girls said, listen, I just want to be able to finish my education and go to law school. That is – these are the people who are suffering as well. I mean, so, again, on both sides civilians, innocent people have lost their lives, are losing their lives. And this is exactly what we want to stop. And this is exactly the message that we want to dawn on everybody, that the largest number of victims from these wars are innocent people who have nothing to do with the decisions of war and peace.
Dr. Alterman: So what do governments have to do now to prepare for getting to that point?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Stop the war right now. I mean, how many lives have to be lost? How many Palestinians have to be killed before we say enough? And we’ll say enough. There is going to come a point when the absurdity, futility of war is going to be clear to everyone. If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen in a month and in a week. But at what cost? At how many more lives lost – from both sides, but the majority, obviously, the greatest majority at this point is from the Palestinians? So the immediate thing, stop this war. Get supplies to Gazans. Let’s all come out unified and speaking for our human values, for respecting civilians. And then let’s all immediately come out with narrative that tells people: We see your pain. We see your agony. We’re not going to let this happen again. We’re working on a plan that will deliver peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis. Immediately start investing in bettering the lives of people, start rebuilding, start giving people hope back, and move forward efficiently with full commitment this time and not just lip service to the objective of peace on the basis of a two-state solution. That is the future that we should work for. And I can tell you, without that we’ll be in the same place three, four years from now.
Dr. Alterman: What’s the strategy for ensuring that Hamas doesn’t further entrench itself rather than yield to the vision you’ve described of two people and two states living side by side?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Let’s offer that vision. The PNA is the government of the Palestinian people. The PLO is the legitimate representative of the – of the Palestinian people. The PLO says it wants peace on the basis of a two-state solution. Give it a chance. Let the Palestinian people choose. Let’s say you have this and you have that. You have this path, which will deliver peace; and this path, which is predicated on violence, and you see what it’s delivering. If you give people that choice, there’s no guessing what choice they’ll make, Jon. People are people. They don’t want to see their kids dying.
I mean, look, we are very emotional about what we’re seeing. It is – it is horrific. It is heartbreaking. Have you seen the images of 50 Palestinian children in a room, all of them dead and killed, and the other? You know, so this has got to stop. We don’t want to normalize death. The more death we see – and if there’s a ground invasion in a place like Gaza, urban warfare, how many – do you think the number of casualties will stay at these horrific level(s), horrific as they are, from both sides? Can Israel sustain that many death(s)? Can Palestinians sustain that much death? I mean, again, as angry as people are, as emotional as people are, we cannot sink deeper into the abyss, because it will just make things worse. It will not make things better for anybody.
Dr. Alterman: What do you think governments need to protect in Gaza for when the guns fell silent and we want to build forward? Does there have to be a Saudi role, or does there have to be an Emirati role? Would it be helpful to have a fund that, under certain circumstances, would be committed to a redevelopment of Gaza?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, how many times, Jon, did we have rebuilding conferences for the rebuilding of Gaza? And every time we rebuilt, give it two, three years, and everything we built crumbles under the fire of guns and missiles. This time around, all of us have a role. All of us. But this role should not be just about rebuilding buildings that have been destroyed. We have to rebuild faith. We have to restore hope. We have to rebuild psychologies that have been tremendously hurt.
Dr. Alterman: What’s the role of Arab governments doing that? I mean, you talked about the media environment. Is there a role in the media environment, in trying to shape the media environment?
H.E. Minister Safadi: There is a role for government, but, I mean, again, the media reports the news, right? Let’s give them the news. Let’s give them good news. Let’s tell them there is a plan. And media, again, I mean, media is always blamed. And I remember from my days of journalism, ah, you’re reporting bad news or – no. We’re just reporting the news. Media does not create the story. Media tells the story. The story should be created by those who are able to, which means governments, which means Israeli government. We, everybody in our region, the leading role of the United States, Europe, the whole world, let’s create a story and give it to the media. And then the media will do its job and report the story.
Dr. Alterman: And we have a question from Teddy Gillman, who asks: Specifically, what are the roles of different governments supporting the reform of the Palestinian Authority, to make it able to take the leading role that you described?
H.E. Minister Safadi: I think we all have a role here. I think the – you know, when the dust settles, we’ve got to ask all the difficult questions that somehow were not asked, and were not – and if asked, were not answered. I think we need to empower the PNA. But that’s just a general headline. The real question is, how do we empower the PNA? What role is there for Israel? What role is there for the international community? What role is there for us? And what role is for the PNA officials themselves? The answer to all of these questions will deliver the PNA that will be able to then talk to its people and receive it support.
Dr. Alterman: Let me ask one final question. Jordan has long had intimate relationships with Israel. They share an important border, there are issues of protecting the holy places. Can you tell me what discussions you’ve had between the government of Jordan and the government of Israel since October 7th? What’s being communicated? What is hardest to get through?
H.E. Minister Safadi: Look, I mean, again, I think, unfortunately, I say it again, Jordan’s voice is a voice for reason. It has always been. We’re proud of that. But nobody is listening to the voice of reason at this point. So we’re just continuing to try and do everything we possibly can to impress upon everybody, including the Israelis, that this war has to stop. It will – it will do nobody no good.
Dr. Alterman: Ayman Safadi, deputy prime minister, foreign minister of Jordan, thank you very much for joining us at CSIS.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Thank you so much.
Dr. Alterman: Thank you for joining us.
H.E. Minister Safadi: Thank you.