Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006

A Monarch's Dire Warning About the Middle East, September 7, 2006

Striding past ceremonial Circassian guards into a sitting room at Basman Palace, King Abdullah II is looking fresh and energetic, as if he has just come from another spin around town on his treasured Harley-Davidson. But his natural ebullience masked an uncharacteristic inner gloom that deepened this summer when the Middle East was plunged into yet another conflict with the Israeli-Hizballah war in Lebanon.

As the 44-year-old monarch settled into a stuffed sofa for a 1-hour TIME interview for a story to appear in the coming week's magazine, he drew a dark picture of a region consumed by conflicts old and new, threatened by emerging Sunni-Shiite tensions and at risk of being completely destabilized if the U.S. attacks Iran. "I believe the Lebanese war dramatically opened all our eyes to the fact that if we don't solve the Palestinian issue, the future looks pretty bleak for the Middle East," he said. "I'm one of the most optimistic people you'll come across. For the first time, I started becoming pessimistic towards the region."

Without urgent diplomatic efforts that yield tangible results to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, "I don't think there will ever be a Palestinian state," he said. "By 2007, if we don't see something that reassures all of us — the international community, the Israelis, the Arabs and the Palestinians — then I think we are doomed to another decade or decades of violence between Israelis and Arabs, which affects everybody."