It may seem like only extremists are being heard in the cacophony of the Middle East crisis these days, but Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan claims there are great opportunities now for moderate voices as well to become prominent in the debate.

“Where is the dynamic moderate movement? It is time to assert itself,” said Hassan during a talk at Wharton April 5 as part of the West Asia Conference. “When I see, like I have in some cases, a Jew offering himself as a human shield for Palestinians, I know there is a tremendous good in people in the region. I know [that good] can be a force.”

Hassan has long been one of those dynamic moderates in the Middle East. He was Crown Prince of Jordan for 34 years until his brother, the late King Hussein, changed the line of succession in 1999, favoring his own son and Hassan’s nephew, the current King Abdullah. Hassan, 54, has continued on with his many economic, diplomatic and educational crusades.

He has served as chairman for economic development committees for the Kingdom of Jordan. He founded the Islamic Scientific Academy and the Jordan Higher Council for Science and Technology. He has been a member of numerous international commissions, primarily for educational, scientific and humanitarian aid.

But Hassan is particularly proud of his work as the founder and co-chair of a United Nations-sponsored forum, the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues. The commission came out of a speech he made to the U.N. General Assembly in 1981 during which he proposed “a new international humanitarian order.” He had seen enough suffering in the Middle East, he told the group, and it was the responsibility of all nations to think less about warfare and more about what was needed for lasting peace.

“President Bush has said, ‘Enough is enough,’ which is what many of us have been saying for a long time,” Hassan noted. The combatants have to ask, “Is this what we want for our children?”

In the latest fighting in the Middle East, he pointed out, more than 400 Israelis have been killed, including 50 children, while more than 2000 Palestinians have been killed, including 432 children. He claimed that in the last decade, $35 billion has been spent in the Arab crescent from Morocco to Turkey for humanitarian aid. That would be impressive, were it not for the $300 billion that has been spent in the same area for weapons.

“It is sad that security, weapons and oil take precedence” over people, he said. “We should be building communities,” especially between what he called the Arab world’s oil-rich/human-resource-poor countries and its human-resource-rich/oil-poor countries. Instead, these countries seem to avoid each other and the result is conflict and more conflict.

Hassan realizes he is speaking from a country that is a tenuous neighbor to five complicated populaces. These include are Syria and Iraq, which provide one set of difficulties, and Israel and the Palestinians, which are in conflict, if not officially at war. Then, he added, there is Saudi Arabia which, though an ally, often gives mixed signals to the rest of the Arab world.

“Jordan is in the middle of a smoking area, with weapons of mass destruction all around us,” he said. “We feel we must commit ourselves to maintaining a channel for talking with Israel. But we also don’t want to become the place where weapons of mass destruction fall, wiping out our entire population.”

According to Hassan, the Middle East problems are viewed by many Westerners in what he calls “terms of virtual reality.” Most Americans, for example, feel that if Saddam Hussein is overthrown in Iraq and replaced by a Western-leaning government, then problems related to terrorism, oil production and poverty would all be solved. “I heard a country and Western song recently which went, ‘I’m an ordinary man and I know nothing of Iraq and Iran,’” he said, adding that such a simplistic attitude ignores the complexities of the region and suggests an unwillingness to understand the current tensions.

Hassan said he is frustrated with negotiators who want absolutes immediately, rather than trying to get frameworks for peace and cooperation. “We seem to all create what I call OBMs, Obstacle Building Measures. We have a lot of OBMs in our region. I am personally interested in how wars end. I am interested in how, for instance, the suffering of the Iraqi people will end.”

Along those lines, he notes, in particular, the indifference in the international community to the recent Middle East peace proposal out of Saudi Arabia that asked Israel and the PLO to retreat from their confrontational positions. “I find it sad that we are asked for moderate Arab solutions and then are not taken seriously when we come up with them,” he said.

Nonetheless, despite events ranging from the September 11 terrorist attacks to the West Bank occupation and suicide bombings, he sees the chance for a peaceful future. “The great hope in many places is the youth,” he said. “They were out on the streets in Iran in 2001. There will be a new generation of leaders.”

The problem now, though, is for the right people to be cultivating those youthful leaders. In the frustrations over poverty and lack of opportunity in the Arab world, it is the fundamentalists who are succeeding in many cases among the youth. That is the fault, Hassan said, of rigid old leadership. “Police forces around the world seem to think rounding up the usual suspects is the way to suppress dissent. But they don’t get to the real source. These are movements based on grass roots problems. There should be a movement, instead, based on statecraft and, if you will, humankindcraft.”

He said too many people are worried about whether, for example, Yasir Arafat will or should stay in power or whether Saddam Hussein is effective. “Believe it or not, even in Israel, there are still a significant number of people who want peace and are willing to find a way to have it. I really think that all countries are in need of new leadership, that we have to stop living in terms of past problems.

“It took Europe 50 years to have free movement of goods first and then labor,” said Hassan, referring to the years after World War II when a succession of agreements, and most recently the creation of the European Union, have lowered tariffs between European countries and allowed freer movement of workers. “We have to move forward in the Middle East as well. We have to present a modern and vibrant region, one of ecumenical pluralism in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Hebron, even in Mecca.

“Mainly, we have to stop thinking about weapons and the oil pipelines and start thinking about the people who live next to those oil pipelines,” said Hassan. It is a difficult time, he admitted, but he has hope that their leaders will come to the same conclusion that he and President Bush have. “Enough, surely, is enough.”