King of Jordan to visit West Bank

The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM -- King Abdullah II of Jordan will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today in the West Bank in an attempt to push along Israeli-Palestinian talks about peace. It will be the king's first visit to the occupied territory, which Jordan ruled until 1967, in seven years.

King Abdullah has been traveling the West and the region, urging Israel and the Palestinians to work toward solving their long dispute with the help of an Arab League initiative. He has been arguing that the conflict feeds extremism in the Muslim world and that time is running out before a new round of violence.

The Arab League has renewed its offer to recognize Israel in return for a settlement based on the establishment of a Palestinian state in pre-1967 borders and a "just" and "agreed-upon" solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees from the 1948-1949 war. Israel has welcomed the initiative as a basis for negotiations, while saying little about borders and emphasizing that no Palestinian refugees will be able to return to homes in what is now Israel.

King Abdullah is also expected to meet with the embattled Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, at a conference in Petra, Jordan, next week. That conference of Nobel laureates will be hosted by the king. Last year, Olmert and Abbas were invited and had an informal meeting there.

Israel Radio has reported that the two men would meet in Petra next week, with the king, but Palestinian officials close to Abbas, including one negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said yesterday that there are no plans for such a meeting.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, another Abbas aide, told the Palestinian news agency WAFA that the king's visit to the West Bank "comes as part of the consultation and coordination between the Palestinian Authority and the kingdom to push forward the peace process and revive it according to the Arab League initiative."

Erekat said that the king "is exerting every effort to warn that time is of the essence, that something needs to be done," while "warning all the time about the consequences of the peace process going down the drain." Erekat also said that the king is trying "to save the Palestinian Authority from collapse" at a time of rivalry between Hamas and Fatah despite their agreement to form a unity government.

Pressure from moderate and vulnerable Arab states, including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, to do something about the stalled Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one reason that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has intensified her efforts to get the two parties talking about the shape of a final settlement.

But the political weakness of both Olmert and Abbas has made it difficult for them to take risks, even though a majority of Israelis and Palestinians would like to see a settlement based on a division of the land into two independent states.

Jordan ruled the West Bank from the armistice that concluded the 1948-1949 war until 1967, when Israel conquered the area, which it still occupies. This history makes a visit by the king politically sensitive at home. In 1999, Abdullah visited Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip, which had been ruled by Egypt, and made a brief stop to see him in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2000.

On the Israeli side, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt on Thursday to discuss the Palestinians and the Arab League initiative. The Arab League has agreed to dispatch a delegation of foreign ministers from Egypt and Jordan, which have made peace with Israel, to come here to discuss the initiative.

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