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Jordan’s king backs Palestinian leader

by Ali Sawafta, Reuters

November 21, 2011 | 8:18 am

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and King Abdullah of Jordan, right stand in front of an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah Nov. 21. Photo by REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and King Abdullah of Jordan, right stand in front of an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah Nov. 21. Photo by REUTERS/Ammar Awad

King Abdullah of Jordan made a rare trip to the West Bank on Monday to display support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is seeking to make peace with his Islamist rivals Hamas, and push for a resumption of peace talks with Israel.

In his first visit to the area in over 10 years, Abdullah took a short helicopter ride from Jordan over to Ramallah to see the Palestinian leader, who also maintains a residence in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

Abbas hosted U.S. peace envoy William Burns on Sunday and Burns saw Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to discuss restarting direct Middle East peace negotiations that have been suspended for over a year.

There was no indication from Ramallah of a breakthrough in the deadlock between Netanyahu and Abbas over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. The Palestinian leader refuses to relaunch talks unless construction is halted.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Naser Jouda, told reporters that the deadlock over settlements could be overcome by focusing on an agreement on the approximate borders of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“Direct negotiation ... is the goal we want to get to and this will eventually secure the establishment of the state through a comprehensive treatment of all final settlement issues,” he said.

“Speeding up negotiations over the two issues of security and borders should in the future put an end to settlement inside the borders to be agreed upon (for) the Palestinian independent state.”

Abbas repeated that there would be no direct talks until settlement is explicitly halted by Netanyahu.

“If Israel stops settlement and recognise the international references, we will be ready to return to negotiation. These are not pre-conditions but commitments and agreements that were reached between us and the Israelis,” he said.

“When they accept this, we will be ready (but) so far there is no indication of an imminent resumption of negotiations.”

Abbas is due to hold talks in Cairo on Wednesday with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who opposes a permanent peace treaty with Israel and is expected to visit Jordan in the coming weeks.

“King Abdullah’s visit comes in support of Abbas ahead of Meshaal’s trip to Jordan,” said Palestinian analyst Hani el Masri. “This trip reassures Abbas that King Abdullah’s upcoming meeting with Khaled Meshaal will not affect his relationship with Abbas.”

Abbas faces a political challenge from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The division between them weakens the Palestinian national movement and Abbas says it must be overcome.

His talks with Meshaal will focus on reconciling the Islamists with his own, mainly secular, Fatah group.

Abbas wants Meshaal’s agreement to form a unity government that would prepare the West Bank and Gaza for long overdue presidential and general elections, now slated for 2012.

“The division hurts our cause and our struggle and it serves the Israeli occupation first and last,” Abbas said last week, pledging to do all he could to bridge the gap.

Abdullah and Abbas also discussed developments in the region, currently dominated by the slide towards civil war in Syria and mounting unrest in Egypt.

Jordan shares a border with Syria, and Abdullah has called on its president Bashar al Assad to end his crackdown on opponents and step down to avoid further bloodshed.

Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Jihan Abdalla in Ramallah; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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