Two days before a crucial meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo to decide whether to support direct Israeli- Palestinian talks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held an unannounced meeting in Amman Tuesday with King Abdullah II in an apparent attempt to get him to support such talks.
This was only Netanyahu’s second meeting with Abdullah since becoming prime minister in March 2009. The previous one was in May 2009.
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also met with Abdullah in Amman on Monday.
A statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office described the two-hour Netanyahu-Abdullah meeting as having been “indepth,” and said that the two men discussed ways to conduct “direct, effective and serious” negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians “on all issues, in order to reach a “stable, secure and sustainable” agreement based on “two states for two peoples.”
A similar statement was released by the Jordanians.
Netanyahu, according to the statement, said after the meeting that Abdullah’s leadership was important to further peace and stability in the region.
Netanyahu also said he intended to strengthen the ties between the two countries.
Since Netanyahu’s election, the public tone of Jordanian- Israeli relations has deteriorated, even as – according to Israeli diplomatic officials – security and intelligence cooperation has remained strong.
Tuesday’s meeting comes three months after Abdullah, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said that “for the first time since my father made peace with Israel, our relationship with Israel is at an all bottom low. It hasn’t been as bad as it is today and as tense as it is today.”
According to Israeli officials, Tuesday’s talks focused on three areas: the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, the Iranian threat, and bilateral economic issues.
Netanyahu reiterated to Abdullah, according to Israeli sources, his oft-articulated position that in any future arrangement, an Israeli presence would remain on the Jordanian border.
Netanyahu encouraged Abdullah to cooperate in bilateral economic projects, including train links between the countries. It was agreed that one of Netanyahu’s top economic advisers will go to Jordan and discuss the issue.
This meeting, like the first in May, was a surprise not revealed until it was over, but whereas the first meeting was held in a secret intelligence facility, Tuesday’s parley was held in the king’s palace, with photographers allowed to memorialize the event.
Netanyahu was accompanied by National Security Council head Uzi Arad and military attaché Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, while Jordanian Prime Minister Samir Rifai, Royal Court Chief Nasser Lozi, the king’s adviser Ayman Safadi, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, and Director of Intelligence Lt.-Gen.
Mohammad Raqqad joined Abdullah on the Jordanian side.
Meanwhile, National Union MK Arye Eldad, who favors Jordan becoming a Palestinian state, slammed Netanyahu for seeking Jordanian assistance in creating a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.
“Netanyahu is willing to give up land just to get direct talks,” Eldad said. “His views have changed completely. Two years ago no one would have believed that he would go to Jordan to ask King Abdullah to help him form a Palestinian state not in Jordan, but in the Land of Israel.”
Abbas discussed the diplomatic situation with the king on Monday. Israeli officials said that even though Netanyahu and Abbas were both in the Jordanian capital on Tuesday, their paths did not cross.
Abbas’s meeting with Abdullah came on the same day that The Associated Press leaked a 36-page internal Palestinian memo that said US President Barack Obama, through envoy George Mitchell, had warned that Abbas should move quickly to direct talks to ensure continue American engagement and backing.
According to the document, Abbas was told that in the event of direct talks, the US administration could push forcefully for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. If Abbas refused to negotiate, Obama might not be able to be of much help in getting the settlement moratorium extended or preventing the demolition of Arab homes in east Jerusalem, the document said.
Mitchell told Abbas he should seize the fleeting opportunity and not waste time, the memo said. He cautioned Abbas not to count on Netanyahu being replaced by another Israeli leader anytime soon.
Reacting to reports of the memo, a State Department official in Washington said, “Our focus remains on building on the progress that has been made and on getting the parties to direct talks as swiftly as possible.”
The Palestinian document, which carried the letterhead of the Palestinian Negotiations Department, summarized diplomatic contacts with the Obama administration since February, and concluded with a recommendation to Abbas not to negotiate directly with Israel.
“There should be steadfastness in the Palestinian position regarding direct talks,” the document said.
“Going to direct talks while the Israeli government refuses to stop settlement activities and refuses to continue talks where they left off in December 2008 would be like political suicide.”
According to media reports, Abbas is interested in continuing to let the proximity talks run their course, forcing Netanyahu to have to choose at the end of September whether to end the settlement construction freeze, and be roundly criticized by the international community, or to extend the freeze and likely ignite a coalition crisis.
It is not clear, however, whether the US is eager to play a hand in this.
Mitchell, who was scheduled to arrive this week, is now not expected to come to the region in the coming days, with one official saying it had to do with a combination of “logistics and not having anything to talk about.”Gil Hoffman, Hilary Leila Krieger and AP contributed to this report.