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(photo credit: AP)
Jordan's King Abdullah came to the US Congress on Wednesday to stress that the "core issue" facing the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to urge greater US involvement in the search for peace between the two peoples.
"The wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine," he said to a rare joint session of Congress, where members on both sides of the aisle welcomed his statement with applause.
Speaking of Muslim views of the conflict, he said, "They want to know how it is that ordinary Palestinians are still without rights and without a country. They ask whether the West really means what it says about equality and respect and universal justice." That sentiment was met by a silent Congress, but the audience applauded when he continued by speaking of a new legacy: "Nothing can achieve that [legacy] more effectively, nothing can assert America's moral vision more clearly, nothing can reach and teach the world's youth more directly, than your leadership in a peace process that delivers results not next year, not in five years, but this year."
A focus of Abdullah's visit has been to push for a larger American role in peace-making. US Institute of Peace senior research associate Scott Lasensky noted that while Jordanians' "desperate message" of the need for US engagement wasn't new, Adbullah's repetition comes at a time when America has indicated its intensifying efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Maybe he injected a little extra momentum," Lasensky said, referring to Abdullah's performance as a "motivational speech." Lasensky also pointed to the significance of the venue. "There are few countries in the Arab and Islamic world that are as closely allied with us as Jordan. According this honor to him is partly in recognition of that support," he said.
Abdullah was slated to meet with Arab and Jewish American leaders later in the day. Jewish leaders said that he has often spoken to them on previous trips to Washington, which is in keeping with his image as a moderate and proponent of peace.
However, some took issue with elements of Abdullah's speech.
Aaron Jacob of the American Jewish Committee said that while the organization also supports the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "We take issue with the contention that the Palestinian issue is the core cause of conflict" in the region. He pointed to several intra-Arab power struggles and fractures as other sources of tension.
Jess Hordes of the Anti-Defamation League's Washington office noted that Congress refrained from supporting some of his statements concerning the Palestinians.
"There were instances in which the audience was not drawn in in areas that I think wouldn't have been appropriate," he said.
The meeting with local community leaders is only one of a number of discussions the king has held with various groups and figures in America.
Earlier in the week he met with US President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The talks largely focused on how to bring Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table. In his speech, Abdullah said that would happen more easily with United States's involvement. "The people of the region still regard the United States as the key to peace, the one country most capable of bringing the two sides closer together, holding them accountable, and making a just settlement reality." He said that other Arab countries are also pushing peace efforts, pointing to the plan approved by the Arab League in 2002.
"The commitment we made in the Arab Peace Initiative is real. And our states are involved in ongoing efforts to advance a fair, just, and comprehensive peace," he said. "It must be a peace that will free young Palestinians to focus on a future of progress and prosperity. It must be a peace that makes Israel a part of the neighborhood."