Contrary to the usual practice, where the head of state and a new ambassador toast the envoy's success with champagne, President Moshe Katsav and Jordan's new ambassador, Ali Hamdan Abdelqader Al-Ayed, raised glasses of orange juice on Monday, in deference to Muslim prohibitions against alcohol.
Ayed, who is his country's fourth ambassador to Israel after Marwan Masher, Omar Rifai and Marouf al-Bakhit, is no stranger to Israel. He served here briefly as charge d'affaires, replacing Mazen Tal when the latter was named Jordan's ambassador to South Africa.
Bakhit is currently the Hashemite kingdom's prime minister.
Tal took over after Rifai left, and was ambassador in all but name.
Abdul Ilah Kurdi, who was named ambassador-designate after Rifai finished his term, had completed the procedures for appointment to the post when Jordan, in response to violent clashes between Israel and the Palestinians, decided in October 2000 not to dispatch an ambassador to Israel.
The position remained vacant until the end of February 2005, when both Jordan and Egypt returned their ambassadors to Israel. Bakhit and Egyptian Ambassador Assem Ibrahim Mohamed presented their credentials on the same day.
After barely nine months, Bakhit was recalled to serve as King Abdullah's bureau chief and head of the National Security Council. He has served as prime minister since November 2005.
Ayed arrived at Beit Hanassi with his face wreathed in smiles. One reason for this is that several years ago, he served in Washington at the same time as Avi Granot, Katsav's political adviser. Granot is currently on loan from the Foreign Ministry. The two men had renewed their acquaintance when Ayed previously served in Israel.
Ayed is no stranger to Beit Hanassi, where he received an extremely warm reception from Katsav.
Until recently, he served as Bakhit's political adviser.
Katsav and Ayed discussed the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip, the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, bilateral interests and projects, and the shared desire for peace in the Middle East.
Katsav told Ayed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had failed to fulfill Israel's expectations.
After the meeting, Ayed chose not to speak to the phalanx of reporters and television crews awaiting him, and barely scrawled his name in Arabic in the guest book before speeding away. He had to stop for a moment in the doorway for the playing of Hatikva, but the media was equally honor-bound to stand at attention, and thus could not pursue him.
Katsav said afterward that all roads to the escalation of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians as well as to the safe return of Shalit lead to Syria and to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
Asked if he was satisfied with the government's response to Shalit's abduction, Katsav said, "We have to rely on the government and its political and security advisers, as well as the IDF, the intelligence network and the chief of General Staff. It's not a good idea at this time to try to tell the government how it should act."
Shalit's release would improve the situation all round, said Katsav, adding that he hoped the young soldier was receiving proper treatment.
Katsav said Israel saw the stability of Jordan as a matter of strategic interest for Israel and the region.
Katsav also received the credentials of new Ethiopian Ambassador Fesseha Asghedom Tessema and of Iceland's non-resident ambassador, Svavar Gestsson. Each asked what they could do to help bring Shalit home.
As he has done with every foreign official he has met since Shalit was taken by Palestinian terrorists nine days ago, Katsav asked them to employ all the resources at their disposal, particularly those in Syria.
Tessema previously served in Washington as interim charge d'affaires with the rank of ambassador.
He and his staff presented noble figures as they walked along the red carpet in traditional white costumes.
Katsav thanked the Ethiopian government for facilitating the emigration of Ethiopian Jews and invited President Girma Woldegiorgis to pay an official visit.
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