king abdullah jordan 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
King Abdullah of Jordan told Jewish leaders here Friday that Arab countries need to take steps to encourage Israel to advance final-status negotiations with the Palestinians, according to several participants in the closed-door meeting.
The participants said that Abdullah's comments were notable because, in contrast to several similar meetings with him in recent years, it was the first time he spoke about Arab responsibilities for moving the process forward beyond the confines of the Arab Peace Initiative, and suggested it indicated new possibilities for regional peace-making.
Several meeting attendees said that Abdullah staked out the concept of an "Arab deposit," or commitment of deliverables, echoing the formulation of the Rabin deposit - a reported pledge of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that Israel would withdraw from the Golan if the Syrians met certain conditions - used to push forward the peace process with Damascus.
Jordanian sources, however, denied that Abdullah referred to a "deposit" or otherwise articulated such a position at what they stressed was an off-the-record meeting.
The Jordan Embassy press office issued a statement after the event saying simply that in meetings with Jewish, as well as Arab and Muslim American groups, the king had stressed the urgency of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution and that "the Arab Peace Initiative offers a significant opportunity to reach a comprehensive peace that will meet the legitimate rights of all parties and ensure normal relations for Israel with all its Arab neighbors."
Jewish leaders who participated in the conversation, however, said Abdullah also referred to Iran and the impetus it provides for working together to solve the regional discord.
"He thought that there was more common ground than ever existed before between Arabs and Israelis, given the common threat of Iran," said one of some 20 Jewish officials at the 45-minute meeting, who described Abdullah as more optimistic about prospects for progress than in other conversations.
The issue of Iran is expected to come up between Abdullah and US President Barack Obama in their meeting Tuesday, with the Jordanian leader making the argument that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis provides the key for weakening the potency of Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, on the Arab street by denying them a central argument for their approach.
Towards that end, Abdullah indicated he would like to see the US present its own plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, perhaps along the lines of the Clinton parameters for a two-state solution outlined by America during then-president Bill Clinton's term.
American sources, however, say that the new administration is still getting to know the key players and learn their positions, rather than developing an independent proposal.
While US officials see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major issue whose resolution could help improve the overall situation in the Middle East, they rejected the premise that it was the central problem driving regional developments, including Iranian influence.
Still, the US sees Jordan as a crucial moderate ally in the Middle East and is welcoming Abdullah, the first Arab leader to be received by Obama, as a means of invigorating its efforts to spur Israeli-Palestinian peace.
US officials are increasingly referring to the Arab peace plan as an approach that could provide a way forward, and appreciate Abdullah's efforts to maintain support in the Arab world for the program.
The proposal offers Israel full normalization with Arab countries in return for a complete withdrawal from the lands captured in the Six Day War, including east Jerusalem, creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees who wish to return to Israel.