Jordan's King Abdullah presented the Arab peace initiative to Acting President and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik Thursday, in what Israeli officials are heralding as the Jordanians' "most proactive" push for peace in recent years. Foremost, he said that unilateralism was a failed policy and that Israel and the Palestinians needed to take steps to rebuild confidence and communication. "The king is very dedicated to the peace initiative and investing a lot in it," said Itzik. "It is clear that the interest of the Jordanians and other Arab partners is to separate themselves from the extremist Arab countries in the region."
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Itzik met with the king and Queen Rania, and then joined MKs from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the details of the peace initiative in a lunch with the king, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit and Foreign Minister Abdelelah al-Khatib.
During lunch, the king said that the first step that Israel had to take to end the Arab-Israeli conflict was to establish an independent Palestinian state on Palestinian national territory.
He warned that settlement expansion and construction of the security barrier was an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Abdullah also leveled criticism at Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, saying that Abbas must work to strengthen communication with Israel and to alleviate the harsh living conditions of the Palestinian people.
The Israeli government representatives clearly expressed their inability to accept the initiative as it currently stood, citing the demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. "We explained to the king and foreign minister that not a single Israeli would accept the demand for a right of return," Itzik said.
MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), who met with the king several times during his tenure as Speaker in the 16th Knesset, said that the king seemed "very flexible" when discussing the right of return.
"He saw the demand more on a theoretical level and talked mainly about compensating the Palestinians," said Rivlin.
Other MKs, including several from right-wing parties that have openly opposed the Arab peace initiative and the Saudi plan, said that they were heartened by the king's commitment to the peace process.
MK Zvi Hendel (NU-NRP) said that he was "very impressed by the king's dedication to the plan. We made our point clearly by putting on the table that we could not accept the right of return and [the king] was very clear that we must at least start by sitting at the table together."
Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi said that Itzik's meeting with the king was "impressive and important" and confirmed that they had asked the Jordanians to help in securing the release of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
Itzik is the highest ranking Israeli official to visit Jordan since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a surprise visit to Amman at Abdullah's invitation last December.
The English language Jordanian Times reported that Abdullah had called Olmert Wednesday and had spoken to him about the initiative.
Abdullah has been pushing for reviving the diplomatic process on the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which last month won fresh backing during an Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia. Abdullah has called on Israel to respond positively to the Arab plan, which he said offered a "rare opportunity" for peace brokering between Israelis and Palestinians.
Abdullah also began talking about the peace process in a speech to Congress two months ago.
The king is widely supported in the Jordanian media, although Jordanian press officials have acknowledged that there is serious doubt among the Jordanian public over the plan's chances of succeeding.