Jordan's king urges Israel to 'withdraw'

Abdullah calls on Palestinians to unite, vows to continue fighting "campaign of distortion" on Islam.

abdullah 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
abdullah 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Jordan's King Abdullah II inaugurated a new parliament Sunday with a call on Israel to relinquish war-won lands, saying that would help peace and security to prevail in the Middle East. The king also urged unity among feuding Palestinian factions, saying the time has come for statehood. "We emphatically tell Israel that ending the occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands, withdrawing from there and implementing legitimate international resolutions are the only way to realize just, permanent and comprehensive peace," said the staunch US ally who maintains cordial relations with Israel under the 1994 peace treaty. Abdullah said a peaceful Arab-Israeli settlement would "guarantee a safe future for the region's peoples and its coming generations." "We also say to the Palestinians that strength is in unity and weakness in disunity; so, unite your ranks and seize the available opportunity to realize peace and establish your independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he said. Abdullah spoke at the opening session of a newly elected parliament, where his loyalists handily defeated opposition in elections held two weeks ago. The king, a fiery critic of militant Islam, vowed to continue fighting what he said was a "campaign of distortion being waged against our honorable religion by rejecting extremism, violence, and takfiri thought" - a reference to the extremist doctrine, which regards even non-militant Muslims as infidels. Abdullah arrived at a lavish military ceremony outside the domed parliament chamber in the heart of Amman. The king, who holds the title of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, inspected an honor guard as 21 guns boomed in a traditional salute. Abdullah, 45, wore a black and gold ceremonial military uniform as he delivered his "Speech from the Throne" - the constitutional opening of the annual legislative sessions. The elected 110-seat Chamber of Deputies met jointly with the 55-member, royally appointed Senate to hear Abdullah outline his policy. Abdullah's Palestinian-born wife, Queen Rania, and other members of the Hashemite family were also present. Domestically, the king vowed continued reforms to improve living conditions in his oil-poor nation, saddled by a multibillion foreign debt and soaring unemployment, poverty and inflation. "Our vision for Jordan's future is clear and ambitious; its pillar is comprehensive reform and modernization - political, economic and social - for the sake of attaining the ultimate goal: improving citizens' standard of living and providing the means for a decent life to every Jordanian family." He outlined an ambitious economic agenda, which envisioned improved financial and monetary stability, reduced government expenditure, free health insurance and effective supervision of water and food quality following several recent poisoning incidents. He urged legislation to enhance transparency and accountability, including laws for a national ombudsman, human rights, the rights of women and children and the protection of youth. The Jordanian opposition accuses the government of slow strides toward political reform, thought to be slowed down by fears of the rising influence of militants in Gaza and chaos in Iraq and Lebanon. Since his accession to the throne in 1999, Abdullah has given wider freedoms to women, endorsed several independent radio stations and, for the first time, allowed local elections of officials who used to be appointed by the government.