Abdullah postpones visit to West Bank

Jordanian king cites bad weather as reason for pushing meeting back by days.

abdullah abbas 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
abdullah abbas 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Jordan's King Abdullah on Sunday called off what was to have been a rare visit to the West Bank, citing low clouds and visibility that hampered his planned helicopter flight. The king will reschedule his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in coming days, said an Abbas aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh. The trip, the monarch's first to the West Bank in seven years, had been intended to promote an Arab peace plan and show support for Abbas, a moderate. In recent weeks, the king stepped up efforts to push the peace plan, which offers Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. Abdullah has warned repeatedly that time is running out for reaching a peace deal. The king also appears increasingly concerned about fighting between political rivals Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, which erupted again in recent days. In Gaza, two Fatah-allied gunmen, including a local commander, were killed Sunday in what Fatah said was a Hamas ambush. Abbas, his aides and journalists were waiting at Abbas' walled headquarters for nearly five hours, until getting the announcement of the cancellation. At one point, a Jordanian helicopter with journalists and royal aides arrived. "There were several attempts to fly, but we couldn't because of bad weather, the low clouds hampering visibility in Ramallah," a royal palace official said on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to make statements to the press. "We are in touch with the Palestinian side to reschedule another meeting in the soonest possible time," he added. He said that no time has yet been fixed. On Monday, the king is to meet with US Vice President Dick Cheney, who is touring the region, followed by talks in Jordan on Tuesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Abdullah has been calling for quick movement on the Arab peace initiative which was first launched in 2002 and revived at an Arab summit earlier this year. The Palestinians have embraced the plan, which calls for a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. Israel has not rejected the proposal, but has expressed reservations about key points, including a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Successive Israeli leaders have rejected such a pullback. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in an interview with the Egyptian daily Al Ahram on Saturday that Israel would have to withdraw from areas of the West Bank in order to pave the way for a Palestinian state, but did not discuss details. Despite Abdullah's efforts, progress on the Arab peace plan seems unlikely because Olmert and Abbas face political troubles at home and would likely be unable to carry out the steps required by a peace deal. Olmert's standing has been significantly weakened by a scathing report on his handling of last summer's war against Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon. And Abbas has been unable to end the lawlessness in the Palestinian territories, despite the formation of the Hamas-Fatah unity government in March. Abdullah last visited the West Bank in August 2000, two months before the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising. He met with Abbas in Jordan earlier this month.