Jordan backs US effort on Arab concessions

Jordanian foreign minister: Such gestures toward Israel are fine so long as the "end game" is in sight.

king abdullah jordan 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
king abdullah jordan 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Jordan's foreign minister strongly backed the Obama administration's efforts to garner confidence-building measures toward Israel from Arab states Tuesday, bolstering the US approach in the face of public opposition from other Arab leaders. Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh stressed that Jordan is "committed to creating the right atmosphere" and supporting the "vision" of the US, which wants to see conditions for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state solution set by gestures from Arab states and Israel. In a meeting with reporters, Judeh said reports of remarks he made Monday appearing to criticize such steps had been inaccurate, but he emphasized that these steps must be made with the "end game" of final-status talks in sight. Judeh also focused on keeping the process on track rather than berating Israel for behavior he considered unhelpful, such as the evictions of Palestinians in east Jerusalem, and maintained that the right-wing Israeli government could make peace. "Serious as it is, I don't think we can lose faith in the momentum that President Obama and his administration are leading," he said of the evictions, an issue he discussed with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during their meeting Monday. He also said that when it comes to the viability of making peace with the current government, "If you're looking at history, right-wing governments have done it." He added, "I think the vision [of peace] is very much there in Israeli society." Though Judeh did criticize the "intensity" of settlement activity for making it harder for negotiations to resume, his reaction was far more conciliatory than comments from other Arab sources in recent weeks. Jordan has been trying to emphasize to the greater Arab world the merits of the American program, with Judeh stressing that the incipient steps toward Israel - such as opening trade offices or allowing overflights of Israeli aircraft - that the US is looking for, are not the same as normalization. He said that would only come once peace is reached. Jordan is one of only two Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel, following the signing of peace treaties. Yet Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, in comments in Washington on Friday following his own meeting with Clinton, criticized interim moves as unhelpful. "Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and - we believe - will not achieve peace. Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace," he said. Still, the US anticipates it will have the pieces in place to formally relaunch the Arab-Israel peace process in a matter of weeks. In exchange for the Arab gestures, the US is pressing Israel to completely freeze all settlement activity, including construction to accommodate natural growth, and for the Palestinians to continue reforming their security forces and stamp out incitement. Alongside the unveiling of those concurrent steps, the US also plans to announce a resumption of negotiations, likely at an international conference, a senior State Department official told The Jerusalem Post Monday. He noted that no final decision had been made about the format, and that a simultaneous release of press announcements in various capitals or other mechanisms might be used. The official said US Middle East envoy George Mitchell's consultations with officials from the various countries in the region on the steps they would be taking required a few more weeks of negotiation, though he noted Muslim and Jewish holidays coming in August and September could delay that process. In his Tuesday press briefing, Judeh strongly backed America's plan to relaunch negotiations, and while he emphasized importance of US engagement, he didn't explicitly call for the US to present its own measures, as some in the Arab world have indicated they'd like to see happen. "Nobody's saying that the US is going to negotiate" for the parties, he said. "I think that the president's been quite clear that the parties themselves have to sort out their differences." Judeh did, though, note the importance of the Clinton parameters - guidelines for a final-status agreement former president Bill Clinton presented during the Camp David negotiations in the 1990s - as a place for talks to resume. He said they should pick up where they left off, with all of the previous efforts - including the Annapolis process, the road map and the Madrid conference - taken into account. "We feel our role is to bring them together, to set the parameters and set the end game," he said.