Olmert makes surprise visit to Jordan

PM, Abdullah discuss peace process, address fears that Syrian track could eclipse Palestinians track.

olmert abdullah 29888gpo (photo credit: GPO)
olmert abdullah 29888gpo
(photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's surprise two-hour visit to Amman on Wednesday for talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II reflects an Israeli interest in keeping the monarch "in the loop" regarding negotiations with the Palestinians, government officials said. It was no coincidence that Olmert flew to Jordan on Wednesday - the second time he has done so under a veil of secrecy this year - on the day that Hamas and Egypt seemed to conclude a cease-fire deal in Gaza, one official said. "Olmert wanted to bear some good news," the official said, noting that Jerusalem's terse statement on the Egypt-Hamas deal indicated Israel would accept the deal, although it was unlikely to say so formally. Abdullah is reportedly concerned about the ongoing crisis in Gaza, and fearful that the instability there could lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank, which would have negative implications for Jordan. The Arab press reported that Abdullah had pressed US President George W. Bush during their meeting in Washington last week not to come to Israel in mid-May because of the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The Prime Minister's Office, in a laconic statement issued after Wednesday's meeting, said the two leaders - who held a working session over lunch - discussed "the diplomatic process and ways to move forward the goals set out in the Annapolis Conference." Jordan's Petra news agency, basing itself on a statement from the Jordanian Royal Palace, said the king stressed "the need for negotiations to lead to an agreement based on the two-state solution before the end of this year, as per commitments made by the parties at the Annapolis Conference in November 2007." Abdullah said the deal should "address all final-status issues and result in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state," Petra reported. "Olmert briefed King Abdullah on the negotiations and expressed appreciation for the king's efforts to ensure progress and achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel," again according to the Jordanian news agency. Jordan, according to sources in Jerusalem, can play an important role in supporting "positive developments in the process of Palestinian nation building" and in helping to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to these sources, Olmert periodically meets with Abdullah because Israel "takes the relationship with Jordan very seriously" and sees Jordan as an integral element in the country's overall national security doctrine. Olmert last met with Abdullah in January, when he flew secretly to his palace in Aqaba. That visit, like this one, took place days before a Bush visit.