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Netanyahu visits Jordan to push for peace talks

Wants king to reach out to Palestinians

Bedouins prayed near their former home after Israel demolished buildings it says were built on state property. Bedouins prayed near their former home after Israel demolished buildings it says were built on state property. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
By Jamal Halaby
Associated Press / July 28, 2010

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AMMAN, Jordan — In a surprise visit to Amman yesterday, Israel’s prime minister tried to mobilize Jordan’s king in his effort to persuade the Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, although the chief Palestinian negotiator again rejected the idea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel made his quick trip to neighboring Jordan after a Palestinian document, obtained Monday by the Associated Press, noted that George Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy, is also pressing the Palestinians to restart direct peace negotiations with Israel.

Netanyahu’s office said he had two hours of talks with King Abdullah II, emphasizing “the need to ensure direct, serious, and effective negotiations’’ toward “two states for two peoples.’’

Palestinians insist that before upgrading indirect talks mediated by Mitchell, Israel must halt all settlement construction and accept the concept of a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, with some territorial adjustments.

Netanyahu insists that talks must resume without preconditions. He has grudgingly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state but refuses to commit to borders before the peace talks start.

A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah and Netanyahu discussed ways for starting “serious and effective’’ direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It did not elaborate.

The palace statement said Abdullah asked Netanyahu to “make use of the opportunity available now to achieve peace, which constitutes a strategic interest for all sides involved.’’

In a speech after returning home, Netanyahu praised Abdullah’s involvement.

“We talked about promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and in the whole region,’’ Netanyahu said. “I welcome Jordan’s efforts for progress toward these goals.’’

“The formula for peace is a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,’’ he said after demanding security arrangements without giving details.

Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab nations that have full peace treaties with Israel. Relations between Jordan and Israel have cooled as the Israel-Palestinian peace process drags on with no visible results.

More than half of Jordan’s nearly 6 million people are of Palestinian descent. Jordan fears that deadlocked negotiations could lead to another influx of Palestinian refugees from the West Bank, disturbing the country’s delicate demographic balance.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, is also in Jordan, where he met with Abdullah on Monday. Jordanian officials said Abbas did not meet with Netanyahu.

Abbas’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, challenged Netanyahu, saying the “key to direct negotiations lies in the Israeli prime minister’s hands.’’

He said Netanyahu must accept the obligations of previous Israeli governments concerning the borders of a future Palestinian state and stopping settlement construction — which should be considered terms of references for direct talks to start.

“These are not Palestinian conditions; they are Israeli obligations which must be met,’’ he said.

Israel’s previous, more moderate government offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and parts of Jerusalem, but Erekat said then that the Palestinians turned down the offer because they would not compromise over Jerusalem, where both sides claim a key holy site.

Netanyahu has said he would not put his predecessor’s peace plan back on the table.

Also yesterday, the top security official in Hamas-ruled Gaza said he is considering whether to set up a bigger military force, first with volunteers and eventually with conscripts.

Such a step could further tighten Hamas’s control of Gaza and deepen the rift with Abbas, the group’s Western-backed rival in the West Bank. Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007, wresting control from forces loyal to Abbas. Hamas has a paid security force of about 18,000.

Interior Minister Fathi Hamad raised the idea of a broad-based force during the inauguration of a new police building. He said his ministry is “open to the idea of voluntary recruitment and then going to conscription.’’ He gave no details.

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