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Israeli, Jordanian leaders pledge to strengthen ties

JERUSALEM, Feb. 24 (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Hussein decided to emphasize the positive and downplay any differences they may have. That was the message emerging from their meeting Sunday in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where the two discussed the state of bilateral relations since the two countries signed their historic 1994 peace treaty. During their discussions, the two leaders pledged to strengthen relations between their countries by clearing away economic barriers. They also discussed Israel’s plans to build a new Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem. But from their comments to reporters afterward, it was clear that they did not want to address the controversial subject before the media. Palestinian leaders have threatened that the planned construction of the Har Homa neighborhood would derail the peace process. Hussein has often said Israel should postpone any moves that could affect the status of Jerusalem until after the completion of the final- status negotiations with the Palestinians. But Hussein refused to comment directly on the matter during Sunday’s news conference with Netanyahu. “I would not care to go into any detail as to exactly what we addressed,” Hussein said at a news conference. “The prime minister knows our views.” During their meeting, Netanyahu told the king that construction of homes for Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem would begin at the same time as the Har Homa construction, Israel Television reported. Netanyahu’s visit to Jordan was his second since his election in May. It was his first to an Arab state since last month’s signing of the Hebron agreement, under which Israel handed over 80 percent of the West Bank town to Palestinian self-rule. The Har Homa project, first formulated in 1991, calls for the construction of 6,500 housing units on a plot of about 460 acres, two- thirds of which was expropriated from Jewish owners. One-third was expropriated from Palestinians. Construction at Har Homa, which had the backing of the previous Labor government, has repeatedly been postponed because of its political sensitivity. Earlier this month, a group of Knesset members threatened to leave the governing coalition if Netanyahu did not give the go-ahead for construction. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who met with Netanyahu on Monday, indicated that Netanyahu would approve the project. He added that the prime minister would also approve construction of some 3,500 housing units for Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem.

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