King Abdullah makes first trip to Israel


JERUSALEM, April 23 (JTA) — Concern about the slow pace of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations prompted Jordan’s King Abdullah to make his first state visit to Israel since ascending the throne last year.

Jordan has a large stake in those negotiations, which touch on what to do with Palestinian refugees and on the final borders of Israel and a Palestinian state.

More than half of Jordan’s population come from Palestinian families who fled to Jordan during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The final peace agreement Israel and the Palestinians are trying to reach will have a deep impact on Jordan’s domestic politics.

Abdullah traveled to Israel for a four-hour visit Sunday, steering his royal yacht from the Jordanian resort of Aqaba to the neighboring Israeli resort of Eilat.

Abdullah was accompanied by his Palestinian wife, Queen Rania, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at a red carpet ceremony at an Israeli naval base in Eilat.

Abdullah urged Barak to continue his attempt to trade land for peace with the Palestinians.

“Land for peace has been accepted by all parties since 1991 and must continue to guide us wherever obstacles in the process emerge,” Abdullah said.

He also said he is hopeful that there will be a breakthrough this year in the talks, which he said would give “the justice they seek” to the Palestinians and “the security they desire” to Israelis.

Barak said Israel considers Jordan a cornerstone in efforts to achieve regional peace.

“Israel views this current stage as a historic opportunity to arrive at a comprehensive and lasting peace with all its neighbors, and we perceive Jordan as a full partner and a cornerstone of this enterprise,” Barak said.

Israel Television broadcast an interview in which Abdullah said Jerusalem should serve as a capital for both Israel and the Palestinians.

“I believe on the political levels that Jerusalem has enough room for a Palestinian and an Israeli capital,” he said. “On the religious side, I believe that Jerusalem should be a city for all of us, an open city.”

Israel and the Palestinians have been working to reach a framework for a final peace accord by next month, with the aim of completing the accord itself by a Sept. 13 deadline.

The talks have been much on the mind of President Clinton, who met two weeks ago at the White House with Barak, and last week with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Despite those meetings, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators say they do not expect to meet the May deadline for reaching the framework agreement.

After holding two rounds of meetings recently near Washington, the two sides are slated to begin a new round of talks next Sunday in Eilat.

The negotiators still have to resolve issues left over from previous agreements, including an additional Israeli withdrawal from portions of the West Bank and the opening of a second safe-passage route for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A first route opened last year.

In addition, the two sides must tackle a host of difficult final-status issues, including the Palestinian refugee question, Jewish settlements and Jerusalem.

Haim Ramon, an Israeli Cabinet minister who is close to Barak, on Sunday reiterated his view that the two sides could reach agreement on most of these issues quickly — but added that it would be difficult to reach a complete agreement because neither side is willing to compromise on Jerusalem.

Abdullah had previously planned to visit Israel, but postponed those trips because of tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

In addition to the peace track, he and Barak discussed trade and tourism projects — including a joint Eilat-Aqaba airport — in meetings that also included government ministers from both countries.

Israel Radio reported that in talks with Regional Development Minister Shimon Peres, the Jordanian officials expressed disappointment with the lack of progress in their planned joint economic projects.

During his stay in Israel, Abdullah also visited a farm that uses advanced technology.

The king’s stay was shorter than planned, and the two leaders did not hold a joint news conference after their discussions.

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