Jordanian king tells Abbas Trump committed to peace process
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Jordanian king tells Abbas Trump committed to peace process

In rare visit by monarch to Ramallah, two sides agree to form task force to prepare for any future Temple Mount tension

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas observe the honor guard during a visit in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas observe the honor guard during a visit in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that US President Donald Trump is “committed” to the peace process and called for “intensifying” efforts for new talks, during a rare trip to Ramallah Monday seemingly meant to send a message to Israel.

During his two-hour meeting with Abbas, the Jordanian king highlighted “the commitment of Trump to work toward achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” according to a summary of the meeting in the Jordanian government’s official news outlet Petra.

Abdullah “stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to create real political prospects for progress toward resolving the conflict,” the report said.

Abdullah’s visit to Ramallah, the first since 2012, came after a spike in Jordanian-Israeli tensions over the Temple Mount, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and a deadly shooting incident involving an Israeli embassy guard in Amman.

Israeli border police officers stand guard next to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City Thursday, July 27, 2017. (AP /Mahmoud Illean)
Israeli border police officers stand guard next to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City Thursday, July 27, 2017. (AP /Mahmoud Illean)

Abdullah did not meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the trip, which was seen as the latest in a series of diplomatic measures meant to underline Amman’s unhappiness with Israel.

A photo montage of Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shaking hands in front of the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa mosque compound is seen on a building during a welcome ceremony for the Jordanian King in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
A photo montage of Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shaking hands in front of the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa mosque compound is seen on a building during a welcome ceremony for the Jordanian King in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah initially showed optimism toward the Trump administration’s initiative to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been frozen since 2014.

Recent weeks however, have seen Palestinian officials openly criticizing the White House for its handling of the Temple Mount tensions, and its inability to curb Israeli settlement construction and back the long-accepted two-state solution to the conflict.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who last week criticized the US for allowing Israeli settlement construction to continue unabated by offering only silence on the issue, also said the Palestinians are still “committed” to a US initiative.

On Sunday, during a meeting with the speaker of the Jordanian parliament and heads of parliamentary committees, Abdullah had stressed the importance of American participation in the peace process.

“The future of the Palestinian issue is at stake and reaching a solution is becoming more difficult. There will be no breakthrough in the peace process if there is no American commitment to support a solution to the Palestinian issue,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 25, 2017 meets with security guard 'Ziv,' who shot dead two Jordanians as he was being stabbed by one of them at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman on July 23. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 25, 2017 meets with security guard ‘Ziv,’ who shot dead two Jordanians as he was being stabbed by one of them at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman on July 23. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Ties between Jordan and Israel have been strained by an incident in July that saw an Israeli guard at the embassy compound in Amman shoot dead two Jordanian men, one of whom had attacked him with a screwdriver.

When Netanyahu warmly greeted the guard upon his return to Israel, Abdullah said there would be diplomatic consequences. He said that Jordan was “infuriated” by the matter, calling it “unacceptable and provocative behavior.”

Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, has yet to allow Israeli Ambassador Einat Schlein to return to her posting along with the rest of the embassy’s staff, all of whom left the country, according to a report in the Jordanian al-Ghad daily.

The PA’s official news outlet Wafa reported that Jordan did not coordinate the king’s visit to Ramallah with Jerusalem, in a show of “anger” toward Israel.

Jordan, PA form joint Al-Aqsa crisis group

Jordan was a key player in efforts to calm tensions after Israel installed metal detectors and other security measures at the Temple Mount following a July 14 terror attack there in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using guns they had smuggled into the holy site. The new Israeli measures, which Israel eventually reversed, prompted the Waqf Islamic Trust, a Jordanian government body that administers the site, to announce a boycott that devolved into daily clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

During their meeting, Abbas praised Abdullah’s role during a Temple Mount crisis, according to the Petra report.

The two sides agreed to form a joint task force that would learn the lessons of the last crisis and prepare for possible conflict at the Temple Mount in the future.

Thousands of Muslim worshipers participate in evening prayers outside the Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, refusing to enter the Temple Mount enclosure to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque inside, July 25, 2017. (Dov Lieber /Times of Israel)
Thousands of Muslim worshipers participate in evening prayers outside the Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, refusing to enter the Temple Mount enclosure to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque inside, July 25, 2017. (Dov Lieber /Times of Israel)

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told journalists after the two-hour meeting between Abdullah and Abbas that “we evaluated the experience and are preparing for future actions that we expect from Israel and from the person of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu,” he said, according to the PA’s official news site Wafa.

“It was agreed to form a joint crisis team, which will continue to assess the past phase and its lessons, and to assess any challenges we may face at the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he added.

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