Abdullah: US must get a major Israeli concession after Jerusalem recognition

Diverging from recent Palestinian views, Jordanian king insists that US is the only power that can broker a peace deal between the two parties

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Jordan's King Abdullah (R) speaks with CNN's Fareed Zakaria at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 24, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Jordan's King Abdullah (R) speaks with CNN's Fareed Zakaria at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 24, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

DAVOS, Switzerland — Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Thursday that the US now faces the challenge of getting Israel to make a significant concession in exchange for its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in order to get the peace process back on track.

“The challenge that the Americans have with the Israelis is that if this [Jerusalem recognition] is to make any sense, it’s to give something pretty good to the Palestinians,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria during an open interview session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Abdullah gave the response after upon being asked whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu truly believed in a two-state solution. He “had his skepticism,” he said, but would reserve judgment until after US President Donald Trump presented his peace plan.

Trump had hinted that the move would require something big in return from Israel, saying in a cryptic tweet that “Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.”

Regardless, the Jordanian king said, “I have a feeling that the two-state solution the way that we envision it is not the same two-state solution that they do.”

King Abdullah II of Jordan attends a session at the Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 25, 2018 in Davos, eastern Switzerland. (AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI)

Since Trump’s December 6 declaration that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would start the process of moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, the Palestinians have said that the US administration is no longer an honest peace broker.

They declared Vice President Mike Pence persona non grata and refused to meet with him during his visit to the region earlier this week.

While the king insisted Thursday that he had “tremendous sympathy to what the Palestinians are feeling,” he urged them to wait for the Americans to publicize their plan, and insisted that “we all know that we cannot have a peace process or peace solution without the role of the United States.”

He called for confidence-building moves between the American and Palestinian leadership that would bring them, along with the Israelis, back to the table.

In this December 7, 2017 file photo, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left, welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Royal Palace in Amman Jordan. (Khalil Mazraawi/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Abdullah argued that the Palestinians were still very interested in talks, saying they have not abandoned other options. “They’re reaching out to the Europeans and to me, that is the signal that they do want peace,” he said, referring to Palestinian frustration as merely “a hiccup.”

Pressed on whether it was realistic to assume that the Trump plan would be fair for both sides, the Jordanian king admitted he was concerned but still said that there was no “plan B” if the Palestinians chose to walk away from what they might see as an unfair deal.

Dismissing the viability of a one-state solution, Abdullah said, “As we look at the Arab-Israeli demographics, as we look at the Palestinians under occupation we’re basically discussing and have been for a while what basically is an apartheid system.

“Now can we deal with this apartheid system and make it fair for everybody?” he asked rhetorically.

In this May 23, 2017 file photo, US President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

He went on to insist that the question of equal rights also applied to the Muslim and Christian “second-class citizens” in both Israel and the West Bank.

On Sunday, Jordan’s king appealed to the visiting Pence to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following fallout from Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Pence, in turn, tried to reassure Abdullah that the Trump administration remained committed to restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and views Jordan as a central player.

The vice president also said that “the United States of America remains committed, if the parties agree, to a two-state solution.” Such a caveat deviates from longstanding US support for a two-state solution as the only possible outcome of any peace deal.

Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Ziv (R), the Israeli guard who was stabbed in the Amman embassy complex earlier this week, and Israel’s ambassador to Jordan Einat Schlein (not pictured), at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 25, 2017. Haim Zach / GPO)

Notably, no mention was made at Thursday’s session regarding the most recent rupture in Israeli-Jordanian relations.

Last July, an Israeli security guard at Israel’s embassy in Jordan shot and killed a teen who tried to stab him. A bystander was also killed. Jordan had refused to allow the embassy staff to return Israel unless the guard stands trial. Israel believes he acted in self-defense.

Israel has not had an ambassador in the Hashemite kingdom since the incident, but last week Netanyahu said that relations with Jordan were “back on track” and indicated that he would name a new ambassador to Amman in the coming days.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had issued an internal tender to select a new ambassador.

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