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Herzog secretly visited Jordan for meeting with king

President cites ‘desire to make progress’ in the region following last week’s trip; says ties with the Palestinian Authority important for Israel’s security

President Isaac Herzog (left) speaks during a conference in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2021, and Jordan's King Abdullah II (right) listens during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Amman, Jordan, on May 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90; AP/Alex Brandon, Pool)
President Isaac Herzog (left) speaks during a conference in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2021, and Jordan's King Abdullah II (right) listens during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Amman, Jordan, on May 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90; AP/Alex Brandon, Pool)

President Isaac Herzog traveled last week to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II, the president revealed on Saturday night, in the latest sign of warming ties between the countries. He spent a very positive and important evening with the king at his palace, Herzog told Channel 12 and 13 primetime news.

“Jordan is a very important country. I have immense respect for King Abdullah, a great leader, and a highly significant regional actor,” Herzog was quoted as saying in a statement from his office. “In our meeting, among the things we discussed were the core issues in the dialogue between our states.”

“There is a sense in the region of a desire to make progress, a desire to speak,” he added.

Herzog noted that it had been a year since the first of the Abraham Accords — the normalization agreements between Israel and four of its regional neighbors, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan — were signed.

“These accords created an important regional infrastructure. They are highly important agreements, which are transforming our region and the dialogue within it,” he said.

Herzog said that he plans to speak with and meet other heads of state in the region. “I speak with many leaders from all around the world, almost every day, in full coordination with the Government of Israel. I think that it is very important for the State of Israel’s strategic and diplomatic interests to engage everyone in dialogue,” he added.

Herzog’s trip was the latest in a series of high-level contacts between the countries after the swearing-in of Israel’s new government last month, following strained bilateral ties in recent years during the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In July, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Abdullah in secret at the crown palace in Amman, in the first summit between the countries’ leaders in over three years.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks as he meets with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Bennett’s trip marked the first time Abdullah has met an Israeli prime minister since he secretly hosted Netanyahu in 2018. According to reports, Abdullah had refused to meet with Netanyahu, whom he strongly disliked.

In February, Defense Minister Benny Gantz also met secretly with Abdullah in Jordan. Herzog on Saturday confirmed that the meeting took place, as Gantz’s office had not publicly commented on it at the time.

Earlier this year, tensions burst into the open after Amman delayed a plane that was slated to bring Netanyahu to the UAE, ostensibly in response to Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein scotching a trip to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, due to disagreements over security arrangements.

The then-Israeli premier, who was forced to cancel his trip to Abu Dhabi, attempted to shut down Israeli airspace to Jordanian flights in revenge, according to reports.

Jordan and Israel share strong security ties, but political relations have soured recently as Amman sparred with Jerusalem over Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is under Jordanian custody, even as Israel moved closer to other Sunni Arab states.

Jordanians carry a model of the Dome of the Rock mosque during a demonstration in Amman against Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount, on July 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Khalil Mazraawi)

Jordan, an important regional ally to both Israel and the United States, has long called for a two-state solution and the renewal of Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which have been frozen since 2014.

In an interview broadcast Saturday with Channel 13 news, Herzog said that it was important to maintain relations with the Palestinian Authority, “when it is regarding Israel’s security, [and other] important subjects,” after Gantz met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas last week.

“No one should deceive themself that not talking to the PA will benefit Israel’s security,” Herzog added.

‘No deal’ on possible Netanyahu pardon

Herzog also refused to say whether he would consider pardoning Netanyahu, who is on trial in three corruption cases. Netanyahu, now opposition leader, denies wrongdoing.

“This is an unfair and theoretical question,” he said in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

In the run-up to the presidential vote, Herzog refused to say whether he would consider pardoning Netanyahu, who had not endorsed either candidate.

Newly elected President Isaac Herzog with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset after Herzog’s election, on June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Herzog also faced scrutiny for hiring Naor Ihia as his spokesman, defying some critics who have highlighted Ihia’s past work as Netanyahu’s spokesman.

“There was no initiative, direct or indirect, that was spoken of with Netanyahu,” Herzog told Channel 12 news. “I did not commit to anything, there is no deal… it’s an egg that hasn’t been hatched.”

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