Jordan urges Pence to ‘rebuild trust’ after Jerusalem pivot

Jordan urges Pence to ‘rebuild trust’ after Jerusalem pivot

Vice president responds that ‘the United States of America remains committed, if the parties agree, to a two-state solution’

US Vice President Mike Pence, left, meets with King Abdullah II at the Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, January 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
US Vice President Mike Pence, left, meets with King Abdullah II at the Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Jordan, Sunday, January 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan’s king appealed Sunday to US Vice President Mike Pence to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, following fallout from the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Pence, in turn, tried to reassure the King Abdullah II that the Trump administration remains 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.

Trump’s pivot on Jerusalem last month infuriated the Palestinians, who seek the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as a future capital. They accused the US of siding with Israel and said Washington can no longer serve as a mediator.

US President Donald Trump, in his December 6 address on Jerusalem, said that recognizing it as the capital of Israel was merely an acknowledgement of reality, and made clear that he was not prejudging the city’s final borders nor intending any change to the status quo of the religious sites in the city.

Jerusalem is the emotional centerpiece of the long-running conflict, and Trump’s policy shift set off protests and condemnation across Arab and Muslim countries.

It posed a dilemma for Abdullah, who is a staunch US ally, but also derives his political legitimacy in part from the Hashemite dynasty’s role as guardian of a key Muslim site in Jerusalem. Any perceived threat to Muslim claims in the city is seen as a challenge to Jordan, where a large segment of the population is of Palestinian origin.

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen disembark the plane upon his arrival at Amman military airport, Jordan, Saturday, January 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Pence told Jordan’s monarch on Sunday that Trump made it clear in his announcement on Jerusalem “that we are committed to continue to respect Jordan’s role as the custodian of holy sites, that we take no position on boundaries and final status.”

He said Jordan would continue to play a central role in any future peace efforts.

The vice president also praised Jordan’s contribution to a US-led military campaign against Islamic State extremists who in recent months were pushed back from large areas in Iraq and Syria, both neighbors of Jordan.

Abdullah expressed concerns about the regional fallout from the Jerusalem decision.

“Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations,” he said. He described the Pence visit as a mission “to rebuild trust and confidence” in getting to a two-state solution, in which a state of Palestine would be established in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Another cause of concern for Jordan is the Trump administration’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jordan vehemently opposes such a move if taken ahead of an Israeli-Palestinian partition deal.

Israel views Jerusalem as its unified capital.

A longstanding international consensus holds that the city’s final status should be decided through negotiations, which was also US policy going back decades.

Palestinians view Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a blatantly one-sided move.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not meet with Trump administration officials and called off a meeting with Pence that had been scheduled for mid-December.

In a new expression of that snub, Abbas overlapped with Pence in Jordan from Saturday evening to midday Sunday, when the Palestinian leader flew to Brussels for a meeting with EU foreign ministers Monday. There, Abbas is expected to urge EU member states to recognize a state of Palestine in the pre-1967 lines, and to step up involvement in mediation.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an Abbas adviser, reiterated Sunday that “the US is no longer acceptable as a mediator.”

“Any plan from any side should be based on the basic references, which are the UN resolutions on the establishment of a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with East Jerusalem as a capital, and the Arab Peace Initiative, which addresses many issues, including the issue of refugees,” he said.

“Any plan that is not based on the international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative will not be acceptable, neither by the Palestinians nor the Arabs.”

Pence was also expected to meet with US troops in the region on Sunday and then depart for Israel, where he’s scheduled to hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deliver an address to the Knesset and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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