Jordan’s king urges Israel to seize moment created by Kerry

Netanyahu makes surprise visit to Amman at ‘critical point’ in peace talks, amid reports that Israel wants to hold onto a fourth settlement bloc

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, during the former's surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, during the former's surprise visit to Amman on January 16, 2014 (AP/Yousef Allan/Jordanian Royal Palace)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to Jordan on Thursday for talks with the king on the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the Royal Palace said in a statement.

The palace said Netanyahu and King Abdullah II held talks behind closed doors about the peace process. It was Netanyahu’s third visit to Jordan in the past year.

According to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu and Abdullah “discussed recent developments in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” with the prime minister stressing “the important role played by Jordan, under King Abdullah’s leadership, in the efforts to bring about an agreement,” and emphasizing that Israel “places a premium on security arrangements, including Jordan’s interests, in any future agreement.”

Economic issues were also addressed by the two leaders, the statement said.

Abdullah called on Netanyahu to seize the chance to achieve a lasting and comprehensive settlement with the Palestinians, the Royal Palace said.

Amman quoted Abdullah as urging Netanyahu to “build on the opportunity made available by the consolidated efforts of the US secretary of state to achieve tangible progress in the peace negotiations.”

The palace said the meeting with Netanyahu was significant because it coincided with a “critical period” in the negotiations, and noted that the king’s meeting with Netanyahu was part of Jordan’s “cooperation with all the sides involved in the peace process.”

The ultimate goal, Abdullah said, is the establishment of an “independent and viable Palestinian state” with East Jerusalem as its capital. He emphasized that Palestinian-Israeli final status negotiations touch on “higher Jordanian interests.”

“They are a top priority for us,” he reportedly told Netanyahu.

The palace said Netanyahu briefed Abdullah on the negotiations with the Palestinians, but did not provide details.

According to a report Thursday on Army Radio, Netanyahu has been seeking to define a fourth bloc of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in the vicinity of Beit El, that Israel would retain in any future agreement with the Palestinians.

The report, which cited an unnamed senior Israeli official involved in the negotiations, harked back to previous reports that the Israeli negotiating team has brought up the option of renting or purchasing land from the Palestinian Authority. The older reports did not specify which swaths of land Israel would seek to retain.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined The Times of Israel’s request for comment.

Located near the Palestinian administrative capital of Ramallah, the Beit El bloc joins three other West Bank areas — the Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel blocs — over which Israel wishes to retain control, even after the signing of a peace agreement. In the past, Israel has proposed land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for these territories.

The three blocs, together with the Beit El area, constitute a combined 13 percent of the West Bank.

The Ulpana outpost, adjacent to Beit El in the West Bank (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
The Ulpana outpost, adjacent to Beit El in the West Bank (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

While discussing the Beit El bloc issue in the past with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu reportedly highlighted the Jewish people’s biblical claim — Beit El is named for the site where Jacob is said to have dreamt of a ladder to heaven while fleeing from his brother, Esau. Netanyahu further explained to Kerry that Beit El was considered sacred, as according to the Bible it had for some years been home to the the Ark of the Covenant.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu reportedly offered to cede most Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority on condition that Israel would be allowed to enter into a long-term lease for the land, thereby avoiding the eviction of hundreds of thousands of settlers.

Under such a deal, Israel would essentially pay for the right to remain in the West Bank for some 40 years.

The Palestinian negotiating team is said to have rejected the offer, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly ridiculed the notion.

A number of former Jordanian officials have expressed concern that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians could harm vital Jordanian interests. Jordan, for instance, has been reportedly concerned over security arrangements in the West Bank after an Israeli withdrawal, fearing it might be harmed by an upsurge in terrorism were the IDF to completely vacate the area; Israel demands that the IDF remain deployed along the West Bank-Jordan border even after a peace treaty is reached, the PA rejects the demand, and the US has been trying to find a compromise.

The London-based daily Al-Hayat further reported on Thursday that conservative Jordan politicians understand a framework agreement being drafted by the US as abrogating the Palestinian “right of return,” therefore necessitating the granting of permanent citizenship to some 2 million Palestinians currently residing in Jordan.

The details of the framework deal, which is being pushed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, have yet to be released to the media.

Samir Rifa’i, a conservative former prime minister, reportedly told Jordanian politicians he was worried that the negotiations “may result in decisions that will not serve the Palestinian cause.” His father, former prime minister Zeid Rifa’i, seemed less worried, reported Al-Hayat, opining that Kerry’s efforts to reach an agreement “will not succeed.”

In order to quell Jordanian concerns, Abbas recently sent Fatah official Abbas Zaki to hold talks with conservative Jordanian officials, including former ambassador to Israel Ma’arouf Bakhit and Senate speaker Abdul Ra’uf Rawabdeh.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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