King Abdullah “cautiously optimistic” on talks

Jordan's King Abdullah meets with US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office last May. (Getty)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he is “cautiously optimistic” that progress will be made in the newly revived peace talks he initiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Speaking in an interview with The Washington Post in advance of his meeting Tuesday with US President Barack Obama, Abdullah said the recent Egyptian elections have shown Israel that it cannot afford to delay peace talks.

The king’s comment apparently came in response to a recent remark by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, is stalling.

“I’m ready to get into my car at any time and go to Ramallah, even if it’s more than a small headache for my security guards, but Abu Mazen isn’t ready,” Netanyahu told a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Abdullah insisted that both sides are interested in moving things ahead, noting that the overwhelming victory of Islamist parties in Egypt’s elections constituted a warning against Israeli foot-dragging.

“The more the Israelis play with kicking this down the line, the more they are in danger of losing what they think is the ideal future Israel,” Abdullah told the Post, adding that “waiting is the worst mistake the Israelis can make.”

“It wasn’t until the elections in Egypt that suddenly Israel awoke. . . . Now I think there has been a big shift in the way the Israelis look at the issue, and it is imperative for them . . . [to] get the Israeli-Palestinian issue off the menu,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah said the talks he initiated in Amman between Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat have been “both good and tough,” and that there is a chance the sides would “start throwing initial passes at each other” to set up formal direct negotiations.

The king warned that missing this chance for peace might lead to the undesirable result of abandoning the two-state solution. “We’ll cross the line sooner or later where the two-state solution is no longer possible, at which point the only solution is the one-state solution. And then, are we talking about apartheid or democracy?” Abdullah asked.

“I do believe they want a way out, a way to get to negotiations,” Abdullah said. “We all know the positions in which they have entrenched themselves. However, the intent, I believe, is there—from both sides. It is little baby steps, right at the beginning,” he stated.

Netanyahu and Abbas pointed fingers at one another in the media on Monday, with Netanyahu accusing the PA of leaking information from the confidential Amman talks and Abbas castigating Israel for not presenting any new proposals.

“There was a commitment made by the parties in Jordan that they would be very discreet about the negotiations,” Netanyahu told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Instead, he said, Erekat has leaked information to the media. “He keeps talking, and talking, and talking,” Netanyahu said.

Abbas told a press conference in London that, “We hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to submit some proposal to us. We do not care what type of proposal. Maybe we’ll agree to it, maybe we’ll not agree to it, but the main thing is that he should submit some kind of proposal to us,” Abbas said. “Unfortunately until now–and this goes until yesterday–no such proposal has been submitted to the Palestinians,” he added.

In addition to questions over proposals, both sides disagree over the deadline set by the Quartet (the US, UN, EU, and Russia) for this round of talks. The PA is insisting that the talks must produce proposals on borders and security by January 26, as set by the Quartet in October.

Israel insists that the three-month deadline does not end on January 26, since the talks started only this month. According to Jerusalem, the three months will be up on April 3.

In Washington, State Department officials urged the Palestinian Authority to be more flexible about the deadline. “Although this January 26 date has been out there, we do not want to see it be a rigid sort of straitjacket which chills the atmosphere,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.