AMMAN — King Abdullah II on Tuesday blamed Israel for the deadlocked Middle East peace process in a meeting with U.S. Jewish leaders, the official Petra News Agency said.
But the king’s guests offered a more optimistic version of events, saying Abdullah had also been complimentary of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position in recent peace talks.
Jordan last month hosted negotiating teams from the two sides for talks that have subsequently been broken off. Palestinians and Israelis have blamed the other for the stalemate.
The news agency said Abdullah was specifically concerned about Israel’s “unilateral policies” that he said are changing the identity of the traditionally Arab sector in East Jerusalem and tampering with Muslim holy shrines there.
According to the Petra report, Abdullah’s remarks came in a meeting Tuesday with representatives of the New York-based Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations — a central coordinating body for American Jewry, representing 52 national Jewish agencies.
Delegation leader Malcolm Hoenlein, speaking after the meeting, acknowledged the king’s concerns about unilateral Israeli action, particularly in East Jerusalem.
But he also said Abdullah had in fact been complimentary of Netanyahu’s peace efforts and had even asked him to convey a message of thanks for Israel’s proposals in the latest round of peace talks.
“He praised Netanyahu and asked that we specifically at the end to please give a message to ‘my friend’ that I appreciate his taking risks by putting forth the package that he did ... a package that he knew was difficult to do, but he created a climate to enable the process to move forward and for negotiations to take place,” Hoenlein said.
The talks, hosted by Jordan, began last month, but were soon cut off with the Palestinians complaining that Israel’s offers were insufficient. The Palestinians are supposed to decide shortly whether to resume the talks.
Although Israel’s position was not made public, officials have suggested it included handing over to the Palestinians most of the territory, but keeping large chunks that contain most of the Israeli settlements in the area.
Critically, the offer reportedly did not include East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their capital. Officials say Israel wants to maximize the number of Israelis who end up under Israeli control in a final-status peace deal, while maximizing the number of Palestinians who live in a future Palestinian state.
Petra reported that Abdullah also warned that failure to realize a peace deal would exacerbate tensions in a region engulfed by uprisings that have thus far unseated four Arab leaders, a report not contradicted by Hoenlein.
“He said he doesn’t think that it’s over,” said Hoenlein, who is the executive vice chairman of the Jewish umbrella group. “He also explained why it would be critical given all the developments in the region and that Israelis and Arabs are moving closer together a common agenda on the threat from Iran.”