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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Peace talks in Jordan?

What has worked so well for one Abdullah, might work even better for the other one...

Last update - 16:05 14/04/2007   
By Haaretz Service and Agencies

Jordan's King Abdullah II has invited politicians and peace activists from Israel, the United States and the Palestinian territories for discussions in Amman as part of an effort to push forward the stalled Middle East peace process, officials said Saturday.
Among Israeli politicians due to visit Jordan next week is Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. She will visit Amman on Thursday for a few hours to discuss efforts to revive peace talks, Jordanian officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with palace protocol.
Itzik, who is also acting president, will be the most senior Israeli official to visit Jordan since Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a surprise visit to Amman at Abdullah's invitation last December.
The king plans to discuss "means of reviving the peace process on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative" that was readopted in an Arab summit conference Riyadh at the end of March, a senior royal court official said.
Abdullah urged Israelis earlier this week to respond to the Arab blueprint, which he said provided for a "rare opportunity" for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Arab peace plan envisages extending recognition to Israel by all Arab states after it pulls out from all the Arab territories it gained in the 1967 Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem.
Israel has generally welcomed the initiative, but has expressed reservations, specifically over the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel.
The Riyadh conference formed a pan-Arab panel to visit the world's influential capitals to muster support for the Arab plan.
King Abdullah visited Paris on Wednesday, where he met with French President Jacques Chirac and sought the support of France and other European Union capitals for the initiative.
U.S.: Israel, PA could begin talks on final status issues by summer
Israelis and Palestinians could begin final status talks this summer, a senior United States official said Friday, in a sign the U.S. believes some progress is possible despite a myriad of obstacles.
"We are not there yet. It could be possible to get to that point within the next few months, by summer," the official said. "I think it has to be an effort by Israelis and Palestinians but also by Arabs too."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to visit the Middle East roughly once a month, a senior State Department official said, stressing the Bush administration's desire to promote peace in its final two years.
In interviews this week, senior U.S. officials also emphasized their desire to see Arab states like Saudi Arabia begin to engage with Israel, possibly providing political cover for Palestinians to make compromises should any genuine peace negotiation begin.
Earlier Friday, the Prime Minister's Office said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is ready to begin discussing with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday the legal, economic and governmental structures of a future Palestinian state.
The comments were the first by Olmert's office spelling out what so-called "political horizon" talks with Abbas will entail.
The prime minister's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Olmert and Abbas will "start talking about what a Palestinian state would look like."
Eisin said this would include "the type of legal system, economic system [and] government system that it would have."
But two officials in Olmert's office said the three main final status issues - defining the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees - would not be on the agenda when the prime minister meets Abbas in Jerusalem.
Olmert will not discuss with Abbas "the three hardest, central issues" - borders, Jerusalem and refugees," Eisin said.
Sunday's talks will be the first between Olmert and Abbas since they agreed, during a visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month, to meet once every two weeks.
Olmert has said Abbas's unity government with Hamas Islamists, and the continued captivity of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, meant that no real progress towards Palestinian statehood could be made in their face-to-face meetings.
Washington has been pushing Israel to help create a "political horizon" to give Palestinians hope of achieving statehood.
Eisin said Sunday's talks would take place at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, rather than in the West Bank city of Jericho as proposed by the Palestinians. She said holding the next meeting in Jericho was a "possibility."
In addition to security and humanitarian matters, and the "political horizon" issues, Olmert and Abbas are expected on Sunday to discuss the fate of Shalit, who was seized last June by militants from Hamas and two other armed groups who tunnelled into Israel from Gaza.
Eisin sought to play down expectations. "The Shalit issue is not one that Abu Mazen [Abbas] can resolve," she said.
A deal on Shalit, after months of deadlock, could be key to any progress in talks between Olmert and Abbas.
Abbas is pushing for Olmert to hold talks based on an Arab land-for-peace initiative but Olmert has been reluctant to commit.
Last month Arab leaders revived their 5-year-old peace plan that offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full withdrawal from the lands it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.
Abbas and Olmert last met in Jerusalem on March 11.

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