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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 May 2018

Arab League to seek international recognition of Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital

Jordan's foreign minister made the announcement following a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman to discuss the status of Jerusalem

Jordan's King Abdullah (right) meets with Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita in Amman on January 6, 2018. Mr Bourita is part of the group of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in the Jordanian capital to discuss the Arab response to Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Yousef Allan / Jordanian Royal Palace Handout / EPA
Jordan's King Abdullah (right) meets with Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita in Amman on January 6, 2018. Mr Bourita is part of the group of Arab League foreign ministers meeting in the Jordanian capital to discuss the Arab response to Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Yousef Allan / Jordanian Royal Palace Handout / EPA

The Arab League will seek international recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the Jordanian foreign minister said on Saturday, after Arab foreign ministers met in Amman to discuss Washington's recognition of the holy city as Israel's capital.

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, attended the meeting along with foreign ministers from Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco.

"There is a political decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and we will strive to reach an international political decision to recognise a Palestinian state … with [East] Jerusalem as its capital," Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said, according to Agence France-Presse.

It came as Palestinians protesting church land sales to Israelis scuffled with Palestinian police in Bethlehem as they tried to block the arrival of the Holy Land's Greek Orthodox patriarch for Christmas celebrations, AFP reported.

Demonstrators scuffled with club-wielding Palestinian security forces and banged on the sides of police escort vehicles but patriarch Theophilos III passed safely in his black limousine to the Church of the Nativity for the traditional Christmas Eve mass.

The Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala municipalities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank had called for a boycott over the Greek Orthodox church allegedly allowing controversial sales of its property in East Jerusalem to groups aiding Jewish settlement there.

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But Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's office told AFP he would attend midnight mass celebrated by Theophilos at the Church of the Nativity on Saturday and would present him with a model of Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre church as a Christmas gift.

It was not immediately known if there was a significant drop in attendance for the Christmas Eve mass compared to previous days as a result of the call for a boycott, or the driving rain in Bethlehem.

In Amman, meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers also discussed finding an alternative mediator to the United States in the peace process following the Trump administration's recognition last month of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, said the Arab League's secretary general, Ahmed Abou Al Gheith, who also attended the meeting.

The ministerial group was formed last month during an emergency summit of the Arab League in Cairo with a mission of producing a unified Arab response to the Trump administration's announcement last month.

Addressing the group after its meeting on Saturday, Jordan's King Abdullah said the issue of Jerusalem should only be settled within the framework of a final settlement and a permanent peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis, based on a two-state solution and in accordance with international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Jordanian foreign minister Mr Safadi added: “There is no peace and security in the region without ending the conflict based on a two-state solution."

King Abdullah also stressed, according to the state-run Petra news agency, that his country would exert its utmost efforts to uphold its religious and historic responsibility to protect the holy places and was fully committed in supporting the Palestinians' bid for an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Jordan is the custodian of Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam — a role guaranteed in the unpopular peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1994.

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The foreign ministers' meeting took place just four days after Israel’s parliament approved a bill increasing the number of MPs needed to approve Israel giving up sovereignty of any part of Jerusalem — ultimately making it more difficult to divide the holy city and further dashing hopes for a two-state solution. It also came after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyhau's Likud party on Sunday unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for the annexation of West Bank settlements.

Zaid Nawaiseh, an independent political analyst based in Amman, criticised Arab countries for the slowness of their response to Israeli moves against land that Palestinians want for a future state.

“Israel is taking swift decisions while the Arab response is very slow,” he said. “We cannot be optimistic.”

Jordan, a key US ally, has been taking a leading role against Mr Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Amman is concerned that potential unrest in the Palestinian territories could spill over into Jordan, which has a sizeable Palestinian population that originally flooded into the country in the aftermath of the 1948 and 1967 wars.

In turn, it fears such unrest would exacerbate the extremist threat that persists in the region even after ISIL's territorial losses.

Last month, the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, for a resolution that declared the US's declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel null and void.