x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Obama and Jordan's king in talks to focus on stalled peace moves

With Amman seeking to fill a regional mediation role vacated by Cairo, talks expected to focus on stalled international efforts to push forward a Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama, the US president, was due to meet Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House yesterday for talks expected to focus on stalled international efforts to push forward a Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Jordan hosted Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Amman this month and although the talks have yielded little progress so far, they mark the first time the sides have faced each other since 2010.

The talks also suggest Amman is seeking to fill a regional mediation role vacated by Cairo after the removal of Hosni Mubarak. Jordan is the only other Arab country that has a peace treaty with Israel.

In an interview in yesterday's Washington Post, King Abdullah said he believed Palestinians and Israelis remained committed to pushing ahead but faced major hurdles.

"I am cautious about saying that I'm cautiously optimistic," he said, adding the Amman talks amounted to "baby steps", but progress nonetheless.

"I do believe they want a way out, a way to get to [direct] negotiations. 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."

Three rounds of talks between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have so far been held in Amman and another meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday.

King Abdullah also alluded to the events of the Arab Spring in the Post interview and suggested Israeli leaders have realised they are running out of time. "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."

Jordan has also had its share of protests, and there are weekly, if small, demonstrations throughout the country against government corruption. King Abdullah has promised domestic reform, but the pace of change has so far been slow.

A US-based Jordanian opposition group, the Jordan National Movement, said it was organising a protest outside the White House against King Abdullah's "absolute monarchy system".

okarmi@thenational.ae