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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's king discuss embattled UNRWA

Meeting in Amman came as US peace effort is said to be targeting UN agency for Palestinians

Jordan's King Abdullah (C) and his son, Crown Prince Hussein (R), met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (L) at the Royal Palace in Amman, on August 8, 2018. Reuters 
Jordan's King Abdullah (C) and his son, Crown Prince Hussein (R), met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (L) at the Royal Palace in Amman, on August 8, 2018. Reuters 

Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Amman on Wednesday and discussed the future of UNRWA ahead of an expected push on a controversial US-led peace plan.

The meeting at Husseiniya Palace came days after a media report and statements from US officials indicating that President Donald Trump's administration aims to "disrupt" and potentially dismantle UNRWA in a bid to take the refugees issue “off the table” for peace negotiations.

The same report claimed that Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and point man for Middle East peace, had urged Jordan in June to strip refugee status from Palestinians in the country.

The fate of UNRWA is a critical issue for Jordan, where nearly half of the country's 6.5 million citizens are of Palestinian descent; 2.2 million of whom are registered with the UN as refugees. UNRWA runs 10 official camps that are home to more than 390,000 Palestinian refugees and runs 171 schools for 120,000 students in Jordan.

During Wednesday's meeting, attended by Jordan crown prince Hussein bin Abdullah, the two leaders discussed the important role of UNRWA and the need for the international community to support the agency. Doing so would advance its educational, health and relief services to millions of refugees, according to a statement by the Hashemite Royal Court.

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In an apparent reference to the controversial relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the Trump administration’s recognition of the contested city as Israel’s capital, King Abdullah reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be finalised as part of final status issues, referring to the holy city as the “key to achieving peace in the region.”

The monarch reiterated the Hashemite custodianship of Islamic and Christian sites in the holy city, a role he vowed it will continue to play, according to the press statement.

Yet the king tempered his statements by reiterating the importance of working with both the US administration and the international community to "find political prospects that serves Palestinian interests and the rights of the Palestinian people".

President Abbas has repeatedly taken a combative tone with the Trump administration, and has reiterated the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of the yet-to-be-revealed Trump administration peace plan, saying Washington can no longer be seen as an honest broker in negotiations.

He expressed appreciation for Jordan’s "steadfast support for the Palestinian cause" and praised the king for "defending the rights of the Palestinian people", according to the Royal Court statement.

Following Wednesday’s summit, President Abbas again reiterated Palestinians’ rejection of the so-called ultimate deal, telling local media "we reject the 'ultimate deal' that the United States will propose".

Mr Abbas is to travel to Qatar later on Wednesday, where is expected to meet with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim al Thani, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

In addition to the controversial peace deal, the discussions in Qatar are expected to include the oft-tabled reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, a proposal that according to Palestinian sources in Amman has had a renewed push in recent days in a bid to arrive at a united stance between the two factions over the supposed US peace plan which Abbas and the Palestinian Authority fear will surrender the right of return and a Palestinian state.