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January 17, 2012 6:50 pm

Will “Baby Steps” Lead to Big Agreements?

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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King Abdullah of Jordan. Photo: Jordanian Embassy.

Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho and chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat met Saturday night at the headquarters of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department in Amman for the third round of Jordanian-sponsored talks.  Sufficient progress was achieved so that the talks will continue on January 25th.

In Washington, King Abdullah II of Jordan told the Washington Post that the three meetings between negotiators for Israel and the Palestinian Authority had achieved “‘baby steps” of progress.”  The Jordanian monarch characterized the talks as “both good and tough…a chance for the two sides to “start throwing initial passes at each other.”

Abdullah II met with President Obama Tuesday, bringing the President news that “both sides are looking for a way to break the impasse,” but “have major hurdles to overcome.”  The King told the Washington Post “I am cautious about saying that I’m cautiously optimistic…An opportunity presented itself where Israelis and Palestinians were confident with the Jordanian umbrella to start throwing their initial passes at each other.  We needed to get the two sides to talk. Both [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas — I do believe they want a way out, a way to get to 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,” said Abdullah II. “If you understand the region, you realize how important that is.”

Even when a state of war existed between the two countries, there was some communications – albeit hidden – between Israel and Jordan.  Israel’s victory in the 1956 Suez War and the cessation of Fedeyeen attacks eased some of the tension between Israel and Jordan.  The Hashemite Kingdom’s decision to side with Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War, and Israel’s victory resulted in the capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank – a blow to Jordan’s economy.

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During the 1970 Black September war, King Hussein battled both the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and a Syrian invasion. Actions taken by the Israeli Air Force are thought to have caused the Syrian forces to return to Syria. Prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, there were meetings between King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.  Jordan did not participate in this conflict.

King Hussein of Jordan and Yitzhak Rabin, clasped hands on the White House Lawn following the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, October 26, 1994.

Abdullah’s assessment regarding the possibility of agreement between Israel and the PA appears more optimistic since his Spring, 2011 statements. Then he said an “increasingly conservative political culture” in Israel seemed less likely to compromise with the Palestinians. Regional developments may have persuaded both sides that delaying peace could be more harmful than compromise.

Still, basic understandings must be established. According to Palestinian leaders, The Quartet (US, EU, Russia, and the UN) expects “significant progress” and a proposal on borders and “key issues” by January 26.  Israeli officials say the deadline is April 3. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he stands ready to begin talks immediately, claiming it is the recalcitrance of Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) that is preventing direct talks.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to the need for an agreement, calling Israeli settlements “illegal.”  Speaking from Lebanon, Ban said “the Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories” and “violence against civilians” must end. “Settlements, new and old, are illegal. They work against the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.” “A two-state solution is long overdue. The status quo offers only the guarantee of future conflict.”

Ban said he is “deeply concerned about the military capacity of Hezbollah and…the lack of progress in disarmament.” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah shot back, “We want you [the UN], the US and Israel to be concerned.”

In yet another area of concern, progress in reconciliation efforts between the Fatah Party, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which ousted Fatah from power in the Gaza Strip in a 2007 blood soaked military coup appears to have stalled.

“Waiting,” King Abdullah told the Washington Post, “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.”  “Once you’ve defined the issue of borders, then you’ve solved the issue of settlements, and you can go straight into security talks.”

Israeli officials reportedly said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present a plan on borders and security at a summit meeting in March with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “We can’t expect for the Americans to wade in, full-weight, unless we have enough of a package where the outcome is somewhat predictable,” said the Jordanian monarch.

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