Jordan king in West Bank to support Palestinians
Jordan's King Abdullah II paid a rare visit to the West Bank on Thursday in a show of support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' successful bid for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Jordanians spoke out sharply against Israel's latest plans to build thousands of new settler homes in response to the Palestinian move, including initial plans to revive a contentious project east of Jerusalem.
The project, known as E1, would separate the West Bank from east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital, and drive a big wedge between the northern and southern flanks of the West Bank.
"The settlement policy is not only rejected from our side as Arabs and Palestinians, but also by the whole world," Abdullah's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, said.
Neither the king nor Abbas commented publicly after the meeting.
But Abdullah's arrival gave a high-profile boost of support to the U.N. bid, which has come under fierce Israeli criticism. Jordan is one of just two Arab countries with a peace agreement with Israel, so the king's public support was significant.
The U.N. resolution recognized a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip - territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel rejects a return to its 1967 lines and says a future border must be reached through negotiations.
The new settlement plans have drawn widespread international condemnation, with the U.S. and key Israeli allies in Europe all urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off the plans.
Netanyahu, during a visit to Germany on Thursday, vowed to press forward with E1, insisting the territory would remain under Israeli control as part of any future peace agreement.
Abbas and the king are political allies, and last met Sunday in Jordan, during one of the Palestinian leader's frequent stops in the neighboring kingdom. But Thursday's visit was just the third time the king has visited the West Bank, and the first time in more than a year.
The king received a red carpet welcome with military honors at Abbas' government compound in the West Bank after landing in a helicopter Thursday morning. Jordan has the largest Palestinian refugee community outside the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel accuses the Palestinians of trying to circumvent the negotiating process by seeking U.N. recognition. Although the vote did not change the situation on the ground, the international community endorsed the Palestinian position on future borders with Israel. Israel refuses to return to its pre-1967 lines.
In addition to the E1 project, Israel has responded to the Palestinians' U.N. move by cutting off a regularly scheduled $100 million tax transfer to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, and announced plans for several thousand new homes in existing settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel's monthly tax transfers to the Palestinians - the result of taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians - are a key element in the Palestinian government budget. The government has already struggled to the pay the salaries of its tens of thousands of workers.
In a statement, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called on the international community to press Israel to release the funds and urged wealthy Arab countries to send $240 million a month to keep the government afloat while Israel withholds the money. Israel has taken similar measures in the past, ultimately releasing the money under international pressure after several weeks.