Barak woos King Abdullah

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The Independent Online
EHUD BARAK, the Israeli Prime Minister, was scheduled to meet King Abdullah of Jordan last night, as part of his wooing of Arab leaders before he goes to Washington to meet President Bill Clinton.

Relations between Israel and Jordan have been cool, despite a peace treaty the two countries signed in 1994, because the Jordanians feel that they have gained no political or economic dividends from five years of peace.

In a sign that Mr Barak's diplomatic offensive towards the Arab world is showing results, Palestinian officials were reported by Israeli radio yesterday to have agreed to postpone a UN conference in Geneva on Israeli treatment of Palestinian civilians in the territories Israel occupied in 1967. Israel and the United States had opposed the meeting.

King Abdullah wants to make sure that Jordan, which held the West Bank until it was taken by Israel, is kept up to date on final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Jordan is critically affected by such issues as the future borders of a new Palestinian entity, the status of Jerusalem and the holy places, refugees and water.

Leaders of the 170,000 Jewish settlers on the West Bank are showing growing concern over their future, as Mr Barak moves to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. Mr Barak told settler leaders at a meeting: "I'm headed towards fateful decisions on Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights."

The settlers have promised to establish no new settlements or to expand existing ones without telling the government. Mr Barak has promised to hold a referendum on any final agreement with the Palestinians or the Syrians.

In another sign of better relations between Israel and Syria, President Hafez al-Assad is reported by the Israeli media to be considering favourably a request by relatives of the executed Israeli spy Eli Cohen, who was hanged in Damascus more than 30 years ago, to return his remains to Israel.

Arab leaders have all responded warmly to Mr Barak's overtures, but are waiting to see how far he will live up to expectations. The goodwill with which he has been greeted is largely relief at the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister.

For similar reasons Mr Barak is guaranteed a friendly reception in Washington where the political situation is tailor-made for him. Israel believes that President Clinton wants a foreign policy success in the Middle East before his retirement. Mr Clinton's wife, Hillary, who is contemplating running for the Senate in New York, has called for the relocation of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israeli officials believe she did this to balance, in the eyes of Jewish voters, her call last year for a Palestinian state. Another new arrival in New York could be Leah Rabin, the widow of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995, and who is being considered for the post of Israeli ambassador to the UN.

Mr Barak, on his return from his six-day visit to America, is scheduled to see Tony Blair in London.