Jordan lambasts Israelis in war of words

In a marked escalation of the verbal conflict between Israel and the Arab world, Jordan's Prime Minister yesterday accused his Israeli counterpart of duplicity which had confused and frustrated the peace process.

"Does Bibi Netanyahu have a strategy or not?" asked Abdel-Karim Kabariti. "You hear one thing from him and then see something else on the ground." The criticism sounded a plaintive note; earlier this year Jordan briefly aspired to be the Israeli Prime Minister's interlocutor with the Arab world. But In an interview with Ma'ariv yesterday, he said Mr Netanyahu had not followed through on promises made to Jordan to continue the peace process. "We wanted very much to trust Bibi Netanyahu. We gave ... him the benefit of the doubt."

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, on Jordanian insistence and in return for a promise to continue the peace process, had closed Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, but the Israeli Prime Minister had not kept his side of the bargain.

Israel's relations with Egypt and Syria are also deteriorating. In response to Egypt's complaints about Israeli plans to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank, Mr Netanyahu said he wrote to Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, saying: "I made clear that our policy, our right to settle and build upon existing settlements, accords with peace." Israel has written to the United States complaining of Egypt's hostile behaviour.

In Cairo yesterday, Syria asked the Arab League states, which are meeting to discuss Israel's settlement policy, to freeze normalisation with Israel. "Israel's actions are compelling the Arabs to boycott her, halt multilateral activity which involves Arabs and close the diplomatic offices Israel has opened in a few Arab nations," said Issa Darwish, the Syrian ambassador to Cairo.

The Palestinians are cheered by Mr Netanyahu's deteriorating relations with the Arabs and the rest of the world. Ahmed Abd A-Rahman, the Palestinian Authority's cabinet secretary, said: "The present negotiations [with Israel], even if they will not yield results, are an opportunity for us to expose the Israeli position. As you see, the negotiations are accompanied by international isolation of the Netanyahu government. Every day that passes, Israel loses another friend or supporter."

So long as Mr Netanyahu has Washington's support, his position is not desperate. But now it is he, and not Mr Arafat, as happened earlier in the year, who is asking in vain for a meeting. This week both attend the conference in Lisbon of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation Europe but no meeting has been arranged.

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