Abdullah visits Israel to try to revive peace talks

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The Independent Online

King Abdullah of Jordan made his first visit to Israel yesterday, meeting Prime Minister Ehud Barak to review the stalled Middle East peace process, and the two countries' own bilateral relations, in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat.

The King seemed to have done little more than break the ice with his neighbour, but Mr Barak hailed their private meeting as "useful and important", saying it would lead to enhanced ties. Israeli officials said the talks focused on negotiations with the Palestinians, due to resume in Eilat next week, and touched on the Syrian track, recognised in Amman and Jerusalem to be stalled for the foreseeable future.

The main emphasis of yesterday's dialogue, however, was on Israeli-Jordanian economic relations, especially water management. Jordanian officials complain that joint ventures have still to show results five years after the two neighbouring states signed a peace treaty. Mr Barak could only counsel patience. "We are aware," he said, "that social and economic processes are by definition slow and require determination and perseverance."

The King crossed the narrow stretch of water between Aqaba and Eilat aboard the royal yacht and had a red-carpet welcome, but the visit was deliberately low-key. He was accompanied by Queen Rania, but she declined a tour of the area because she is pregnant.

Although Jordan's relations with Israel are much warmer than those of Egypt, the only other Arab state to have made peace with the former Zionist enemy, Abdullah is reluctant to provoke his Palestinian majority by moving too quickly. He has done little, for instance, to persuade Jordanian professional groups to stop boycotting their Israeli counterparts, and earlier this spring his uncle, Prince Hassan, cancelled a lecture at Haifa University because of a lack of progress in the Palestinian talks.

Israeli officials are guardedly optimistic about next week's resumed negotiations, but Palestinian expectations were soured yesterday when Israeli bulldozers destroyed six houses and 48 tents erected without permits in Issawiyeh, an East Jerusalem Arab village, leaving more than 80 people homeless. Palestine condemns such demolitions and Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank as "unilateral" actions undermining confidence between the two peoples.