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Jordan rejects call to improve ties with Israel

Jordan on Monday joined Saudi Arabia in publicly rejecting U.S. appeals to improve relations with Israel, throwing a damper on the Obama administration's push for Arab support for new peace talks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jordan on Monday joined Saudi Arabia in publicly rejecting U.S. appeals to improve relations with Israel to help restart Middle East peace talks, throwing a damper on the Obama administration's push for Arab support behind new negotiations.

After talks here with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said confidence-building measures that the U.S. wants Arab states to take will not produce a resolution to the conflict.

Judeh and Clinton both criticized Israel for its weekend eviction of Palestinian families from an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem. But as Clinton looked on at a joint news conference at the State Department, Judeh rebuffed calls for Arabs to take incremental steps in normalizing relations with Israel before Israel agrees to withdraw from occupied Arab territory.

"In the Middle East, there has been in the past an overinvestment, perhaps, by the parties in pursuing confidence-building measures, conflict-management techniques, including transitional arrangements, and an overemphasis on gestures, perhaps at the expense of reaching the actual end game," he said.

Avoid 'piecemeal approaches'
Judeh said that "piecemeal approaches that never lead to peace and that have proven repeatedly to be confidence-eroding, rather than confidence-building" must be avoided.

And, he criticized Israel for its refusal to halt construction of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and said the Israelis should respond to a 2002 Arab peace offer.

"Now, in 2009, many would say it is time for Israel to reciprocate," he said.

Judeh's comments marked the second time in three days that an Arab foreign minister bluntly refused U.S. calls to improve ties with Israel with measures such as opening trade offices, allowing academic exchanges and permitting civilian Israeli aircraft to overfly their airspace as a way of demonstrating their commitment to peace.

On Friday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal expressed similar sentiments, also at a news conference with Clinton. Unlike Jordan, though, which has signed a peace deal with Israel, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the Israel.

Clinton praises Jordan
Despite the statements, Clinton maintained that U.S. special Mideast Peace envoy George Mitchell was making progress and praised Jordan for its playing "a strong and vital role" in the region and expressed hope that negotiations could soon resume.

"We are working with the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states to take the steps needed to make that possible," she said. "The foreign minister and I discussed this effort, and I expressed our deep appreciation for Jordan's leadership in working with other Arab states to support peace with deeds, as well as words."

At the same time, she criticized Israel for the eviction of the Palestinian families in east Jerusalem to enforce a ruling by the country's Supreme Court that the houses belonged to Jews and that the Arab families had been living there illegally.

"I think these actions are deeply regrettable," Clinton said. "The eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations and I urge the government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said later that the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, had spoken to Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren on Sunday to "express our concern about this step."