Jordan King: Israel Must Agree To Palestinian State

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AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan's king pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to immediately commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state, as he pursues a sweeping resolution of the Muslim world's conflicts with Israel.

Netanyahu made an unannounced, lightning visit to neighboring Jordan, as King Abdullah II and other regional leaders seek to lay the groundwork for restarting Israel-Arab peace efforts. Abdullah's lobbying has been in step with the Obama administration's efforts to link progress on Israel-Arab peacemaking to progress on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. says moderate Arab states will not join a united front against Tehran unless Israel moves vigorously on peacemaking.

Netanyahu, however, argues that the threat from Iran and its regional proxies _ Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip _ must be confronted first, before any progress can be made in peacemaking. And while he has been trying to forge cooperation with moderate Arab nations to pursue that agenda, he has pointedly refused to endorse Palestinian statehood.

Abdullah pressed Netanyahu in their meeting Thursday to "immediately declare his commitment to a two-state solution, acceptance of the Arab peace initiative and to take necessary steps to move forward toward a solution," according to a royal palace statement.

Netanyahu said afterward that he and Abdullah had "a very good conversation," but did not specifically comment on Palestinian statehood or the Arab peace initiative.

He told Israeli television that they talked about ways to form "a circle of peace in the Middle East" that would include the Palestinians and Arab states.

The Arab peace initiative would offer Israel relations with the 23 Arab League members in exchange for its withdrawal from land it occupied in the 1967 war, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Several Arab diplomats have said the Americans have asked Arab nations to amend the initiative to make it more palatable to Israel by dropping demands for a right of return for Palestinian refugees and agree to either resettle them in the host countries or in the Palestinian territories. But Arab countries have rejected the idea.

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told reporters in Damascus on Thursday that the right of return is "fixed and cannot be changed."

Abdullah said there "is consensus in the international community that there is no alternative to the two-state solution."

Netanyahu will likely hear a similar message when he meets President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

Netanyahu's election this year has been ill-received in the Arab world because of his hard-line positions against yielding land captured in Middle East wars and his refusal to support Palestinian independence.

Netanyahu says Iran's nuclear program is Israel's greatest threat and has hinted Israel might be willing to attack if international diplomatic pressure fails to stop Iran from enriching uranium _ a process that can produce bombs, but also fuel for power plants.

Iran says its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, but Israel, the U.S. and many other countries think Tehran is trying to develop atomic weapons.

But Vice President Joe Biden recently said Israeli military action in Iran would be "ill-advised."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would not meet with Netanyahu until he agrees to pursue Palestinian independence and freeze construction in Jewish West Bank settlements, something Netanyahu has said he would not do.

Abbas met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Thursday to discuss Abdullah's new Mideast peace push. The Palestinian president said the meeting was "positive" but did not provide further comment.

During the meeting, Assad urged rival Palestinian factions to reconcile, stressing that unity was "indispensable" for regaining Palestinian rights, Syria's official news agency reported.

The two main factions have been divided since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas' Fatah group in June 2007. The two groups have failed to reconcile their differences in a series of talks mediated by Egypt.

Syria hosts Hamas' exiled leadership, and Abdullah traveled to Damascus earlier this week to promote his ideas to Assad.

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Associated Press Writers Amy Teibel in Jerusalem and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

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