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Jordan king says extremism 'grown fat' on conflict

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DALE GAVLAK | May 25, 2013 07:23 AM EST | AP

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SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan — Jordan's King Abdullah II said Saturday extremism has "grown fat" off of the longstanding conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Good faith talks must get going," Abdullah told the opening of a two-day meeting of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.

He pointed to an Arab peace initiative that offers Arab recognition to Israel in exchange for land to Palestinians based on the 1967 borders.

Abdullah, who maintains cordial ties with Israel under a peace treaty signed in 1994, demanded a halt to Jewish settlement construction in territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

For long, the Palestinians have demanded an end to settlement construction before returning to peace talks, which collapsed nearly five years ago.

The United States has supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request for negotiations to restart without preconditions, an endorsement renewed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after talks with Israeli and Palestinians leaders this week.

In Israel Friday, Kerry said it was important "not to let settlements stand in the way of talks that could finally set borders as part of a peace agreement." Then, he said, the issue would be resolved because each side would have clear boundaries for their two states.

Also speaking at the World Economic Forum, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to Israel in a separate speech to "make peace a reality."

"There remains a window of opportunity for peace," he said. "I invite the Israelis to make peace a reality on the ground."

He told the gathering that among his top priorities is ending Palestinian divisions, Jewish settlement activity, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and freeing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Separately, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters that Palestinians are "fully supportive" of Kerry's effort to resume negotiations.

"None benefits more of the success of Secretary Kerry's efforts than Palestinians and nobody loses more than Palestinians, if he fails," Erekat said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

He questioned Israeli willingness to make peace. "The key ingredient here: Do we have an Israeli government that accepts two states?" he asked.

"Every time the Israeli government is given a chance between settlements or peace, it has chosen settlements," he said. "That's the problem and that's the hurdle and that's what will derail the efforts – the continuation of settlement activities and the rejection of the Israeli government of a two state solution."

He said Palestinians wanted "deeds, not words" from the Israeli prime minister.

The World Economic Forum is gathering 900 business and government leaders from 23 countries. They are discussing diverse issues like Islam and governance and youth empowerment and job creation in the Mideast and North Africa.

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Associated Press writer Jamal Halaby also in Southern Shuneh, Jordan, contributed reporting.