SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan (AP) – Jordan’s ruler sounded the alarm Friday, telling a gathering of some 1,000 world politicians and businessmen that the absence of peace and prolonged Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories have exacerbated Palestinian suffering.
“There can be no more delay,” King Abdullah II warned in a speech, opening the three-day meetings of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum on the shores of the Dead Sea.
The king said that three of every five Palestinians looking for work can’t find a job, and that hundreds of thousands are living in misery. “This suffocating situation has brought poverty, malnutrition, frustration and radicalization,” Abdullah added.
Abdullah is making a new attempt to revive Mideast peace efforts as he hosts the forum, a gathering overshadowed by deadly Palestinian internal fighting, Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip and the ongoing bloodshed in neighboring Iraq.
The king had hoped to host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the forum, but Abbas could not attend, caught up in trying to defuse the battles between gunmen from the rival Islamic militant Hamas and his more moderate Fatah faction in Gaza. Abdullah had wanted to prod Abbas to take concrete steps back to the negotiating table with Israel, in the same way he pushed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during talks in Jordan on Tuesday. Olmert promised to seriously consider an Arab peace plan for ending the conflict. But he also called on Arab leaders to hold direct talks with Israel on the proposal, a nonstarter for most Arab countries, which have not signed
peace deals with Israel.
At the Dead Sea gathering Friday, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said both the Palestinians and Israelis were to blame for the violence that has plunged Gaza into chaos.
“It doesn’t mean that the Palestinians aren’t responsible because they shouldn’t have resorted to … bloodshed,” he said. “Compounded with the Israeli occupation and the violence against them and without hope that a state is coming, what do you expect?”
Meanwhile, Abbas aide and chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat said Abdullah “put his finger on the dot” in remarks on the Palestinian suffering. “The situation is dire. It wasn’t created overnight. It’s desperate,” he told The AP as he emerged from a conference room here. “What is happening in Gaza’s streets is the darkest chapter in Palestinian history. It’s partly due to the absence of the rule of law, the one authority, the one gun,” Erekat said.
In past weeks, Jordan and other U.S. Arab allies have been trying to press the case that quick progress toward reviving the peace process is vital to avert increasing militancy and instability in the Mideast.
They have presented the Arab initiative as an opportunity for a breakthrough. But so far, the proposal has not gotten off the ground, with Israel speaking positively of it but rejecting key provisions, including the call to solve the Palestinian refugee issue. Along with the internal fighting in Gaza, Olmert also faces harsh criticism at home for his leadership during Israel’s war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer.
But Abdullah remained hopeful, telling the conference that the Arab plan presented a “historic opportunity to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement.” He warned that peace must be “achieved now, this year, before any more generations suffer, before any more destruction takes place.”
The king also outlined other regional challenges, including scarce water resources in the mostly arid Mideast.
“If we do not commit the necessary investment to resolve this problem, we will not be fighting for peace, we will be fighting for our lives,” he said.
Discussion of ways to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will dominate the agenda of the forum even though high-level politicians from both sides were not attending.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was scheduled to come, but she canceled her trip to Jordan because of an unspecified domestic commitment, said Israel’s Ambassador to Jordan Jacob Rosen. Israel’s minister of trade was still set to attend.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also is set to participate in the conference. On Thursday, Mottaki said Iran and the U.S. would hold talks in Baghdad on Iraq’s spiraling security situation on May 28. Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Afghan President Hamid Karzai also were scheduled to attend. The conference is the third World Economic Forum in the Middle East hosted by Jordan. Last year, the event took place in Egypt, where it will return next year.