Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz met with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Riyadh yesterday. The two leaders discussed regional and international issues as well as bilateral relations, as well as efforts exerted to make the Annapolis peace meeting a success.
The Jordanian monarch briefed King Abdullah on the outcome of his efforts in the past few days along with Arab leaders to crystallize a united Arab stand ahead of the upcoming US-sponsored coming peace meeting.
The meeting offers a real opportunity to pave the way the for the Palestinians and Israelis to launch serious talks and reach tangible results leading to the establishing of the independent Palestinian state on the national soil.
The two leaders stressed the necessity to capitalize on the Annapolis meeting to address the final status issues, mainly Jerusalem, borders and refugees and find lasting solutions to these problems implemented within a defined time frame and through clear mechanisms.
They also called on Israel to take real steps and procedures on the grounds that reflect its seriousness and desire to reach the peace that ends years of conflict and ensures its living peacefully side by side with its Arab neighbors.
In other news, Syria said on Sunday it would join a U.S.-led conference to launch talks on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, boosting President George W. Bush’s long-shot hopes for a peace deal before he steps down.
“The broad attendance at this conference by regional states and other key international participants demonstrates the international resolve to seize this important opportunity to advance freedom and peace in the Middle East,” said Bush in a statement after Syria had said it would come.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Bush at the White House on Monday and then attend Tuesday’s conference in nearby Annapolis, Maryland, that is expected to kick off formal negotiations to end the six-decade conflict.
The meeting represents Bush’s most serious effort to solve the dispute seven years after his predecessor Bill Clinton failed to broker a settlement.
“I remain personally committed to implementing my vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” said Bush, whose term ends in January 2009.
All sides have played down the chances of a breakthrough at the conference or soon after. Illustrating the challenges, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice invited top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to dinner on Sunday to try to get a deal on a joint document meant to be presented at Annapolis.
In a sign it may not be possible to craft one, Palestinian, Israeli and U.S. officials played down the significance of such a document and said the most important thing was that Annapolis should be the starting point for substantive peace talks.
“I don’t think there is a chance to have one,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, told Reuters. Other Palestinian officials said Bush’s invitation to them offered enough of an outline to begin peace negotiations.
More than 40 countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, are expected to attend the one-day conference in Annapolis.
U.S. officials stressed the meeting would not be a negotiating session on the core issues of borders, security, the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees but rather a chance to launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Ending weeks of uncertainty, the official Syrian news agency said Damascus “has accepted the American invitation and will send an official delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad.”
While the decision to send only a deputy minister might seem a snub, it was a victory for the Bush administration that Syria, a long-time foe of Israel, chose to attend at all.
Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin called the Syrian decision a positive move, saying the Israeli-Palestinian track would stay the main focus of the meeting although Syria’s participation “could open additional avenues to peace in the Middle East.”
Syria, Israel’s neighbor to the north, had insisted the meeting also deal with the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel and Syria last held peace negotiations in 2000, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, but could not reach a deal on the Golan, which overlooks the Sea of Galilee, the Jewish state’s main reservoir.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking to reporters on Olmert’s flight to Washington, said the issue could be raised in a forum at the conference in which “comprehensive peace in the Middle East” would be discussed.
A State Department spokeswoman said Rice met Livni on Sunday afternoon and then hosted a dinner just for Livni and Ahmed Qurei, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team.
Any effort to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians faces myriad challenges.
Abbas in June lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas Islamists, who are not invited to Annapolis and have criticized the meeting. Hamas’s armed wing vowed to keep fighting Israel and said any concessions would be tantamount to “treason.”
Olmert is unpopular with voters, not least due to corruption accusations. Bush has less than 14 months in power.
Faced with the legacy of an unpopular war in Iraq, the conference gives Bush a chance for diplomatic success in the Middle East — an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal all sides say they hope to achieve before he leaves office.
White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters he expected the meeting to yield an agreement between the two parties to begin peace talks and to carry out the 2003 U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan under U.S. monitoring.
Israel has made any final deal conditional on Abbas carrying out a road map commitment to rein in militants. Palestinians demand Israel fulfill its promise under the plan to halt “settlement activity” in the occupied West Bank.