Ethan Bronner
The New York Times (Analysis)
November 28, 2011 - 1:00am

King Abdullah II of Jordan played host on Monday to Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, in an effort to make progress on the stubborn Palestinian question at a time of regional diplomatic uncertainty and fragmentation.

Last week, the king made his first visit in a decade to the West Bank to see Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and is to travel next week to Washington.

As postrevolutionary Egypt pulls back from its longstanding role as the bridge between Israel and the Arab world, Jordan sees an opportunity and is using these public visits to make that clear.

A palace statement said that the king and Mr. Peres “addressed ways of surmounting the obstacles that impede the revival of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis on the basis of the two-state vision.”

An aide to Mr. Peres said the president thought that Jordan would not want to publicize the visit, so the Israelis kept it quiet in advance. They were surprised — and pleased — when the Jordanians made it public.

Jordanian analysts said the trip seemed to be part of the king’s efforts to increase his regional role as well as a message to the Palestinians that they could not avoid negotiations with Israel even as they sought unity between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which rules in Gaza.

It is also considered a warning to Khaled Meshal, the Hamas chief, that his coming trip to Jordan, his first official visit in years, should not be seen as a sign of a shift in Jordanian policy. Like the Persian Gulf monarchs, King Abdullah fears giving too much license to Islamist forces.

An Israeli official said that a recent statement by Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that dismissed efforts by fellow Israeli right-wingers to describe Jordan as the Palestinian homeland seemed to have motivated the king to invite Mr. Peres to Amman, Jordan’s capital, and publicize the visit. “At a time of rising Islamism across the region, the king is saying that his alliance with Israel still has significance,” the official said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Abbas said in Vienna on Monday that he remained hopeful that Palestinian elections aimed at a renewed unity between the West Bank and Gaza would occur by May 4, a year since the two sides signed a deal to try to end their dispute.

Statements by other Palestinian officials made clear, however, that the May 4 date was more theoretical than real because the two sides have to agree first on a government of technocrats to hold the elections, and those negotiations remain stuck.

“We have a long way to go,” Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said by telephone.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Mr. Abbas, told Palestinian journalists that Hamas seemed to be shying away from forming a government before elections. That strategy was a mistake, he said, because it was what Israel wanted — to divide the sides.

He added that he expected little progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace in the coming year because of upheavals in the Arab world and elections in the United States. At the same time, he said, Israel would continue building settlements in the West Bank and altering its landscape. For its part, Israel argues that it is mostly building in areas that it expects to keep in any deal with the Palestinians. For the past four weeks, Israel has withheld tax and duty payments to the Palestinian Authority worth tens of millions of dollars to register its objection to Palestinian efforts to join the United Nations as a state and to share power with Hamas.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that because the Palestinians seemed to be slowing down their United Nations membership efforts and because the unity talks with Hamas were more symbolic than substantive, he might release the money in the coming days.

In addition, several rockets were fired on Tuesday from Lebanon into northern Israel, Reuters reported. Two buildings in the western Galilee were damaged in the attack, the first since 2009, but there were no injuries reported, Israeli news media said.


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