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Jordan’s King Takes Bold Steps for Peace

June 4, 2003

AQABA, Jordan (AP) _ Jordan’s King Abdullah II took a bold step when he strode into the fierce sunlight to declare his support for a U.S.-backed vision of ``prosperity, coexistence and reconciliation″ between Arabs and Israelis.

The pledge Wednesday was reminiscent of his late father, King Hussein. But Abdullah’s role in shaping a new path toward Mideast peace has brought him out of his father’s shadow and helped put his own imprint on the process.

President Bush, who held talks in this Red Sea resort with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, said Abdullah is ``a leader on behalf of peace and is carrying forward the tradition of his father King Hussein.″

Hussein, who died of cancer in 1999, was an ardent supporter of a peaceful Mideast settlement. He signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, sorely testing the sentiments of a country where Palestinian families who fled or were driven out in two wars with Israel make up about half the population.

Hussein strongly believed in coexistence between Arabs and Israelis. Abdullah, who ascended to the throne four years ago, also has worked for peace despite strong opposition from many Jordanians.

Abdullah was the only Arab leader to visit Israel twice _ in 1999 and 2000 _ to push for peacemaking.

``Blowing up buses will not induce the Israelis to move forward and neither will the killing of Palestinians or the demolition of their homes and their future. All this needs to stop,″ Abdullah said Wednesday.

Abdullah has quietly moved to curtail weapons smuggling into the Palestinian territories and tightened border controls to prevent infiltration by Palestinian militants. More importantly, he closed the offices of the militant Hamas movement, blamed for scores of deadly attacks on Israel.

While his father’s actions were often public, Abdullah’s efforts were deliberately low-key when violence swept the Palestinian territories in September 2000.

New to the throne, he wanted to avoid angering Jordanians already frustrated by faltering peace negotiations and suspicious of Israel’s intentions.

Still, Jordan has been heavily involved in the latest push for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In recent months, Jordan has been at the forefront in helping draft the U.S.-backed road map toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a three-stage plan that envisions an end to violence and creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

``The mere fact that the summit was held in Jordan is a sign of appreciation to the Jordanian role in crystalizing the road map,″ Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said.

Abdullah’s desire for peace, however, is not shared by some of his subjects.

``I’m not optimistic, there will never be peace with the Israelis and the Palestinians will not regain their rights because Israel doesn’t want peace, and Sharon only plays with time,″ said Ziad Kabariti, a 42-year-old advertising manager.

Others, such as aviation engineer Ahmad Khammash, said the summit was nothing but a public relations event for Bush.

``President Bush’s visit to the region was a photo opportunity to show his people he’s a man of peace so that he’d be re-elected next year,″ Khammash said.

Abdullah, aware of such sentiments, told CNN after the summit that ``there’s a lot of suspicion in the Middle East as to the intentions of people such as the president of the United States.″

But the king is still taking the politically risky step of backing Bush. Abdullah said Bush’s visit would help both the peace process and his credibility among Arabs.

``To commit himself fully to supporting the Israeli-Palestinian process, and finding a true peace, I hope shows a lot of people in this area that he does have a balanced approach,″ Abdullah said.

``I hope as time goes on that many of the skeptics out there will begin to realize that this president actually means what he says.″

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