Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid down demands for security arrangements between a future Palestinian state and Jordan, in a rare visit Thursday to Amman.
Netanyahu was in Jordan for unannounced talks with King Abdullah II on the US-brokered Middle East peace process.
The visit follows US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 10th trip to the region, as Washington tries to push Israel and the Palestinians towards an elusive peace deal after decades of conflict and months of deadlocked negotiations.
Palestinian leaders meanwhile accused Israel of imposing its own agenda on the talks that Kerry kick-started in July, saying its intense focus on the security issue, and on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, was sidelining more crucial sticking points.
The rare Netanyahu-Abdullah meet in Amman — the Israeli premier’s first since February 2013 — was an opportunity for Netanyahu to directly discuss with Abdullah the future security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan.
“Israel is putting an emphasis on security arrangements, which is also in Jordan’s interest in any future agreement,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement after the meeting.
Netanyahu stressed “the important role that Jordan is playing, led by King Abdullah, in the efforts to bring about an agreement,” it added.
Jordan’s royal palace said the two leaders “discussed peace process developments in light of the current US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.”
It said the peace talks must “meet Palestinian aspirations” while at the same time “protect Jordanian interests”.
Kerry has focused his latest efforts specifically on security, with his team proposing a detailed plan for the Jordan Valley.
And State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki Thursday welcomed the meeting between Netanyahu and the Jordanian king as “a productive development”.
The security plan would reportedly include the use of advanced technology, allowing Israel to reduce or replace its troop presence on the ground.
But Israel insists on maintaining a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley as a buffer against attacks on the Jewish state, while the Palestinians want an international security force deployed there for their own security.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon has dismissed the US security plan, saying it “isn’t worth the paper it was written on” — drawing a sharp rebuke from Washington.
Palestinians meanwhile accused Israel of imposing its own agenda onto Washington’s peace push, pressing the issues of security, and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, in order to sideline crucial Palestinian demands.
“Israel has succeeded in really persuading Mr Kerry to change the agenda of the discussions,” Nabil Shaath, a top Fatah party leader, told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Today, you will see Mr Kerry going back and forth, discussing nothing but two issues. The two issues have never been in our agenda: the Jewishness of the state and (security in) the Jordan (Valley),” he said.
Palestinian leaders refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, fearing this could preclude the right of return for Palestinian refugees who left or were driven into exile when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Shaath said Kerry was being forced to hammer out the two issues as other crucial points — such as the borders of a future Palestinian state — were being overlooked.
“They (Israelis) force the agenda on (Kerry); they will not talk about anything else,” he said.
“It is a narrative problem that is taking most of the time of Mr Kerry.”
“You think any Palestinian leader in his right mind can ever accept this?” Shaath said of recognising Israel as a Jewish state.
A peace treaty would deal with all the divisive core issues, including the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security and mutual recognition.