In a surprise visit to Amman on Tuesday, Israel's prime minister tried to mobilize Jordan's king in his effort to persuade the Palestinians to resume direct peace talks, though the chief Palestinian negotiator again rejected the idea. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's quick trip to neighboring Jordan came after a Palestinian document, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, noted that President Barack Obama's envoy is also pressing the Palestinians to restart direct peace negotiations with Israel.
Netanyahu's office said he had two hours of talks with King Abdullah II, emphasizing "the need to ensure direct, serious and effective negotiations" toward "two states for two peoples." Palestinians insist that before upgrading indirect talks mediated by the envoy, George Mitchell, Israel must halt all settlement construction and accept the concept of a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, with some territorial adjustments.
Netanyahu insists that talks must resume without preconditions. He has grudgingly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state but refuses to commit to borders before the peace talks start. A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah and Netanyahu discussed ways for starting "serious and effective" direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. It did not elaborate. The palace statement said Abdullah asked Netanyahu to "make use of the opportunity available now to achieve peace, which constitutes a strategic interest for all sides involved."
In a speech after returning home, Netanyahu praised Abdullah's involvement. "We talked about promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and in the whole region," Netanyahu said. "I welcome Jordan's efforts for progress toward these goals." "The formula for peace is a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state," he said, after demanding security arrangements without giving details.
Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab nations that have full peace treaties with Israel. Relations between Jordan and Israel have cooled as the Israel-Palestinian peace process drags on with no visible results.
More than half of Jordan's nearly 6 million people are of Palestinian descent. Jordan fears that deadlocked negotiations could lead to another influx of Palestinian refugees from the West Bank, disturbing the country's delicate demographic balance. Abbas is also in Jordan, where he met Abdullah on Monday. Jordanian officials said the Palestinian leader did not meet with Netanyahu.
Abbas' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, challenged Netanyahu, saying the "key to direct negotiations lies in the Israeli prime minister's hands."
He said Netanyahu must accept the obligations of previous Israeli governments concerning the borders of a future Palestinian state and stopping settlement construction _ which should be considered terms of references for direct talks to start.
"These are not Palestinian conditions, they are Israeli obligations which must be met," he said.
Israel's previous, more moderate government offered the Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem, but Erekat said then that the Palestinians turned down the offer because they would not compromise over Jerusalem, where both sides claim a key holy site. Netanyahu has said he would not put his predecessor's peace plan back on the table.
Also Tuesday, the top security official in Hamas-ruled Gaza said he is considering setting up a bigger military force, first with volunteers and eventually with conscripts as well. Such a step could further tighten Hamas' control of Gaza and deepen the rift Abbas, the group's Western-backed rival in the West Bank. Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007, wresting control from forces loyal to Abbas.
Currently, Hamas has a paid security force of about 18,000. Interior Minister Fathi Hamad raised the idea of a broad-based force during the inauguration of a new police building. He said his ministry is "open to the idea of voluntary recruitment and then going to conscription." He gave no details.
In Israel's southern Negev desert Tuesday, Israeli authorities demolished a Bedouin village built on land residents identify as their property but which Israel's government says is owned by the state.
Of the some 160,000 Bedouin Arabs living in Israel's south, about half live in such unrecognized villages, usually in hastily erected metal shacks and tents.
Yeela Raanan, an activist with an organization working for the Bedouin villagers, said more than 1,000 police arrived at dawn with bulldozers and knocked down the 35 homes that had made up the village of al-Arakib.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the demolitions were carried out after a court process lasting over a decade. There was no violence and no one was hurt, he said.