- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Jordan’s foreign minister said Tuesday that he is counting on President Obama for a long-sought breakthrough in Middle East peacemaking and that he is expecting U.S. envoy George J. Mitchell to unveil a blueprint to restart peace talks soon.

“This time the world cannot afford to have another failed process,” Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told a group of reporters during a visit to Washington. “We need to see an end to the Arab-Israeli dispute.”

Mr. Judeh said he hoped that Mr. Mitchell’s plan, “which he holds very close to his chest,” would be laid out soon.

The plan is expected to call for confidence-building measures, such as academic exchanges between Israel and its Arab neighbors, permitting Israeli commercial aircraft to fly over Arab countries and opening trade offices.

On Monday, after a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Judeh said he was pessimistic that such steps would work.

He cited Israel’s continued expansion of Jewish enclaves in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including Israel’s eviction of several Palestinian families from their home in East Jerusalem to make room for Israeli settlers. The Obama administration criticized the eviction.

Despite the difficulties, Mr. Judeh said Jordan supports peace initiatives undertaken in the Middle East by Obama administration.

“We take serious heart in the fact that the president and the administration engaged in this from Day One. During his first hour in the Oval Office he made calls to leaders in the region. It is clear that the president attaches a lot of importance in achieving peace in the Middle East,” he said.

Mr. Judeh’s visit came at a shaky juncture in Middle East peace efforts.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday urged members of his Fatah movement - meeting for the first time in two decades - to give peace talks with Israel a chance, despite many setbacks and few achievements, the Associated Press reported.

“It is the right of people to say … these negotiations are in vain,” Mr. Abbas said. “But still, there is a glimpse of hope, and we have to continue this way, for the interest of the people.”

Hundreds of Fatah delegates from the Gaza Strip were prevented from attending by Fatah’s militant rival, Hamas, which rules the coastal strip.

Israel, meanwhile, has rejected U.S. calls for a halt to expansion of settlements. Israel says it needs to build additional housing units in existing settlements to accommodate Jewish population growth.

Mr. Judeh acknowledged the prevailing mood of pessimism.

“We have seen so many failed attempts and false starts and getting to the finish line without being able to cross it over many decades of hostilities and war and destruction and lost hopes and shattered aspirations,” he said.

“The Arabs, of course, will find it very difficult to resume negotiations if settlement actively in such intensity is continued.”

Mr. Judeh urged the United States to use its “leverage and credibility” to push for a breakthrough.



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