AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan's king pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to immediately commit to the establishment of a Palestinian state, as he pursues a sweeping resolution of the Muslim world's conflicts with Israel.
Netanyahu made an unannounced, lightning visit to neighboring Jordan, as King Abdullah II and other regional leaders seek to lay the groundwork for restarting Israel-Arab peace efforts. Abdullah's lobbying has been in step with the Obama administration's efforts to link progress on Israel-Arab peacemaking to progress on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The U.S. says moderate Arab states will not join a united front against Tehran unless Israel moves vigorously on peacemaking.
Netanyahu, however, argues that the threat from Iran and its regional proxies — Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip — must be confronted first, before any progress can be made in peacemaking. And while he has been trying to forge cooperation with moderate Arab nations to pursue that agenda, he has pointedly refused to endorse Palestinian statehood.
Abdullah pressed Netanyahu in their meeting Thursday to "immediately declare his commitment to a two-state solution, acceptance of the Arab peace initiative and to take necessary steps to move forward toward a solution," according to a royal palace statement. It did not give Netanyahu's response, and a spokesman for the Israeli leader was not immediately available for comment.
The Arab peace initiative would offer Israel relations with the 23 Arab League members in exchange for its withdrawal from land it occupied in the 1967 war, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Abdullah said there "is consensus in the international community that there is no alternative to the two-state solution."
Netanyahu will likely hear a similar message when he meets President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.
Pope Benedict XVI, on his first visit to the Holy Land, has also delivered a powerful plea for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. He will meet the Israeli leader later Thursday in the biblical town of Nazareth.
Netanyahu's election this year has been ill-received in the Arab world because of his hard-line positions against yielding land captured in Middle East wars and his refusal to support Palestinian independence.
On a visit to Egypt on Monday, Netanyahu sought help in building a coalition of Arab nations against Iran and said he hoped to renew peace talks with the Palestinians in the coming weeks. But he made no endorsement of Palestinian statehood.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would not meet with Netanyahu until he agrees to pursue Palestinian independence and freeze construction in Jewish West Bank settlements, something Netanyahu has said he would not do. On Thursday, Abbas met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus to discuss Abdullah's new Mideast peace push.
Abdullah traveled to Damascus earlier this week to promote his ideas to Assad.
Netanyahu says Iran's nuclear program is Israel's greatest threat and has hinted Israel might be willing to attack if international diplomatic pressure fails to stop Iran from enriching uranium — a process needed to produce bombs, but which is also used to produce fuel for power plants.
Iran says its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, but Israel, the U.S. and many other countries think Tehran is trying to develop atomic weapons.
Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu has met with military commanders and is pleased with their preparations for a military strike.
Vice President Joe Biden recently said Israeli military action in Iran would be "ill-advised" and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has reasoned it would not set back the Iranian program more than three years.
An attack certainly would risk an Iranian reprisal against Israel — or American troops in the Middle East.
Israeli aircraft destroyed Iraq's unfinished nuclear reactor in 1981, but a strike against Iran's program would be more complicated because Iranian facilities are scatted across a vast country and some are buried underground.