Jordanian King: Mideast Peace to Be Set Back Decades Minus U.S. Help

Jordan's King Abdullah II warned Friday that unless a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement is reached during the Bush administration's final months, the chances for a lasting Middle East peace could be "set back, perhaps for decades."

We are in the best possible position to resolve 60 years of conflict between Israel and Palestine," Abdullah told an audience at Princeton University. "It will be two or three years before a new American president will be willing to look at the Middle East."

Bush leaves office in January.

Abdullah's message was similar to one he delivered to a joint session of Congress last year and is what he will likely tell Bush when he meets with him at the White House on Tuesday.

Abdullah said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more important to the future of the Middle East than any other issue, including the war in Iraq. By agreeing soon to allow a Palestinian state, he said, Israel could quickly gain diplomatic and trade relationships with 57 countries that now refuse to deal with it.

Key for the Palestinians in any peace deal is Israel's return to pre-1967 borders, the right of return of refugees and their descendants, and the status of Jerusalem — all issues that have derailed peace efforts before.

Abdullah's comments came as Israel's deputy defense minister threatened a major offensive if rocket attacks on Israel continue from the Gaza Strip. Israeli armaments targeted Palestinian rocket operations in Gaza, leaving 15 wounded, including four children, according to Gaza officials.

Abdullah, 46, took the throne in Jordan in 1999 after his father, King Hussein died. Like his father, he is seen as a moderate in the Middle East.

On Thursday, Abdullah met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the situation in the region.