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Analysis: Cautious optimism in Middle East

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI Contributing Editor   |   May 18, 2009 at 5:17 PM   |   Comments

SHUNEH, Jordan, May 18 (UPI) -- Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday in Jordan that he sees "eye to eye" with King Abdullah II after a meeting with the Jordanian monarch.

"There is a real chance for a regional understanding -- what his Majesty calls the 57 countries making peace with us. I think it's high time," Peres said.

"I believe the problems are national; the solutions are regional and global. None of us can solve its problems individually; we have to work together.

"From my point of view, I never thought, never saw a more greater opportunity to move ahead than we have today," the Israeli president said.

Cautious optimism is how one may describe the mood in the Middle East as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday in what many here see as a crucial and potential turning point in the Middle East conflict.

In his opening remarks at the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea last Friday, King Abdullah said, "The Arab world has committed itself through the peace initiative to peace with Israel. So, now, must Israel."

Abdullah said he was encouraged by "the new American commitment" that has "opened an opportunity to change the direction of events." But he added, "There can be no more missed opportunities," and he warned that time was crucial and limited.

"The time to act is not indefinite," the king said, adding, "Every delay has brought more danger, not only to the Middle East, but to the entire world."

Several officials in Jordan told this reporter that they were "very optimistic" regarding the outcome of the talks in Washington, especially in light of the meeting Netanyahu had with the Jordanian monarch in Amman on Friday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public statements.

In separate conversations on the sidelines of the economic forum, two high-ranking Arab officials with intimate knowledge of the peace process acknowledged in private discussions -- and on condition their names not be mentioned -- that they were optimistic about the success of the talks between Obama and Netanyahu and expected progress. But one warned of dire consequences if there was no progress.

"The Arab world cannot wait indefinitely," one of the officials involved in the talks said.

In recent weeks, Abdullah has met with Obama in Washington, with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and numerous other Arab leaders, including Syrian President Bashar Assad. And last Friday, Netanyahu arrived in Amman for a quick meeting with the king just days before his much-anticipated meeting with the American president.

Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority who was at the Dead Sea participating in the World Economic Forum, told this reporter that failure to reach an agreement over the two-state solution will take the region "down the drain, resulting in violence, extremism and become bin Laden territory."

The Arab peace initiative first put forward at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002 "offered Israel a place in the neighborhood," the king said. The initiative offers Israel recognition by all 23 members of the Arab League (22 countries and the Palestinian Authority) in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 boundaries, although some rectification is expected in the final border demarcations.

--

(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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