King Hussein makes first West Bank visit since 1967

JERICHO, West Bank (AP) — Jordan’s King Hussein made his first visit to the West Bank on Tuesday since losing the territory to Israel in the 1967 Middle East War, and pledged support for Yasser Arafat. “My brother Arafat and I are a team,” the Jordanian monarch said.
With the historic visit — the first by an Arab leader to the autonomous enclave — Hussein also signaled his public acceptance of Palestinian rule in the West Bank and put more pressure on Israel to accelerate the pace of the peace process.
“I am happy to be on Palestinian land,” the monarch declared, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Arafat at a news conference in the West Bank town of Jericho. Both leaders wore checkered Arab headdresses.
In a veiled warning to Israel, Hussein said he and Arafat would cooperate closely to ensure that the Jewish state’s new hard-line government keeps promises made in peace agreements with the Palestinians.
“I will do all I can to help complete the peace process,” the Jordanian king said. “God willing, we will see realization of the goal … the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”
Hussein and Arafat have had a troubled relationship. By letting the Palestinian leader play host Tuesday, Hussein was also tacitly acknowledging his own role as a visitor to the West Bank, over which he once ruled.
Israelis have been shocked in recent days at the harsh criticism of their government by Hussein, who has become one of Israel’s closest friends since the two countries made peace in 1994.
The unexpected royal trip comes at a critical stage in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on an Israeli troop pullback from the West Bank town of Hebron. U.S. mediator Dennis Ross has been pressing the two sides to wrap up an agreement quickly, reportedly before the U.S. presidential elections on Nov. 5.
Under the agreement between Israel’s previous government and the Palestinians, Israeli troops were to have pulled out of 80 percent of Hebron, remaining only near Jewish settler enclaves.
A key sticking point Tuesday was Israel’s demand that its troops be permitted to pursue suspects into Palestinian-controlled areas. Israel also wants to retain control over building and planning in areas where Jewish settlers live.
Israeli officials have said agreement was near.
But Arafat said Tuesday that the Hebron talks were deadlocked. He proposed that U.S. troops help patrol the city in order to allay Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concern for the safety of the 450 Jewish settlers who live there amid 94,000 Arabs.
Netanyahu’s office dismissed the idea, and U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said on Israel’s Army Radio that it “is not under active consideration.”
Arafat had traveled to the Jordanian capital of Amman on Monday to meet with Hussein. The monarch decided to fly Arafat back to the West Bank on Tuesday himself — a surprise gesture widely welcomed by Palestinians as a show of support.
Hundreds of Palestinians greeted Hussein as he landed his helicopter and inspected a Palestinian honor guard, walking down a red carpet to the sounds of the Jordanian national anthem and chants of support from the crowd.
In 1988, a year after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising, the monarch renounced claims to the West Bank, saying it was up to the Palestinians to determine their own fate.
By coming to the West Bank now, “the king shows Jordan’s full support for the Palestinians on our own ground,” said Assad Abdel Ruhaman, a member of the PLO executive committee.
Jordan seized the West Bank during the 1948 Middle East war after the British left Palestine, which included all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel captured the territory in 1967.
Relations between Hussein and Arafat have been turbulent over the years. In September 1970, Hussein put down a civil war that pitted Arafat’s guerrillas against Bedouin fighters loyal to the king. The fighting ended with the PLO’s ouster from Jordan, where Palestinians still comprise more than half the population.
The king has maintained strong ties to the West Bank, paying the salaries of Palestinian teachers, judges, lawyers and Muslim clerics.