Jordan monarch, U.S. president discuss peace process, developments in Libya

Fatah, Hamas agree on mechanism to form unity government

Netanyahu steps up conditions, insists on Jewishness of Israel

Israelis protest against killing innocent Palestinians as Israel’s envoy to UN admits isolation

Italy to upgrade Palestinian representation to diplomatic mission level

Palestinians inclined to request joining GCC after state is established

At the White House on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah discussed the popular uprisings in the Middle East and efforts to move Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts forward.

The talks began a week of intense Middle East-related activity for the president, which will include a major address Thursday on the U.S. approach to the upheaval and political changes in the region, followed by his meeting on Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president said he and King Abdullah shared views on the "extraordinary changes" in the region, including the situation in Libya and what Obama called "rapid transformation" in places like Egypt and Tunisia.

"We both agreed that it is critical that not only does political reform proceed, but economic reform accompanies those changes there because so much of what is taking place has to do with the aspirations of young people throughout the Arab world, for their ability to determine their own fate, to get an education, to get a job to be able to support a family," said Obama. "And that means that some of the old structures that were inhibiting their ability to progress have to be reworked."

The president said their talks included "reform efforts" taking place in Jordan. He also said the United States welcomes initiatives that will be good for the security and stability of Jordan, and the economic prosperity of the Jordanian people.

Thanking the president for U.S. economic support for Jordan and its reform process, King Abdullah said Jordan will continue to be a strong partner with the United States on all issues in the Middle East. He reiterated his view about the importance of settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I am delighted to be back here, and again to take this opportunity to thank you and your government for the tremendous support that you are showing Jordan economically, and the support of the United States and a lot of our friends internationally, on really being able to push reform in an aggressive manner in our country and again your continued interest and support on the core issue of the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian peace," said Abdullah.

Mideast peace efforts have been complicated by the issue of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, and a unity accord between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Obama reiterated a view that he and administration officials have stressed in recent months, that an Israeli-Palestinian settlement has become even more important against the background of developments in the region.

"Despite the many changes, or perhaps because of the many changes that are taking place in the region, it is more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace and security."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the president's speech on Thursday will be an opportunity for him to assess the historic changes in the Middle East, and to explain to the world how his administration will support these changes and the democratic aspirations of the people in the region.

Carney avoided going into specifics on what Obama will say about the Israel-Palestinian peace process, saying he would leave that for the president on Thursday. He did say, though, that the moment of opportunity the president likely will discuss in his address applies to everyone in the Middle East, including Israelis and Palestinians.

"This is a moment of opportunity, and not just for other countries in the region, but for Israeli and the Palestinians as well," said Carney. "There is historic change taking place in the region."

Against the backdrop of that historic change, Carney said that President Obama believes it is incumbent upon political leaders in the region to take steps that encourage positive change.

Meanwhile, Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas reached a mechanism Tuesday on establishing a new government after two days of talks in Cairo, the official news agency MENA reported.

"The two factions agreed to implement everything they have agreed upon," MENA quoted an official statement as saying.

Fatah and Hamas held intensive meetings under the sponsorship of Egypt to work out necessary mechanism in order to implement the Palestinian reconciliation deal signed on May 4.

"The meetings were positive and reflected mutual cooperation and understanding to end the division as soon as possible," the statement added.

Fatah, Hamas and other major Palestinians factions signed the reconciliation agreement after talks in Cairo on all controversial issues, including the elections arrangement, the formation of an interim government and restructuring of security forces.

On the other hand, Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the reason there is no peace in the Middle East is because the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Addressing the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, a day after violent clashes on Israel’s borders as Palestinians marked Nakba day, the anniversary of Israel’s founding, Netanyahu said “thousands tried to invade our territory and undermine our sovereignty.”

Alluding to the word nakba, he said, “the real catastrophe of the Palestinian people is that they haven’t had a leadership that is willing to make a true historic compromise between the Palestinian and Jewish people.” He said a Palestinian government containing elements committed to Israel’s destruction cannot be a partner for peace.

Later this week Netanyahu travels to Washington where he will meet US President Barack Obama and address Congress.

However, there was little in his speech to indicate that he will be coming with new ideas to break the impasse.

He said Israel must stop blaming itself for the failure of Middle East peace efforts and look at the reality with open eyes. “We need to call a spade a spade: there is no peace because the Palestinians refuse to recognize the state of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni accused the prime minister of traveling to the United States without a vision or a plan of action.

Earlier, Israel transferred €74 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) after a wave of international criticism over the decision this month to suspend the transfer of tax revenues collected by Israel for the Palestinians.

The US, the EU and the UN had condemned the Israeli move, which came in response to the reconciliation pact signed between Fatah and Hamas, saying the money belonged to the Palestinians.

The PA was unable to pay civil service salaries this month due to the Israeli move. PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said that Israel’s U-turn was proof of “the success of the Palestinian campaign on an international level, which pressured Israel to transfer these funds.”

Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz warned that Israel would again suspend the cash transfers if Hamas joined the Palestinian government. “For the last two weeks, we gave the PA a yellow card, but we decided to renew the revenue transfers after we got confirmation from the Palestinians that no money will be transferred to Hamas or to terrorist operations.”

Fatah and Hamas representatives met in Cairo in an effort to finalize the reconciliation agreement, such as the makeup of the interim government, which will rule until elections are held next year, and who will be the prime minister.

The two sides also addressed the mutual release of prisoners and unifying Palestinian institutions in the West Bank, which is controlled by Fatah headed by PA president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas-run Gaza.

Israelis celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state, hosting parties and watching jet flyovers as Arab Israelis held a protest march in the Galilee region.

In Jerusalem, a night of fireworks and revelry kicked off the celebrations the night before and, on Tuesday morning, citizens flooded into the city's parks and green spaces to hold parties and barbeques.

Jet fighters flew in formation overhead in Jerusalem, and Israeli naval boats sailed in unison along the coastline in celebration of the anniversary.

Several world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent congratulations on the occasion.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who hosted a celebration at his home, hailed the anniversary as a proof of Israel's resilience.

"We proved that from stubborn earth we can create a flowering garden," he said during a ceremony before soldiers and politicians.

Peres said the anniversary came at a time when the Middle East is being reshaped by political uprisings, and called on Israeli youth to "take this wonderful land ... and do not hesitate to redesign the future in a grand way."

"Design the Israel of peace; a democratic Israel in a democratic Middle East. An Israel where all citizens are treated equally, without regard for religion or nationality," he urged.

The anniversary of Israel's declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 is marked here according to the Jewish calendar, this year falling on May 10.

Palestinians and many Arab Israelis mark the day by commemorating what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe, of Israel's creation.

The day is usually marked by Palestinians on May 14, but thousands of Arab Israelis also gathered in the Galilee on Tuesday afternoon to hold protest marches timed to coincide with Israeli celebrations.

Protesters, some in cars and others walking, moved between the one-time sites of the villages of Al-Damun and Al-Ruwais, which were among nearly 400 Palestinian villages destroyed in the war that erupted after Israel's founding.

More than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.7 million with their descendants -- fled into exile or driven out of their homes in the conflict that followed the creation of the Jewish state.

Mohamed Kayyal, 55, was attending the march with his 10-year-old nephew, who wore a Palestinian flag tied around his head.

"We come here to say once and again that we insist on our right to return to our villages and towns, from which we were expelled, and to insist on our rights to restitution for our property and to be able to rebuild," he told AFP.

Reema Ibdah, marching nearby, said she wanted her relatives, who lived in Al-Damun before Israel's founding, to be able to return and rebuild on what was once their land, and is now state-owned scrub and agricultural land.

"It is our right to go back to our village," she said.

"I want my grandmother and grandfather to come back to their houses. They come here all the time to see the land where they lived. Why shouldn't they come back?"

Meanwhile, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday that Rome would upgrade Palestine's representation to a full diplomatic mission.

During a visit to Bethlehem, Napolitano said the head of the mission would have the status of an ambassador.

At a joint press conference, President Mahmoud Abbas thanked his Italian counterpart for upgrading Palestinian diplomatic status and for Rome's commitment to a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

France, Portugal, Norway, Greece, Spain and Ireland have all elevated Palestine's diplomatic representation in their capitals.

Following his meeting with Napolitano, Abbas said that 63 years after Palestinians were forced from their homes in what is now Israel, there was still an opportunity for a historic solution.

But Palestinians could not return to negotiations while Israel continued to build illegal Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Abbas said.

The president said that Israel deepened the occupation by building settlements on land which would be a Palestinian state in a peace agreement.

The Palestinian leadership accepted the 2002 Road Map, which called on Israel to stop building settlements, and tried to move on after the Annapolis conference in 2007, reaching understandings with the previous Israeli government, Abbas said.

However, the current Israeli administration was "putting everything on hold," he said.

Abbas said the Israeli government was launching a media campaign to discredit the recent reconciliation of Palestinian factions in Cairo. He noted that Israeli leaders had previously said that peace was impossible because of Palestinians' division.

Israel must realize that "our people will not fade away," even after decades of occupation, the president said.

Moreover, Dr. Khairi al-Oraidi, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said that the Palestinian government seeks support from the GCC countries to resolve their long-standing conflicts with Israel and is willing to merge with the GCC bloc when liberated.

Addressing the media on the occasion of the Nakba or catastrophe day at the embassy premises on Thursday, Oraidi, said: “I believe in the important role which the GCC countries have been playing in the region socially and politically.”

So, if Palestine or any other country becomes part of the GCC countries, it will be a great support for them especially for the people of Palestine, the ambassador said.

Palestinians mark Nakba Day to remember the 63rd anniversary of ‘Nakba’ or ‘catastrophe’, a term Palestinian refugees use to describe their expulsion from their homes and towns when Israel was created on occupied Palestinian territories in 1948.

The Nakba made some 700,000 Palestinians displaced and dispossessed, forcing them to flee to different neighboring countries, after some 500 villages and towns were wiped off the map by Israeli forces.

“Israel has shattered all peace process negotiations and occupied our territories and killed innocents for so many years, so we appeal to the United Nations to accept our country as a free nation and get rid of Israelis who are deteriorating the peace and prosperity of our nations,” Oraidi said.

“No negotiation is going on with GCC countries in this regard, but we hope that if Palestine merges with the GCC countries bloc, it would help resolve its cause. This is just an opinion in reference to Jordan and Moroccan which became a part of the GCC countries,” he said.

About the Fatah and Hamas’ recent reconciliation deal signing, which calls for joint government to be formed ahead of elections next year, the ambassador said, many things are churning out from the Israeli side. “But we are not afraid of it and we are confident that this agreement will further uplift the welfare of the Palestinian people.”

He added that it’s too early to comment on the subject of elections to be held next year. The ambassador praised the government of the UAE and its visionary leaders for continuously supporting the cause of the Palestinian people and its liberation.