Jordan king slams “substitute homeland” remarks

U.S. in last-ditch effort to block Palestinians’ UN bid, Abbas adamant

Israeli reports advise Netanyahu to seek getting Israel out of isolation

Demonstrators have demanded the closing of the U.S. Embassy in Jordan over Wikileaks cables suggesting covert U.S. plans to turn Jordan into a home for Palestinians.

It was a rare anti-American demonstration in Jordan, a close ally of the U.S.

The 70 activists burned American and Israeli flags in a noisy protest opposite the embassy in Amman on Wednesday.

They chanted, "The people want the Americans out."

Roughly half of the country's 6 million population is of Palestinian origin. With Palestinian-Israeli peace talks stalled, some Jordanians fear Israel may try to deport Palestinians to Jordan.

This week Jordan's King Abdullah II spoke out strongly against using Jordan as a substitute for a Palestinian state, a concept favored by a tiny extremist minority among Israelis.

King Abdullah, one of Israel's few remaining close allies in the Muslim world, said in remarks obtained Monday that the uprisings sweeping Arab nations have put the Jewish state in a difficult position. He also hotly rejected the notion that his country should take in Palestinians as a substitute for the creation of a state for them.

Abdullah told a closed meeting of Jordanian intellectuals and academics that Jordan and the Palestinians were now in a stronger position than Israel, whose current government fears growing isolation as a result of the Middle East's transformative changes in the Arab Spring.

"Jordan and the future of Palestine are stronger than Israel. It is the Israelis who are worried today," Abdullah told the audience late Sunday. A transcript of his comments was obtained from the Royal Palace on Monday.

Besides Jordan, Egypt is the only other Arab nation to have signed a peace deal with Israel. But its ties with Egypt have been severely strained since the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak and the anti-Israeli sentiment that has burst into the open in the Arab world's most populous nation — most visibly in the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo over the weekend.

Many in Israel fear that this year's Arab uprisings — along with a diplomatic crisis with former partner Turkey and stalled peace talks with the Palestinians — have left their nation increasingly isolated. Adding to that sense, the Palestinians are taking their quest for statehood to the United Nations later this month.

King Abdullah said that during a recent visit to the United States, an Israeli intellectual told him that the Arab Spring serves Israeli interests. "I answered: 'On the contrary, you are today in a more difficult position than before,'" he recalled saying. He did not elaborate.

Abdullah also used unusually harsh language for him in condemning suggestions by some Israeli fringe elements that Jordan should take in Palestinians from the West Bank to substitute for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

"Jordan will never be a substitute land for anyone," he said. "It makes no sense. ... We have an army and we are ready to fight for our homeland and the future of Jordan. We should speak loudly and not allow such an idea to remain in the minds of some of us."

"Jordan is Jordan, and Palestine is Palestine," he added.

The idea of Jordan replacing Palestine has been around for decades. It never had mainstream support in Israel, and now its backers are a tiny, extreme minority. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once a champion of Israel's retaining control of the West Bank, grudgingly supports creation of a Palestinian state there.

A significant portion of Jordan's population has never been enthusiastic about the country's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

Anger with Israel is running high in Jordan for a number of reasons. In particular, Netanyahu's hard-line government is deeply distrusted in Jordan, and many Jordanians blame it for the failure of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks to get off the ground two years ago.

Nearly half of Jordan's 6 million people are Palestinians displaced in two wars with Israel since 1948, along with their descendants.

The rest of Jordan's population comes from Bedouin tribes that make up the backbone of support for King Abdullah and the royal family. They fear that a "Jordanian solution" would mean the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan, throwing off the demographic balance.

Abdullah, whose own leadership has faced some protests this year — albeit on a lesser scale than elsewhere in the Arab world — reiterated that he was pressing ahead with political reforms in the kingdom.

He said Jordan will hold municipal elections this year and announced that parliamentary elections will be held in 2012.

Jordan's opposition parties alleged that elections for parliament in 2010 were flawed.

Meanwhile, a high-level U.S. team kicked off a new round of shuttle diplomacy on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to contain the diplomatic fallout from the Palestinian statehood push, but the odds of a breakthrough appeared slim as the Palestinians pledged to go ahead with mass rallies to draw world attention to their bid.

U.S. diplomats Dennis Ross and David Hale arrived late Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders. They were to travel to the West Bank on Thursday to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Washington is trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their plan to ask the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian state, but so far without success.

The Palestinians are turning to the U.N. after peace talks with Israel broke down, hoping a U.N. bid would boost their statehood drive. Both Israel and the U.S. oppose the campaign, saying there is no substitute for negotiations.

An Israeli official said there was "a very intensive effort" under way in hopes of finding a formula that would allow negotiations to resume. "We hope we succeed. It's not a foregone conclusion," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter.

There was no immediate Palestinian comment. Officials have said they remain determined to go to the U.N. unless Israel accepts their demand for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction and commits to a Palestinian state based on the cease-fire lines that mark the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — areas captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

With the odds of a breakthrough appearing slim, the Palestinians plan to submit a resolution to the United Nations during the annual General Assembly, which begins in New York on Tuesday.

Although the vote would not change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe U.N. recognition of a state along the 1967 lines would give them leverage in future negotiations.

Netanyahu wants to keep parts of the West Bank under any final peace deal and says that Israel will never relinquish control of east Jerusalem, home to sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled nearly three years ago, reviving only briefly last September before foundering again over Israeli settlement construction.

Palestinian activists announced Wednesday that they are planning two major demonstrations next week in connection with the U.N. bid: The first will be on Wednesday, and the second will come two days later on Sept. 23, when Abbas is scheduled to address the General Assembly.

The Palestinians say they are determined to keep the rallies peaceful.

"We want to tell world leaders that the Palestinian people seek freedom and independence and need your support," said Amin Maqboul, a senior official with Abbas' Fatah Party.

He said the rallies will take place inside West Bank towns and cities, and avoid Israeli military checkpoints and any other flashpoints like entrances to Israeli settlements. Police will ring the demonstrations to prevent any clashes with the Israelis, Maqboul said.

Israeli security officials are concerned that isolated incidents could touch off more widespread unrest. Soldiers and police have been training for months in preparation for possible violence.

Israeli leaders have also hinted of retaliation, including financial sanctions or the possible annexation of parts or all of the West Bank.

In addition to the U.S. efforts, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and special international Mideast envoy Tony Blair have been meeting with the sides this week. U.S. officials said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been in touch with both Ashton and Blair in recent days.

While Israel has tried to play down the significance of the vote, a setback in the U.N. will add to a growing sense of isolation.

Turkey, a former ally, recalled its ambassador earlier this month after Israel refused to apologize for its May 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed nine Turks.

Israel's ties with Egypt have been tested since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Tensions boiled over last weekend when a mob attacked Israel's embassy in Cairo, forcing the evacuation of dozens of diplomats and their families.

A U.N. report released Wednesday praised state-building achievements by Abbas' government but warned they were at risk because of the stagnant political process.

Abbas' Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank, but lost control of Gaza to Hamas militants in 2007. A reunification pact signed in May between the Palestinian factions has not been carried out.

With its Cairo embassy ransacked, its ambassador to Turkey expelled and the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition at the United Nations, Israel found itself on Saturday increasingly isolated and grappling with a radically transformed Middle East where it believes its options are limited and poor.

The diplomatic crisis, in which winds unleashed by the Arab Spring are now casting a chill over the region, was crystallized by the scene of Israeli military jets sweeping into Cairo at dawn Saturday to evacuate diplomats after the Israeli Embassy had been besieged by thousands of protesters.

It was an image that reminded some Israelis of Iran in 1979, when Israel evacuated its embassy in Tehran after the revolution there replaced an ally with an implacable foe.

''Seven months after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak's regime, Egyptian protesters tore to shreds the Israeli flag, a symbol of peace between Egypt and its eastern neighbor, after 31 years," Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote Saturday. "It seems the flag will not return to the flagstaff anytime soon."

Egypt and Israel both issued statements Saturday reaffirming their commitments to their peace treaty, but in a televised address Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel warned that Egypt "cannot ignore the heavy damage done to the fabric of peace."

Facing crises in relations with Egypt and Turkey, its two most important regional allies, Israel turned to the United States.

Throughout the night Friday, desperate Israeli officials called their U.S. counterparts seeking help to pressure the Egyptians to protect the embassy.

President Barack Obama "expressed great concern" in a telephone call with Netanyahu, the White House said in a statement, and he called on Egypt to "honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy."

Washington — for whom Israel, Turkey and Egypt are critical allies — has watched tensions along the eastern Mediterranean with growing unease and increasing alarm. And though the diplomatic breaches were not entirely unexpected, they have prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity in Washington.

The mayhem in Cairo also exacted consequences for Egypt, raising questions about whether its military-led transitional government would be able to maintain law and order and meet its international obligations. The failure to prevent an invasion of a foreign embassy raised security concerns at other embassies as well.

The Egyptian government responded to those questions Saturday night, pledging to begin a new crackdown on disruptive protests and reactivating the emergency law allowing indefinite detentions without trial, one of the most reviled measures enacted under Mubarak, the former president.

Since the start of the Arab uprisings, internal critics and foreign friends, including the U.S., have urged Israel to take bold conciliatory steps toward the Palestinians, and after confrontations in which Israeli forces killed Egyptian and Turkish citizens to reach accommodations with both countries.

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador a week ago over Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly raid last year on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza in which nine Turks were killed.

The storming of the embassy in Cairo on Saturday was precipitated by the killing of three Egyptian soldiers along the border by Israeli military forces pursuing terrorist suspects.

Israel has expressed regret for the deaths in both cases but not apologized for actions that it considers defensive.

The overriding assessment of the government of Netanyahu is that such steps will only make matters worse because what is shaking the region is not about Israel, even if Israel is increasingly its target, and Israel can do almost nothing to affect it.

''Egypt is not going toward democracy but toward Islamicization," said Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo who reflected the government's view. "It is the same in Turkey and in Gaza. It is just like what happened in Iran in 1979."

A senior official said Israel had few options other than to pursue what he called a "porcupine policy" to defend itself against aggression. Another official, asked about Turkey, said, "There is little that we can do."

Critics of the government take a very different view.

Benn, the Haaretz editor, acknowledged that Netanyahu could not be faulted for the events in Egypt, the rise of an Islamic-inspired party in Turkey or Iran's nuclear program. But echoing criticism by the Obama administration, he said that Netanyahu "has not done a thing to mitigate the fallout from the aforementioned developments."

Daniel Ben-Simon, a member of Parliament from the Labor party, said the Netanyahu government was on a path "not just to diplomatic isolation but to actually putting Israelis in danger," he said. "It all comes down to his obsession against a Palestinian state, his total paralysis toward the Palestinian issue. We are facing an international tide at the United Nations. If he joined the vote for a Palestinian state instead of fighting it, that would be the best thing he could do for us in the Arab world."

The Palestinians have given up on talks with Israel and within the next two weeks they plan to ask the United Nations to grant them membership and statehood recognition within the 1967 lines including East Jerusalem as a capital.

Potential side effects of the diplomatic disputes have already emerged.

The growing hostility from Egypt could require a radical rethinking of Israel's defense doctrine that, for the last three decades, counted on peace on its southern border.

As chaos in the Sinai peninsula has increased and anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt has grown, military strategists here are examining how to beef up protection of the south, including the building of an anti-infiltration wall.

A threat by Turkey last week to challenge Israel's plans for gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean could threaten Israel's agreement with Cyprus on gas drilling and could worsen tensions with Lebanon on drilling rights.

Initial Israeli fears about the Arab Spring uprisings have begun to materialize in concrete ways. When the uprisings began in Tunisia and Egypt at the start of the year, little attention was directed toward Israel because so much focus was on throwing off dictatorial rule and creating a new political order.

Traditionally, many Arab leaders have used Israel as a convenient scapegoat, turning their publics' wrath against it and blaming it for their problems. The faint hope here was that a freer Middle East might move away from such anti-Israel hostility because the overthrow of dictators would open up debate.

But as the months of the Arab Spring have turned autumnal, Israel has increasingly become a target of public outrage. Some here say Israel is again being made a scapegoat, this time for unfulfilled revolutionary promises.

But there is another interpretation, and it is the predominant one abroad — Muslims, Arabs and indeed many around the globe believe Israel is unjustly occupying Palestinian territories, and they are furious at Israel for it. And although some Israelis pointed fingers at Islamicization as the cause of the violence, Egyptians noted Saturday that Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, distanced themselves from Friday's protests and did not attend, while legions of secular-minded soccer fans were at the forefront of the embassy attacks.

''The world is tired of this conflict and angry at us because we are viewed as conquerors, ruling over another people," said Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party member of Parliament and former defense minister. "If I were Bibi Netanyahu, I would recognize a Palestinian state. We would then negotiate borders and security. Instead nothing is happening. We are left with one ally, America, and that relationship is strained too."