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OPT: King presses Olmert to endorse Arab plan, set peace timetable

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By Mohammad Ghazal, Jordan Times

PETRA, May 16 - King Abdullah on Tuesday called on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to endorse the Arab Peace Initiative and set a timetable with the Palestinians to implement the plan.

"The Arab Peace Initiative reflects the Arab states' desire for peace, and is an appropriate framework for a just, comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," the King told Olmert at a meeting in Aqaba after the two leaders attended the opening of the third Conference of Nobel Laureates in the ancient city of Petra.

Negotiations on the basis of the peace blueprint, which offers Israel normal ties if it withdraws from land occupied in 1967, "can also end decades of conflict in the region and provide Israel with security and stability", a Royal Court statement quoted the King as saying.

"Time is not on the side of either Israelis or Palestinians," the Monarch warned. "Both sides must agree to a political process with a timeline for the implementation of the initiative and enter into negotiations on the most controversial issues."

During a meeting with the Israeli premier, the first since December, King Abdullah stressed the need for "practical steps to build bridges of confidence, facilitate the relaunch of the peace process and renew negotiations with the Palestinian side".

The King told Olmert that Israel must release Palestinian funds in order "to demonstrate its desire for peace and support for the Palestine Authority under President [Mahmoud] Abbas' leadership," the statement said.

"The King also called for urgent action to alleviate the Palestinians' sixty years of suffering under Israeli occupation."

Meanwhile, the Monarch reiterated that any plans to expand settlements in Palestinian land and escalation against the Palestinians "thoroughly contradict the desire for peace".

Referring to Israeli media reports on the construction of new settlements in occupied Jerusalem, the King said Jordan rejects such measures as "severe transgression of Palestinian and Arab rights in the holy city".

Olmert denied the report, saying "there is no truth whatsoever to reports concerning the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing ones".

Israel's Haaretz newspaper disclosed on May 10 plans to build three new Jewish neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, Agence France-Presse reported.

The plan which foresees the construction of more than 20,000 housing units has been drawn up by a municipal committee and must still be approved by national authorities, Haaretz said.

The report triggered condemnation from the Palestinians, the Arab League and the United Nations.

In Petra, Olmert told Nobel laureates he was ready for talks with Arab leaders on the peace initiative, which also calls for the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of refugees.

"I invite these 22 leaders of the Arab nation that are ready to make that kind of peace with Israel to come, whenever they want, to sit down with us and start to talk and present their ideas," Olmert said in Petra. "If you want to talk to us about it, we are ready to sit down and listen to you very carefully. We will have, of course, comments about it. We will exchange views."

Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, who was present at the Petra conference, accused the Israelis of foot dragging.

"The peace process is frozen... nothing is happening but we hope it will happen soon. We are ready for peace negotiations but the Israelis are not ready," he told AFP.

The King's meeting with Olmert is the latest in diplomatic efforts to build support for relaunching Palestinian-Israeli peace talks in line with the Arab Peace Initiative.