Jordan’s king meets Israeli PM Netanyahu in Amman

AMMAN (AFP): Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Amman in a rare meeting after years of strained relations between the two leaders.

The royal palace said they discussed the situation in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound and “the importance of respecting the historical and legal status quo”.

Netanyahu, who previously served as prime minister from 2009 to 2021, returned to power last month at the head of a coalition that includes extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

The newly appointed national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, on January 3 visited the sensitive Jordanian-administered Jerusalem holy site, sparking a wave of international condemnation.

Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli leader discussed “regional issues” and bilateral ties with the Jordanian king, “with an emphasis on strategic, security and economic cooperation”.

The two leaders last met in Jordan in 2018.

Tuesday’s visit to Amman was Netanyahu’s first official trip abroad since taking office.

The prime minister was joined by Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet domestic security agency, as well as national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Netanyahu’s military secretary Avi Gil, an Israeli official said.

Jordan in 1994 became the second Arab country to recognise and sign a peace treaty with neighbouring Israel, after Egypt.

King Abdullah has repeatedly described ties with Israel as a “cold peace” and in late 2019 said that Israeli-Jordanian relations are at “an all-time low”.

Israel’s former defence minister Benny Gantz met Abdullah in Amman in January 2022, less than a month after a visit by former premier Naftali Bennett in a bid to repair the relationship.

In November 2021, during Netanyahu’s time in the opposition, Israel and Jordan agreed in principle on a joint solar power and water project.

At a UN climate meeting in Egypt last year, the two countries agreed to clean up the polluted Jordan river, an essential waterway that runs along their shared border.

According to the palace statement, the king stressed in his meeting with Netanyahu “the need to maintain calm and cease all acts of violence, in order to pave the way for a political horizon for the peace process”.

He called for “an end to any measures that could undermine peace prospects” and “reaffirmed Jordan’s steadfast position in support of the two-state solution” to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, it added.

The foreign ministry in Amman summoned Israel’s ambassador twice this month, once to protest hard-right minister Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Al-Aqsa compound, and a second time after Israeli police officers prevented the Jordanian ambassador from entering the site.

Al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest place in Islam and the most sacred site to Jews, who refer to the compound as the Temple Mount.