King Abdullah and Joe Biden discuss 'mechanisms to reduce tension' in West Bank

US President praises Jordan for its 'critical role' and stresses need to preserve historic status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque compound

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US President Joe Biden hosted Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House on Thursday, as tension soars over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

King Abdullah and Mr Biden held a private meeting over lunch, where the leaders reaffirmed the “enduring friendship between the United States and Jordan”, a White House National Security Council official told The National.

The leaders discussed “opportunities and mechanisms to reduce tensions, particularly in the West Bank”, the White House said in a statement.

Last month's deadly raid in Jenin, strikes in Gaza and a mass shooting at a synagogue on the outskirts of East Jerusalem have ratcheted up tension in the region.

Mr Biden affirmed “his strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and recognised the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem”, the White House said.

This is King Abdullah's third visit to Washington since Mr Biden took office in 2021.

The US President praised the king for “the critical role Jordan plays in defusing tensions in Jerusalem” and stressed the need to preserve the historic status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the official said.

Before his meeting with Mr Biden, King Abdullah sat down for talks with US Agency for International Development administrator Samantha Power and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who recently returned from a regional trip aimed at de-escalating tension.

The US and Jordan are continuing “to work together to advance mutual objectives on key issues, including promoting a stable, integrated and prosperous Middle East”, a State Department representative told The National.

“Jordan is our long-time close friend, invaluable ally and an essential strategic partner on a wide range of shared concerns and regional challenges,” the representative added. “Our close co-operation on security issues has helped keep Jordanians and Americans safer.”

Israeli soldiers killed more Palestinians in the West Bank in 2022 than any year since 2005, when the UN began to record fatalities after the Second Intifada.

“This visit could not have come at a more opportune time to discuss the latest developments,” Merissa Khurma, director of the Middle East Programme at the Wilson Centre and former director of the Office of Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, told The National.

Ms Khurma said King Abdallah is likely to be voicing concerns beyond the more immediate escalations of violence in the West Bank and Gaza, but also threats from Israel's new right-wing government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

She argued that the new government could spark a change on US posturing towards Israel.

Washington is a staunch ally of Israel and provides billions of dollars in funding for the Israeli military.

Earlier in the week, King Abdullah met congressional leaders and expressed Amman's “keenness to advance its partnership with the United States in the military and defence fields”, the Royal Hashemite Court said.

Earlier this week, Mr Blinken said the US is opposed to “settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions, distractions to the historic status of holy sites” after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“It seems that there is considerable concern in Washington … about the backsliding of basically democracy in Israel, particularly with these with this right-wing government,” said Ms Khurma.

“So maybe this is, in fact an opportunity to be more proactive to ensure that there is some sort of road map to addressing these challenges.”

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Updated: February 03, 2023, 3:30 AM