Why Jordan's King Wants Israel to Share Jerusalem

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Jordan may be Israel's best friend in the Arab world, but King Abdullah was never going to give Ehud Barak a blank check on the future of Jerusalem. The king made a brief visit to the Jewish state Sunday and held low-profile working meetings with Prime Minister Barak and other officials, disappointing Israeli hopes for a high-profile state visit. More alarming for Israel, Abdullah threw down a challenge in an interview with Israeli TV Saturday, urging that Jerusalem be declared an "open city" that could function at once as the capital of the Jewish state and of a future Palestinian state. As it enters final-status peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel is insisting that Jerusalem will remain indivisible and Israeli. The king has renounced his own stake in the city — his family has had custodial rights over the city's Islamic holy sites for more than 10 centuries — leaving Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to find a way forward.

Despite Jordan's sympathetic relationship with Israel over the past three decades, the king reigns over a citizenry that is 70 percent Palestinian (most prominent among them being his glamorous wife, Queen Rania) and would face strong domestic criticism if he were seen in any way to endorse Israel's exclusive claim on the city. And while Israel and Jordan signed their own peace agreement in 1994, the Hashemite kingdom has its own areas of conflict with the Jewish state over issues such as water. By virtue of its geography as much as anything else, Jordan also remains a key ally in the long-term equation of a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians — Abdullah's kingdom, and a thin line of Israeli troops along the Jordan River, may eventually be all that stands between Yasser Arafat's planned future state and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.