Jordan king touts "57-state solution" with Israel

Fri May 15, 2009 10:38am EDT

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SWEIMEH, Jordan May 15 (Reuters) - Jordan's King Abdullah used a speech at an economic forum on Friday to push the idea of expanding an Arab initiative for peace with Israel to include the entire Muslim world.

The U.S.-allied king told the Times of London this week that U.S. President Barack Obama wanted to promote a peace plan involving all Muslim countries and not just Arab nations.

Obama is due to address the region in a speech in Cairo next month and foreign ministers of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference are due to meet in Syria on May 23.

Israel's new government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted international pressure to commit to the idea of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel on territories it seized in 1967.

An Arab peace initiative, backed by leading U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, offers Israel normal relations with the 22 countries of the Arab League in return for returning lands to Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.

Israel has reacted coldly to the plan, citing concerns over the return of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians this week have commemorated the fighting in 1948 that caused at least 700,000 Palestinians to lose their homes in territory that is now part of Israel. Israel sees the fighting as its war of independence.

"The Arab peace initiative has offered Israel a place in the neighbourhood and more -- acceptance by 57 nations, the one-third of the U.N. members that do not recognise Israel," King Abdullah told a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan.

"This is true security -- security that barriers and armed forces cannot bring," he said.

Among Arab states, only Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania have diplomatic relations with Israel. Most Muslim countries avoid political, economic ties and even diplomatic ties.

The Jordanian monarch, who met Obama in Washington last month, said Obama was committed to seeing a Palestinian state.

"I was encouraged by the president's commitment to the two-state solution," he said. "I was encouraged that in all my conversations in Washington, it was clear that people know -- inaction is not an option."

The historic conflict is seen by many analysts as a major factor that has held back economic development in some parts of the Arab world for decades and a key factor driving militancy. (Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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