By Jon Hurdle
PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 29 (Reuters) - Jordan’s King Abdullah called on Friday for greater U.S. efforts to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians, saying U.S. President George W. Bush’s final year in office would be critical to Middle East peace.
Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1993, is anxious to end a conflict it sees as fueling Islamist militancy. Abdullah’s visit to the United States comes before a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.
Speaking at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Abdullah said 2008 offered an "unprecedented opportunity" to reach a peace agreement because Arab and Muslim countries have offered to recognize Israel.
"At long last... we are in the best possible position to resolve 60 years of conflict between Israel and Palestine," he said. "The Arab and Muslim states have committed to an unprecedented and unanimous peace initiative."
But the opportunity could be lost if it is not seized this year. The next administration would take some time to establish its new foreign policy, he said.
Israelis and Palestinians pledged at a peace summit in Maryland last year to work for a settlement by the end of the Bush administration in January 2009.
But experts on all sides are doubtful progress can be achieved between weak Israeli and Palestinian leaders and with violence escalating between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip.
"America is the only world power capable of ensuring that the parties stay on track and on time in their current negotiations," Abdullah said.
"A victory by the enemies of peace, freedom, stability and moderation cannot be an option," he said. "If we miss today’s opportunities, peace will be set back, perhaps for decades." (Editing by Alan Elsner)