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King Abdullah of Jordan Meets Barak in First Visit to Israel

By Lee Hockstader

It is not every day that an Israeli prime minister hosts an Arab monarch in Tel Aviv, treats him to full a honor guard at the airport and takes his smiling guest to shake hands with girls on the beach. But that is how Ehud Barak, the Israeli leader, welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah Tuesday on his first visit to the Jewish state.

Six years after the two neighbors signed a peace agreement and 27 years after their last war, ties between Jordan and Israel are not exactly chummy.

Few Jordanians cross the Jordan River to visit Israel, and Israelis who travel in Jordan are generally careful not to advertise their nationality.

At the official level, though, the two countries’ leaders project an image of neighborly normalcy through frequent meetings, phone conversations and expressions of mutual appreciation.

Thus it was that Abdullah, who ascended to the Hashemite throne on the death of his father King Hussein 18 months ago, caused barely a ripple of public excitement in his visit to the Jewish state Tuesday.

“It’s hard to believe,” wrote Eitan Haber, an aide to the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “Only five years ago, thousands upon thousands took to their roofs to catch a glimpse of King Hussein’s plane crossing, for the first time, above our heads. Today’s routine visit is, perforce, the essence of that peace.”

The king’s visit to Tel Aviv was brief, and it represented just half his day’s itinerary.

Before flying to Israel, Abdullah touched down in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank city of Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat seemed so glad to see the young monarch that he ran about 20 yards to embrace him.

Jordanian officials accompanying the king reiterated Jordan’s longstanding support of Arafat’s right to declare a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Jordan rejects foreign sovereignty -- Israeli sovereignty -- over the (Islamic) holy sites,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdullah al-Khatib. “This is an Arab and Islamic right that should be protected.”