Israeli President Moshe Katsav has refused to meet Jordan's visiting King Abdullah II in Tel Aviv, saying he would only welcome him in Jerusalem, his office said Tuesday.
The Jordanian monarch, on a bid to advance peace talks, met Prime Minister Ehud Barak Tuesday afternoon in Tel Aviv after holding talks with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
"The president would have been very happy to receive the king of Jordan in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, at his home, but he will not go to Tel Aviv," Arieh Shumer, director-general of the president's office, told AFP.
"The place for hosting presidents and heads of state is in Jerusalem. It is not right to go to meet another leader in Tel Aviv," he added.
Israeli presidents make it a rule to receive visitors in Jerusalem, to underline Israel's claim that the city is its capital, a position not recognized by the international community.
Jerusalem was first divided in 1948 in the fighting that erupted after the establishment of Israel despite a UN resolution to put the whole city under international control.
Jordan annexed the eastern sector at the end of that year, while Israel declared west Jerusalem to be its capital in December 1949, despite international protests.
International rejection of the claim is reflected in the fact that only two countries -- Costa Rica and El Salvador -- have their embassies in the city, all others being in Tel Aviv.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the June 1967 war, and subsequently annexed it, declaring the whole city its "eternal and undivided" capital.
The question of Jerusalem is the key stumbling block in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The Palestinians want the eastern sector for their own capital.
Katsav, who was sworn in for the largely ceremonial post of president just three weeks ago, has said Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty. King Abdullah arrived in Tel Aviv by helicopter from the West Bank town of Ramallah, where he had met Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
The king was welcomed at Tel Aviv's Sde Dov airport by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and other officials with a military honor guard.
The monarch was due to hold a working meeting with Prime Minister Barak at the defense ministry in Tel Aviv.
A Jordanian official said Sunday that the monarch's talks would focus on efforts to find an overall and permanent peace "which respects the rights of the various parties."
The two sides face a September 13th to find solutions to the fate of 3.7 million Palestinian refugees -- many of whom live in Jordan -- Jewish settlements in occupied territories, final borders and water and security issues as well as Jerusalem.
BRITAIN PRAISES JORDANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN TALKS
Senior British official Peter Hain hailed King Abdullah's talks Tuesday with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, saying Jordan has an important role to play in the peace process.
"We warmly welcome King Abdullah's timely meetings today with President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister (Ehud) Barak," the minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.
"The most difficult issues (in negotiations) are Jerusalem and refugees," Hain said.
"Jordan has strong historical and religious links with Jerusalem and continuing interests and responsibilities in the city. Jordan is also home to a large number of Palestinian refugees," he said.
"King Abdullah's decision to meet and encourage both leaders now is wise and courageous."
Both Arafat and Barak "need the full support of the international community in their efforts to reach a peace agreement," Hain added.
A Jordanian official said Sunday that the monarch's talks with Arafat and Barak would focus on efforts to find an overall and permanent peace "which respects the rights of the various parties."
ARAFAT TO ADDRESS ARAB LEAGUE ON PEACE NEGOTIATIONS WITH ISRAEL
The Palestinian President will address the Arab League on his peace negotiations with Israel at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo in early September, the league's spokesman said Tuesday.
Arafat will deliver a speech on "Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations in the light of his recent tours and contacts," Talaat Hamed told Egypt's state-owned MENA news agency.
The Palestinian President has been touring the world seeking backing for his negotiating position since the Camp David peace summit failed last month to reach a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Arab foreign ministers are due to meet at the league's Cairo headquarters on September 3rd-4th to discuss matters ranging from the Middle East peace process to boycotting US fast food chain Burger King for opening a branch in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Hamed said the question of Jerusalem would feature heavily at the meeting, saying the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the holy city was at the core of the conflict in the region.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said Monday that the Arab League meeting would discuss "reactivating Arab coordination and preparing for the next Arab summit – (AFP)
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