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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hussein Returns to West Bank at Last

JERICHO, West Bank -- President Yasser Arafat hosted an Arab head of state for the first time on Palestinian-ruled soil Tuesday, voicing doubts about a breakthrough with Israel on the impasse over Hebron and proposing an international peacekeeping force in the city.


Jordan's King Hussein flew a helicopter, with Arafat as his passenger, from Amman to the town of Jericho on his first trip to the West Bank since he lost the territory to Israel in the Six-Day War 29 years ago. He stayed nearly four hours.


"Until now, there is no progress in any of the committees in the negotiations," Arafat said of Palestinian peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.


"Unfortunately, they are reiterating the same phrases and the same demands. ... But in fact there is nothing on the ground that is worth talking about," Arafat said.


Arafat said he was ready for U.S. troops to join an international force to guard the 400 Jewish settlers in the heart of Hebron, a city of 100,000 Arabs, to calm Israeli security fears.


"I told them, okay, if you don't trust the joint mobile units and you don't trust your soldiers or our soldiers, okay, why not call upon the international presence with the participation of the American army," Arafat said.


However, Netanyahu spokesman David Bar-Illan quickly dismissed Arafat's idea.


"Obviously, if the two peoples are to learn to live together in peace, the idea of bringing foreign troops to protect one against the other is not conducive to peace,'' Bar-Illan said.


The Palestinian Authority refuses to reopen the agreement signed by the Israeli government ousted by Netanyahu last May. Israel has denied seeking to renegotiate it, but their requested changes violate the original terms.


The king, Israel's closest Arab ally since making peace in 1994, has lately distanced himself from the right-wing Netanyahu who took office in June vowing a tougher line.


"We want to see a speeding up of the implementation of everything that had been agreed upon and to continue until we achieve a just and lasting peace on the Palestinian-Israeli track," the king told reporters.


Both Arafat and the king denied there were any efforts to arrange a three-way meeting with Netanyahu.


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meeting since last week in informal discussions were due to hold formal talks on Wednesday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba.


Israeli Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh denied that Washington, his country's closest ally and supplier of $3 billion in annual aid, was pressing the Jewish state to complete a deal before U.S. elections on Nov. 5. (Reuters, AP)