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Ahead of Obama's Cairo speech, Arab leaders see window of opportunity for peace

King Abdullah II of Jordan, embraced by the West and his Arab allies, is emerging as a facilitator for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Educated in the United States and at Britain's Sandhurst military academy, the king relates easily to Westerners. Yet he also has the trust of moderate Arab leaders. In May, he lobbied on their behalf for US support of the Arab Peace Initiative. Drafted by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the plan states that Arab nations will recognize Israel in exchange for Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza and resolving the status of more than 4.5 million Palestinian refugees.

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King Abdullah has proposed a "57-state solution" that would expand that initiative to include non-Arab Muslim states as well. Whereas the divided Palestinians are struggling to speak with one voice and can offer Israel little in return for any concessions, having the Arab world at the table could change that calculus significantly.

"Who's going to give Netanyahu the incentive he needs to make concessions? It's going to have to come from the Arab states," says Tamara Wittes, a Middle East expert at the centrist Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. "The activism of Egypt and Jordan is important not just in changing the tone, but also in corraling the rest of the Arab world into taking the necessary steps to support the peace process."

In the end, the king is unlikely to eclipse Saudi Arabia's traditional leadership role, says Mr. Aaron. "He has the other King Abdullah [of Saudi Arabia] to deal with, who has actually made great strides in putting forward his own proposal and getting it adopted by the Arab League," he says, "but it's possible he could be in a meditating role."

KING ABDULLAH HAS STRESSED that time is short; if a comprehensive solution is not reached quickly, he warned in May, war could break out within 18 months.

"In the last 15 years, to a great extent all issues have been overnegotiated, so it's time for decisions. It's time to show political will," says Mr. Khateeb.

However, Abdullah and his allies may find it more challenging to execute a peace deal than their predecessors in Oslo and Madrid. In the early 1990s, the Israelis were more receptive to peace and Palestinians were unified under Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Netanyahu, known as uncompromising during his 1996-99 term, has not supported Palestinian statehood. But in his visit with Obama May 18 he said he "shared" the urgency expressed by King Abdullah. It's likely the US will pressure him to prove that commitment, says Jordanian parliamentarian Fayez Tarawneh, a former prime minister. Given the new Obama administration, the financial crisis, and the rise of the Iranian threat, he says, "I don't think the Americans will leave Israel ... the luxury of dictating everything in the Levant."

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