JERUSALEM -- King Abdullah II of Jordan on Thursday became the first head of state to visit the West Bank since last week's vote by the United Nations General Assembly upgraded the status of the Palestinians to nonmember observer state. It was a gesture of support that also underlined the importance of the vote to Jordan, analysts said.
The visit also gave another boost to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, a day before Khaled Meshal, the leader in exile of the authority's rival, Hamas, was scheduled to make a historic visit to Gaza, where Hamas, the militant Islamic group, holds sway.
The visit came barely two weeks after a cease-fire put an end to an intense round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that enhanced the Islamic group's image among many Palestinians, and three weeks after Jordan was rocked by violent protests over gas price increases. The king's arrival by helicopter in the West Bank city of Ramallah also signaled an effort to maintain some balance and stability in a region in turmoil.
Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, who accompanied the king, told reporters that the king had come because he wanted to be "the first one to congratulate President Abbas and the Palestinian people for their strategic decision at the United Nations," according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.
Jordan, a country of six million people with a sizable portion of Palestinian origin, is an important ally of the United States in the region and maintains a peace treaty with Israel. The United States and Israel strongly opposed the Palestinian bid at the United Nations, and voted against it.
But for Jordan, with its sensitivity to the occasional talk in Israel of Jordan as an alternative homeland for the Palestinians, the General Assembly vote laid down an important marker by endorsing a future independent Palestinian state. Jordan controlled the West Bank from 1948 to 1967, when Israel seized it during the Six-Day War. Jordan's hold over the West Bank was never recognized by most of the world, and in 1988 it ceded any claim to the area.
"The Palestinian success at the United Nations is also a Jordanian success," said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent research institute in East Jerusalem. "It is very important for Jordan to have an independent, sovereign Palestine separate from Jordan and Israel."
Mr. Abbas frequently meets with the Jordanian monarch in Amman, the Jordanian capital, but visits by the king to the West Bank are much rarer. His last visit, just over a year ago, came as Mr. Abbas was about to enter into power-sharing talks with Mr. Meshal in Cairo to try to endthe five-year schism dividing the Palestinians. So far, practical steps toward reconciliation have remained elusive.
So has an Israeli-Palestinian agreement for a two-state solution. Jordan tried unsuccessfully to facilitate a resumption of long-stalled peace negotiations, hosting a round of exploratory discussions between the sides in January.
In recent days, Israel's government has come under unprecedented criticism from European countries after it announced approval for 3,000 more housing units in contested areas of East Jerusalem and around the West Bank. It also said it would resume planning and zoning work in a particularly contentious area east of Jerusalem known as E1.
The plans were meant as a countermeasure to what the Israelis described as a unilateral Palestinian move at the United Nations, which they said violated their previous signed agreements. World leaders denounced the new settlement plans, and critics warned that any future building in E1 could harm the prospects of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
Mr. Judeh, the Jordanian foreign minister, strongly criticized the Israeli plans, particularly those relating to E1.
"The settlement policy is not only rejected from our side as Arabs and Palestinians, but also by the whole world," he said, according to The Associated Press.
Last month's protests in Jordan were the most aggressive in the cash-strapped kingdom in the two years since popular revolutions erupted around the region. Outside the capital, protesters broke a longstanding taboo and shouted slogans against King Abdullah II. Aside from the protests, Jordan has been contending with an influx of refugees from Syria, putting further strain on the country's finances and stability.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.