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Is Hussein's peace plan doomed?

The political mood in Jordan is grim. When Middle East politics are discussed, the sense of frustration is almost palpable. There is widespread disillusionment with U.S. policies in the region, and many here feel that time is running for a solution to the Palestinian question.

If a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not achieved soon, Jordanians argue, there will be increased violence, extremism and political fragmentation throughout the Middle East. And if a negotiated settlement is to be achieved, they maintain, it must come through an international conference with all interested parties participating, including the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Soviet Union.

Jordanians ask a number of questions about U.S. involvement in the region: Why is the United States so recalcitrant about supporting King Hussein's call for such a meeting? American diplomats know full well that Jordanian strategy is based on a position largely accepted by the international community. Why doesn't Washington support Jordan instead of undermining its efforts? Why doesn't it respond to P.L.O. feelers for negotiations? Why can't it abandon the rejectionism that prevents it from playing a significant role in bringing the Israeli-P.L.O. conflict to an end?

Confirmation of the pessimistic mood here is not difficult to find. Daily accounts of Israeli colonization and repression on the West Bank reinforce fears among Jordan's Palestinian population that annexation will become an accepted fact and that their brethren will be forcibly expelled. In the ranks of the P.L.O. the legacy of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon continues to take its toll, deepening the divisions in the organization and affecting its political direction.

The murder of Fahad Kawasmeh by unidentified assailants last December has deepened the sense of crisis and bitterness. Kawasmeh, the Mayor of Hebron until his expulsion by the Israelis in 1980, had been elected to the P.L.O. Executive Committee shortly before his death. His presence in that body held immense significance for both his West Bank constituents and for the organization.

Given the Jordanian government's policy--support for Palestinian self-determination abroad and opposition to Palestinian activism at home--these events are seen as issues of compelling national significance. Resolving the Palestinian question is supported not only in the interest of justice but also in the interest of Jordanian stability. Where Jordanian and Palestinian interests have clashed, however, the latter have suffered. Today, Jordanian strategy is forged in the shadow of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It is shaped by social movements whose existence is evidence of growing popular discontent. Islamic fundamentalism is gaining ground in Jordan, where it is alternately supported and contained by the state.

Jordanian policy on the Palestinian question masks several predicaments. Committed to a strategy of negotiated settlement, it is faced with Israeli rejectionism, which has been consistently seconded by the United States. P.L.O. pronouncements that indicate an interest in a negotiated settlement are treated with indifference. U.S. and Israeli attitudes have reinforced the position of groups in the P.L.O. which argue that nothing can be expected of Israel or the United States, or of "moderate" Arab regimes such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Last week's discussion of the Middle East by the United States and the Soviet Union in Vienna did not signal a change in U.S. policy on the Palestinian question.

The Jordanian dilemma can be stated another way. Despite Jordan's diverse economic and military ties with other untries, it remains depdendent on the United States. Yet it asks Washington to pressure Israel for concessions, which the Israelis reject, with U.S. approval. In short, Jordan has no clout with the United States on the Palestinian question. Its pro-American policy has been unrewarded in this arena. Other Arab regimes beholden to the United States are in a similar situation. None of the so-called moderate regimes have made the Palestinian question the determining issue in their relations with the United States. Their passivity during the invasion of Lebanon is proof of their willingness to tolerate U.S. complicity with Israel.

Current Jordanian policy was outlined here last November at the opening session of the Palestine National Council [see Scott MacLeod, "Al Fatah Is Now Running the Show," The Nation, December 29, 1984-January 5, 1985]. King Hussein called for a joint Jordanian-Palestinian strategy based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and emphasizing "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security." Since that time, efforts have been directed toward working out a common program with the P.L.O., generating support in Arab and Islamic states, reinvigorating a European initiative in the region and dealing with American policy.

Although the P.L.O. repeated its rejection of U.N. Resolution 242 at the council session (because the resolution fails to recognize Palestinian self-determination and the quest for statehood), it endorsed the Jordanian strategy of a negotiated settlement. The P.L.O. also reiterated its support for the Fez plan, which was developed at the Arab League conference held in Morocco in 1982. That plan calls for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a Palestinian state in those territories and guarantees of the security of all states in the region. In December and January a series of high-level meetings between Jordanian and P.L.O. officials were held to discuss a common program. Recent announcements suggest that a compromise has been reached between the two.

Meanwhile, Palestinians here continue to hope for a reconciliation between the main body of the P.L.O. and the four left-wing P.L.O. groups that formed the Democratic Alliance in Damascus and that refused to attend the P.N.C. meeting here. Those who favor reconciliation see the loss of Democratic Alliance members as adversely affecting the representative character and the political direction of the organization. King Hussein has not allowed the Palestinian split to impede his diplomatic efforts, but he made a serious miscalculation in assuming that the Saudi Arabian government would be willing to overlook it, as well as disagreements among the Arab nations, and accept his call for an Arab summit. Riyadh opposed such a summit, but Hussein went ahead and announced a Jordanian-Palestinian plan for one, at which the Arab countries would attempt to adopt a common position on the Palestinian issue.

Although Jordanian officials are critical of European indifference to the Middle East, they see some positive signs: European endorsement of U.N. Resolution 242; French, Italian and English willingness to support an amendment to the resolution that would accommodate Palestinian interests; and evidence that those countries would support the idea of an international conference. Italy sent Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti and other high-level officials to the Middle East, and Jordan was on their itinerary. In January former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky proposed a synthesis of the Fez and Reagan plans, the U.N. resolution and the Soviet proposal for an international conference.

Jordanians are disappointed by the reluctance of European governments to take a more aggressive interest in the Palestinian question, but they express bitterness about U.S. policies, which they regard as insulting to their country's and other Arab countries' interests. They support the government's attempts to distance itself from the United States--witness the publicity given recent discussions with Moscow concerning the purchase of arms. King Hussein's open denuciation of U.S. Middle East policy has struck a responsive chord among his people. Although Jordanian discontent has not been heeded in Washington, the American connection remains vital at the highest level of government here, where dissatisfaction with U.S. policy is tempered by the hope for change.

Pronouncements on the Middle East by former and present U.S. State Department officials are covered in the Jordanian press. When two of them dismissed the proposal for s an international conference, indicating it would be unproductive, the media carried stories saying that nothing could be expected from the United States. But calls for new U.S. moves on the Palestinian question by former Representative Pete McCloskey and Representative George Crockett drew sympathetic comment.

Considerably more attention was paid to the interview given by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Richard Murphy to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas, which was reported in the Jordanian press. While in Amman, Murphy had repeated the stock U.S. position. In Kuwait he went a good deal further, reporting on talks he had had with a prominent Palestinian figure prior to the opening of the P.N.C. session. (The U.S. Embassy here promptly denied that the meeting ever took place.) The Jordan Times reported that Murphy "has urged the Palestine Liberation Organization to accept 'mutual recognition' with Israel." The story went on to say that the Palestinian with whom Murphy talked expressed "the P.L.O. keenness to have a dialogue with the U.S." According to the same source, it was suggested that Washington initiate such a dialogue with two of the recent appointees to the P.L.O. Executive Committee, Mohammed Milhelm and Fahad Kawasmeh. Accordipng to the Kuwaiti newspaper, Murphy met with Kawasmeh before the opening of the P.N.C. session. Regarding American intentions toward the P.L.O., Murphy told Kawasmeth that any discussions with Washington would have to be preceded by the repeal of the P.L.O. Charter's call for military struggle against Israel and by the organization's formal recognition of Israel. As reported in the Jordan Times, Kawasmeh asked, "In return for what?" Murphy replied, "In return for mutual recognition with Israel which would help the U.S. recognize the P.L.O. officially." Murphy recommended '"direct negotiations' between the P.L.O. and Israel for a Palestinian settlement based on United Nations resolutions, the Camp David accord and Reagan peace proposals of September 1982."

What is one to make of Murphy's remarks? Do they reflect a shift in U.S. policy? And how much longer can the United States expect support from its Arab allies if it continues to bankroll Israeli rejectionism? As an editorialist in one of Jordan's dailies noted, even among allies there is a point of no return. If it is clear that "moderation" and a "centrist" course are not working, they should be abandoned. Sensitive to the denunciations of the Jordanian and Palestinian strategy by Damascus, critics here question whether Jordanian diplomatic efforts are worthwhile in view of U.S. indifference and Israeli intransigence. But if diplomacy fails, what is left?

Recent developments in South Lebanon suggest the answer to that question. There the Lebanese national resistance movement has grown into a significant force, capable of driving out the Israeli occupation army. The example is cited proudly as a milestone in the Israeli-Arab conflict but also with apprehension, given the price of the struggle and the conditions under which it has been waged. Everywhere people talk of South Lebanon and the lessons it holds--not only for the Palestinians and the Lebanese but for Israel and the United states.
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Title Annotation:King Hussein
Author:Gendzier, Irene
Publication:The Nation
Date:Mar 2, 1985
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