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Peace talks: Jordan's time for decision.

IF 13 SEPTEMBER WAS a big day for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, 1 October was a big day for Israel and Jordan. While a Jordanian-Israeli agenda had already been signed with little publicity on 14 September in Washington, the 1 October meeting between Crown Prince Hassan and the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, in the presence of President Clinton at the White House had less Hollywood bravado than the Rabin-Arafat handshake, but was no less important.

Crown Prince Hassan and Shimon Peres shook hands on the White House lawn, but Jordan Television, being what many Jordanians saw as overly cautious, cut the hand shake scene.

A widely reported clandestine meeting between King Hussein and Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in the Jordanian port of Aqaba at the end of September was denied by palace officials.

Thus Jordan is propagandising its peace with Israel much more cautiously than Arafat or the Israelis did. The Jordanian newspapers, the day after the Crown Prince Peres handshake, stressed Jordan's insistence on "aid" for itself and the Palestinians and the formation of an American-Jordanian-Israeli tripartite working group to advance regional economic development.

Very dry, or so it appeared. But Jordan has been ready for peace with Israel since the broad outline of the agenda between the two countries was agreed upon in October 1992 and was, according to one senior official, "just waiting for the Palestinians to make a move".

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Crown Prince Hassan said in an unemotional, to the point statement: "There is much to be done. We have to commit ourselves to a work ethic for peace." Peres, on the other hand, said it was "a very moving occasion for our people, and I hope for the rest of the people in the Middle East".

The basic outline of the Jordanian-Israeli agenda had already been worked out in October 1992 during round seven of the bilateral task. Jordan's prime minister, Abdul Salam al Majali, had continuously said since then that Jordan would "not move ahead" alone but only in coordination with the other Arab parties involved.

The Palestinians, by "moving on their own" first, set new ground rules and Jordan swiftly followed. Announcing their five-point agenda, Jordan effectively followed in the PLO's footsteps without making the same "concessionary" statements that the Palestinian leadership made when recognising Israel. Jordan has not said outright that it recognises Israel.

The agenda deals with five points of mutual interest:

* Palestinian displaced people and refugees in Jordan;

* The forced relocation of Palestinians from the West Bank to the East Bank;

* Water sharing rights;

* Border and security issues;

* Return of Jordanian land occupied by Israel in both the south and the north of the country since 1948.

The agenda of course touches on Palestinian-Jordanian concerns. The initial reaction in Jordan to the 13 September PLO-Israel accord was shock and dismay - partly because Jordan was not consulted about the accord and partly because most Jordanian politicians, including the key decision makers, never thought that Israel would deal directly with Arafat.

The PLO's 30-year status quo as a political pariah in the West and Israel was not expected to change by Arafat's Arab breathren. On 13 September, the Palestinians spoke for themselves for the first time in history and the Arab world was dismayed - even, as in the case of Jordan, if only for a moment.

Jordan, a country of close to four million people, with at least 50% of Palestinian origin, was the state most affected by the PLO-Israel accord. It has been host to Palestinian refugees, whose descendants now number a million, as well as to over 200,000 persons displaced from the West Bank for anywhere from 25 to 45 years. Except for an estimated quarter of a million of these Palestinians, the rest are Jordanian nationals with full citizenship rights.

Jordan has said that no Jordanian national will be forcibly repatriated to the West Bank or Gaza, regardless of whether they are Palestinian in origin or not. The very mention of the possibility of forced repatriation created significant shivers amongst the large Palestinian community in Jordan.

The king and the government were reacting largely to fears of Trans-Jordanians (Jordanians of non-Palestinian origin) who were making noises about not one but two Palestinian states.

The basic fear of many Trans-Jordanians is that most of the Palestinians who are Jordanian nationals will stay in Jordan, eventually achieve an equal political footing with their Trans-Jordanian brethren and run the country.

"Parliament would be 50% Palestinian at some stage and that would make me feel very uncomfortable," said a prominent East Banker after the government announced that parliamentary elections would be held on time on 8 November. Gerrymandering has guided the division of electoral districts which heavily over-represent bedouins, minorities and Trans-Jordanians. As a result fewer than ten Jordanians of Palestinian origin sat in the last 80-member parliament.

Most Trans-Jordanians would like to see things kept that way. Palestinians who have made Jordan their home have traditionally opted out of politics in their adoptive homeland. But the creation of a Palestinian entity in the Occupied Territories may change that.

Many Palestinians in Jordan say that once there is a Palestine they will be free to be Jordanian nationals with a voice in Jordan's future. They argue that by deciding not to return to their ancestral homeland, they have given up their political rights as individuals in Palestine but have picked them up in Jordan.

Many of the more traditionally-minded Trans-Jordanians resent this idea and are now pondering the advantages the Gulf Arabs institutionalised for themselves when they limited the number of people acquiring their nationality.

The question of refugees and displaced persons remains however, and Jordan will demand economic assistance if it is to settle permanently the more than a million Palestinians still registered as refugees who live on Jordanian soil as Jordanian nationals.

For many of these Palestinians a West Bank-Gaza state is not home, and short of their ancestral lands in pre-1948 Palestine, nothing will be. Jordan is a safe and familiar haven. Most refugees in Jordan when asked say: "We are now Jordanians and we want to stay."

Indeed surprisingly, to many the revolution died with peace - or maybe "peace was necessary now because the revolution is no more," as a disenchanted PLO official put it.

It will be the possibility of a confederation of two entities or states on an equal footing that will really put the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship to the test.

Arafat and the king both want it for different reasons, but nationalists in both camps fear it will dilute their character. Most economists, on the other hand, say that confederation will be essential in the long run if the Jordanian and Palestinian economies intend to expand. Israel's strong economic presence in the Arab markets and competitive abilities are expected and feared.

Many Jordanians fear that the Israelis will use Palestinians as their middlemen to flood the Arab world with their goods. Palestinians in the territories say they will try to become more independent of the Israeli economy than they are now, possibly linking their industries to those of Jordan, whose currency they are expected to keep as their own.

But most feel it will be impossible to break all, or even most links with Israel. Under the terms of the 13 September agreement the linkage between the two economies will be absolute.

Many Palestinian and Jordanian observers fear civil disturbances either in Jordan, or more likely in the Occupied Territories between the PLO Tunis-based returnees and the local population.

Twenty-five years of Israeli presence in the Occupied Territories brought oppression but also a different view of life and an isolation from the Arab world. Most Palestinians in the territories have never known a ruling power they respect or whose orders they willingly follow. To take orders from anyone will be difficult - especially if the PLO takes home its autocratic style.

While the Damascus rejectionist groups and Hamas in particular are thought to be one source of rivalry to the PLO, it is also the traditional rank and file Palestinians, especially the educated middle class that will resent an autocratic ruler from outside.

Many at the Orient House, the East Jerusalem-based Palestinian government headquarters (of sorts), hope that Arafat will take a symbolic ceremonial post and leave the daily affairs to them.

Not speaking Hebrew will be a disadvantage for many of the Tunis-based officials and the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), 8,000 - 10,000 of whom will be in Jericho and Gaza by 13 December. Palestinians in the territories know the Israelis through their language and are more attuned to their modes and moods than the fighters and the Tunis technocrats who are planning to run daily affairs. This difference is expected to create potentially dangerous clashes in the Palestinian community.

But most important of all will be the issue of the economic development. An unknown number of Palestinians in the territories are unemployed. The per capita gross domestic product of Palestinians is $1,700 in the West Bank and $850 in Gaza.

An Arafat-led government will have to up that to match the per capita $11,962 of the Israeli gross national product. A proposed $2bn aid package over five years from donors around the world will not be enough, says Yasser Arafat, to build the necessary infrastructure of the a self-ruling Palestinian entity.

But it will create a lot of jobs, and jobs along with self-rule will ultimately mean a better life for the Palestinians who after all will still be living under Israeli occupation.
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Title Annotation:Current Affairs; Jordan's stand on the Middle East peace talks
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Peace talks: a kind of peace, perhaps.
Next Article:Peace talks: Palestinians who say no.

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