Looking Over Jordan

Prince Hassan bin Talal
Prince Hassan bin Talal; drawing by David Levine

Last September President Reagan called for “self-government by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan.” He did not refer to the PLO except to acknowledge its forced “evacuation” of Beirut. For a while Reagan’s proposals seemed to be having some success, notwithstanding Prime Minister Begin’s immediate rejection of them. After King Hussein visited Washington in December, he made it clear that he was interested in Reagan’s plan, if it could be subject to “Arab agreement and coordination.” He asked for support from the PLO, and met several times with Yasir Arafat in Amman. State Department officials hinted during the early part of January that the king would enter the “peace process” by March 1. Hussein himself seemed to accept the deadline: after it, he said in a speech in Amman, “US leaders have other things to preoccupy them,” an obvious reference to presidential politics. A White House official told me then that he hoped the king would make a bold, dramatic announcement recognizing Israel according to the provisions of UN Resolution 242 and offering to negotiate the future of the West Bank and Gaza directly with Israeli officials.

But later in the winter prospects for this seemed to grow dimmer. Israel would not withdraw its forces from Lebanon until the Lebanese government agreed to “normalize” relations; which Amin Gemayel refused to do. In February, at its meeting in Algiers, the Palestine National Council conceded only that the PLO might consider some federal arrangement with Jordan—after the Palestinians have established an independent state. This was hardly the endorsement Hussein had been waiting for. The PNC also said that Arafat could continue meeting with Hussein, and as I write, at the end of March, Arafat is expected in Amman for what has been described as a “final round of talks.” These are supposed to decide whether the PLO will, at least for now, endorse Jordan’s plan for Palestinian representation in possible talks with Israel: that Palestinian leaders who have been close to the PLO, but not members of it, would form part of a Jordanian delegation. If Arafat says yes, the way would be open for Hussein to pursue the Reagan plan. If he says no, or continues to procrastinate, is the plan “stillborn”?1

My own recent visits to Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Washington—including an interview with Crown Prince Hassan, the king’s younger brother and confidant—have made me doubt that peace can come except through the administration’s proposals, whatever Arafat may do. Hussein and the PLO have obviously disagreed over who should control any negotiations. Hasn’t this betrayed a much deeper disagreement over the kind of settlement such negotiations would produce, a disagreement obscured by each side’s talk about “federation”? If so, can Jordan take the initiative from the PLO on the West Bank and Gaza and contain Palestinian nationalism within some…

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