Can Begin Be Stopped?

Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin; drawing by David Levine


Is the Reagan plan dead? On April 10, King Hussein announced that Jordan would neither act “separately nor in lieu of anybody else in Middle East peace negotiations.” This has seriously undermined hopes that President Reagan’s call on September 1 for Palestinian self-rule in association with Jordan would revive the “peace process.” The king’s statement also releases Reagan from the promise he made to Hussein in December that if Jordan were willing to enter talks, he would confront the Israeli government over its settlement policies in advance of any negotiations. As if to underscore the threat of that promise being made again, the World Zionist Organization (which does what the Israeli cabinet wants) revealed in early April a plan for fifty-seven new settlements in the West Bank to be completed by 1987. Some would be added to those in the heart of Arab-populated areas, between Nablus and Jenin. Also planned are 250 miles of new roads and up to 125 acres a year for industrial projects “to encourage private initiative.”1

This looks like a formula for settler colonialism, and also for expelling those Arabs who actively oppose it. Yet a senior State Department official told me a week after Hussein’s announcement what had, he said, always been made clear to Jordan: “America cannot force any issue on Israel in the absence of an Arab peace partner.” He denied that Hussein’s statement foreclosed further action in support of the Reagan proposals; but he conceded that there was nothing left for the administration to do except “more of the same.” Can that be enough? Or, having outlasted this last show of Arab disharmony, does Prime Minister Begin now have a free hand to annex the West Bank?

The State Department’s insistence that such a question is premature may be more than a brave front. If the alternative to the Reagan proposals is oppressive Israeli rule of a million Palestinians, then Jordan still has strong reasons to negotiate. There has been some confusion in the press about this because few commentators have been willing to distinguish between the Reagan plan in principle, and the “initiative” regarding possible talks with Israel which Reagan and Hussein seemed to agree on last December in Washington. Hussein has announced that he is unable to participate in the initiative. But he cannot repudiate the Reagan plan.

In fact, careful readers of his statement will see that Hussein not only did not “reject” the Reagan plan—as the New York Times headline put it—but strongly endorsed it: “We believe and continue to believe,” the king said, “in the establishment of a confederal relationship that would govern and regulate the future of the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples.” Jordan and the PLO, he said, should come to an agreement about confederation in advance—a clear contradiction of the resolution of the Palestine National Council at Algiers, which called for an independent Palestinian state…

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