“How can Israeli soldiers fight a ten-year-old boy who wants to die? Or a teen-ager at the wheel of an exploding truck—smiling because he knows that in ten seconds he will be in Heaven? This is the generation I am afraid of!” The speaker, though she had just come from her weekly Hebrew lesson, was not an Israeli or a Jew. I was talking with Mrs. Laila Sharaf, a Druse woman of Lebanese origin, who is the Jordanian minister of information. We were sitting in her office off the Third Circle in Amman. It was early August, and I’d just arrived in Jordan after several weeks in Israel.
Mrs. Sharaf speaks English enthusiastically and precisely and knows many Americans. But she cannot fathom America. “We don’t have that same feeling we once had that America can be relied on,” she said. “The kind of support we need to survive has seriously eroded since the Fifties and Sixties. If some hostile Arab country attacked us we would probably get American support. But if Israel undermines us, nothing. For Americans, and particularly for American Jews, Israel is an abstraction, while we face an Israel that is concrete.”
Nevertheless, Mrs. Sharaf will send her son to Boston this fall, to study piano and guitar. She says this casually, as if it were no more unusual than sending him to high school in Amman. She talks not only about America but about the “concrete” Israel in a matter-of-fact way. Showing me her Hebrew workbooks she points to the illustrations of attractive, serious-looking Israeli students going off to school. “Under conditions of peace,” she says, “there is no limit to what we can do.”
What causes her voice to rise and tighten is Islamic extremism. She talks of Khomeini’s young guards, willing to die in battle against Iraq, which Jordan is supporting more actively than ever, of the increasingly militant Shi’ite radicals in southern Lebanon, and of the Nasserites among Jordan’s Palestinian community, now well over 60 percent of the Jordanian population. There are also increasing numbers of students at Jordan’s own religious colleges. Mrs. Sharaf finds the undercurrents they represent to be deeply threatening:
“They are very dangerous; you can’t give them an opening. If we are undermined by Israeli aggression then the Israelis are undermined. Before the 1967 war, the Israelis said, ‘if only the Arabs would sit down with us!’ Now the situation is reversed. Can Israelis not see that by failing to deal with the outside world, by failing to defuse the Palestinian bomb, they are missing the chance to defy the extremists? Is Qadhafi the only Arab that makes sense to them? Kissinger wanted us to buy time, but extremism on both sides is overcoming us. We have bought too much time.”
We talked about the Israeli elections. Mrs. Sharaf was familiar with the nuances separating the various Israeli splinter parties, indeed, with the manifestations of Jewish religious extremism in the campaign. She realized that a clear Labor Alignment victory was, for the present, a forlorn hope, and she wondered whether Israeli democracy itself was now at risk. Many Israelis wonder too. But isn’t Mrs. Sharaf’s concern presumptuous in view of Jordan’s own domestic politics? King Hussein’s autocratic monarchy is no model of democracy, after all; and it is another impediment to solving the question of Palestinian national rights. Is not monarchy deeply at odds with the liberal and constitutional views she and so many other elite Jordanians openly espouse—including Crown Prince Hassan, whom I was going to see the next day?
Mrs. Sharaf does not evade such questions. The widow of the widely admired former prime minister Abdul Hamid Sharaf, she was appointed to the cabinet by King Hussein after she led a campaign as a member of the National Consultative Council, Jordan’s appointed and largely ceremonial upper house, to recall the country’s elected parliament. (Jordan’s parliament, which included representatives from the East and West Banks, was suspended in 1974, after the Rabat conference stripped Hussein of the mandate to represent the Palestinians.) Mrs. Sharaf’s was a polite campaign; His Majesty is her friend. Still, she had been sufficiently outspoken in her views to have an influence on others close to the royal palace, and to encourage younger, reformminded members of the Jordanian press.
However seriously her criticism was taken, King Hussein finally did recall the parliament last winter, and elections were held for eight seats, including an election for the huge constituency of Amman itself. Dozens of independent candidates stood for election. Practically everyone over twenty voted: men and women, even Palestinians still in refugee camps.
Many Western observers have speculated that this was merely Hussein’s device to make the Jordanian regime seem legitimate among the West Bank population, and, in fact, the summoning of West Bank representatives to Amman certainly caused a stir in the Jerusalem Arab press. Yet about one million Palestinians are now either living comfortably in Amman or working in the Gulf with Jordanian passports. It is hard to see how the Jordanian government can avoid trying to come up with constitutional means to shape Palestinian nationalism on both banks of the Jordan. Mrs. Sharaf did not hesitate to voice her skepticism regarding the PLO’s future.
There is, she says, a “strong, positive Palestinian national movement”; to give the Palestinians anything less than a state would be “blasphemy.” But she carefully avoids saying that the PLO would lead such a state, or specifying what significant powers the state would have. The Palestinians who seem particularly radical and risky to her are the “negative and hostile” PLO factions that now have their headquarters in Damascus. The various leaders “keep raising the idea of confederation,” she says, “but we are merely looking for ways to join forces with the Palestinians.” Her “personal view” is that were the West Bank to be liberated, “there would obviously be no need for any liberation movement.”
The day before my meeting with Mrs. Sharaf, George Hawatmeh, the editor of The Jordan Times, the leading English-language paper in Amman, had been more frank about what a Palestinian state would amount to. “One is speaking here,” he told me, “of a UN representative and a national football team!” Did that mean that, at least in the Jordanian view, Palestinian self-determination would mean no more than sovereignty over certain cultural symbols? That it would be the result of a deal made to fit Jordanians and people on the West Bank, not one dictated by the more unpredictable refugees? Hawatmeh agreed. Besides, he assured me, times have changed. If Israel tried to get everything, the Arab world would never give up the cause; he warned of the Arab world’s capacity for atavism. Yet a Palestinian state with little actual power, he was convinced, would now satisfy most Palestinians, even his older cousin, Naif Hawatmeh, the leader of the PDFLP, one of the “hostile” factions in Damascus.
Hawatmeh, who admirers Mrs. Sharaf, nevertheless was disappointed that the recall of Jordan’s parliament did not allow for the organization of political parties. Palestinians would be more attracted to the Hashemite regime, he said, if the PLO were allowed to organize peacefully within Jordan. Clearly, this is not what the king has had in mind. Still, Hawatmeh said, the elections have excited expectations of more reform. “The king has called for public discussion of Palestinian–Jordanian relations, and it is surprising how he seems to mean this.” But the system still frightens people. Jordan is still governed by martial law, which the courts enforce; the press fears being closed down. People are afraid to speak their minds and are then amazed to discover that nothing happens to them when they do. “Perhaps they are not used to democracy!” He winked, fingering his worry beads.
The parliament has called for changing the emergency law, for restricting the security forces. Yet the parliament’s first order of business was to set up a royal commission to overhaul Jordan’s notoriously inefficient civil service. For her part, Mrs. Sharaf readily admits that the recall of the parliament was “not a very fulfilling experience”—only a first step. But she does not share Hawatmeh’s enthusiasm for political parties. Too easily they become militias. Obviously, the example of Beirut has been cautionary:
“There can be no real parties in the near future. We are too fragmented, too subject to external influences. My husband had the idea of establishing a ‘national covenant’ by referendum—that Jordan is an Arab state, that it guarantees private property, etc.—and permitting the formation of parties around this. But we have not yet crystallized the shape of the party system.”
Mrs. Sharaf was disturbed that, of the eight seats contested for the Jordanian parliament, three were won by religious fundamentalists, and a fourth was won by a man with fundamentalist leanings. Large numbers of Jordanians are poorly educated and still part of a traditional society. The population includes not just huge Bedouin clans with tribal claims upon the regime, but also thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced fellaheen. In contrast, the Westernized Jordanian upper class—for which Mrs. Sharaf implicitly speaks—is a thin stratum of families, many of which have grown rich both from managing investments in the Persian Gulf during the last ten years and from aid the Hashemite regime has received from the Gulf states since the Baghdad Pact of 1978.
More numerous, but still comparatively small, is the middle class of Palestinians and Jordanians and Circassians—merchants, teachers, doctors, and engineers; perhaps a quarter of a million people—whose absorption into the Jordanian power elite is probably Hussein’s real purpose in pursuing parliamentary reform. Middle-class families are educated; they pay taxes; their sons are drafted. The Gulf states are in a recession; Jordanian economic growth, 10.7 percent in 1982, dropped to 5.4 percent in 1983. How long will the middle class defer to the Hashemite throne as if to a business partner?
Reform of the civil service is thus part of the effort to supersede the tribal nepotism of the old Hashemite regime. The point is to give the Jordanian state apparatus a more pragmatic basis than personal fealty to the king. “The bureaucracy developed in the context of tribal relations,” Mrs. Sharaf explains. “It took in many more people than necessary, stacked offices with useless people.” An administrative revolution will not create a more liberal politics—“the old bureaucracy already treated Jordanians and Palestinians with perfect equality: all badly”—but it might clear out some of the deadwood that has been choking off business initiative and technological modernization.
I left Mrs. Sharaf more impressed by her somewhat autocratic vision for Jordan than perhaps I ought to have been. But there are new roads, spacious new buildings, and a fine new airport in Amman; and the people, as before, seem more open and willing to talk critically than I expected the subjects of an autocracy to be. When I thanked Mrs. Sharaf for her time, she replied in Hebrew, “Lehitraot!“—“I’ll be seeing you.”
While I was in Amman, Reuters broke the story that Yasir Arafat, in Tunis, had announced an agreement in principle between himself and King Hussein regarding “confederation” between Jordan and some future Palestinian state. “We both accepted the decision of the Palestine National Council,” Arafat told the reporter, referring presumably to the Algiers meeting of February 1983. As if an agreement on confederation “in principle” was ever the problem. A British Arab scholar, who had been a close adviser to the Hashemite royal palace for the past two years, told me that when, in April 1983, King Hussein finally broke off discussions with Arafat on forming a joint delegation for possible talks with Israel, their working document was actually drawn up by Fatah itself: “Arafat prepared the proposals; the king said, ‘Sign.’ Arafat flew off to Kuwait and never came back.”
His point was that both Arafat and Hussein understood how control over the negotiating process would also yield control over political sovereignty in any Palestinian entity, whatever the principles. “There is no gray area between a PLO state and a Jordanian federation,” the political adviser said. “The Palestinians must choose.” Hussein accepted the Reagan plan, but, fortunately for the PLO radicals, the Israelis rejected it. So did Arafat, in the end, hoping that the US would deal with the PLO directly. (“The Saudis encouraged the PLO to think that the Americans would come to them.”) Then the Reagan administration refused to confront the Israelis over the West Bank settlements and tried, instead, to prove its “resolve” in Lebanon, with tragic results.
But nobody has gained from this. The Palestinian National Congress is now in a shambles; Arafat has been driven from Tripoli and been embraced by Mubarak, but he still cannot mend his fences with Damascus. Only the Saudis remain willing to stand by him, and Arafat fears that if he goes along with Jordan, the Saudis will cut off his funds. “Perhaps Arafat’s time has come,” he said. “He really should resign. In any event, Palestinians must be realistic. The world, after all, does not owe them a living. Perhaps West Bankers will say ‘to hell with the PLO.”
There may be something more to this claim than wishful thinking. A professor at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, a strong supporter of the PLO, told me in Jerusalem that West Bankers are finding it increasingly difficult “to make sense” of independence: “The silent majority would be in favor of Jordanization, though I would gain nothing from having a Jordanian flag. Some people talk of liberalization in Jordan. But if it was democracy I wanted, I would fight to stay in Israel. In fact, more and more people on the West Bank demand integration with Israel. I will not sing Hatikvah or kiss the Israeli flag. But more and more will.” He also insisted that, if it were necessary to be in confederation with Jordan, Palestinians must be free “to make or unmake the confederation.” The right of Palestinians to identify themselves assertively against other forces—Zionism and Jordan among them—seemed to be what counted for him. “Even if I am expelled from here,” he told me calmly; “I shall know that there was such a thing as a Palestinian movement in history.”
Curiously, the Israeli government seems to go to great lengths to inflame precisely this rather abstract nationalism by challenging its symbols. While we were speaking, the professor received a call from a colleague telling him that Al-Najah University in Nablus would be closed down for four months because it held a cultural exhibit that included PLO literature and showed the Palestinian flag.
Should Israeli policy change, would West Bank Palestinians negotiate directly with Israel, if Israel undertook parallel negotiations with Jordan? Shimon Peres, I had heard from an American diplomat, has privately discussed such a procedure. The professor’s answer showed something less than an unconditional commitment to the PLO. “The PLO is a means to an end, not an end in itself,” he said, though he was quick to add that Arafat has never opposed such talks. In fact the PLO has opposed meetings between the West Bank mayors and the Israeli politicians when the Camp David autonomy plan briefly seemed a serious possibility.1
Another Jerusalem resident, a teacher and merchant whom I’ve known for many years, is as fed up with the professor’s views as he is with Israeli searches at checkpoints:
“Jordan could return to the [Israeli-occupied] territories and Old Jerusalem could be administered jointly; anybody who loves this city must acknowledge how precious it is to all sides. But I could live in a democratic state with Israelis, too. Do those Bir Zeit intellectuals, so many of whom are in the pay of the communists, think about the people who live eleven to a room? They want the idea of a Palestinian state more than the facts of an independent life: education, welfare, business.”
Still, it can’t be satisfying for the Jordanians that much of their support on the West Bank reflects the longstanding resignation of the people there. The occupation, with all its humiliations as well as its opportunities for work in Israel itself, has been going on for nearly a generation. After so much time, people tend to look on clear alternatives to the existing state of affairs as naive propositions. Nobody can deny that things could get much worse. Meir Kahane’s election to the Knesset is a reminder that a good many young Israelis may want to resolve the West Bank problem once and for all, i.e., by expelling Arabs and thus realizing their ideal of a purely “Jewish” state. Yet, for most Israelis—and now Arabs, too—there has been a tendency to inertia.
Jordan cannot gain from this, for the continuing occupation allows West Bankers to cultivate desires that the Jordanian government cannot possibly hope to accommodate in the long run. Among intellectuals, occupation makes for a kind of populist Palestinian nationalism which estranges the new generation in Nablus and Ramallah from the Jordanian regime; among the much larger middle class, it encourages ideas of political and sexual emancipation that are absorbed from Israelis. Moreover, though Jordan has made it much more difficult for West Bankers to come East—for the first time in many years, more Palestinians are coming to the West Bank than leaving it—continued Israeli expansion in the territories will inevitably force many more thousands of embittered Palestinians into Amman.
Why, then, will King Hussein not act? Why has he moved away from the principles of the Reagan plan in recent months? During the Israeli election campaign, he endorsed a Soviet call for an international conference on the Middle East under the auspices of both superpowers. While I was in Amman, the commander of Jordanian forces, General Sharif Ziad, was in Moscow shopping for anti-aircraft missiles. The fact is that the Jordanian economy is too dependent on earned remittances of its citizens working in the Gulf states—and on outright Saudi aid—to risk the kind of retaliation Egypt suffered after Camp David.2 Nor can the Jordanian regime afford to involve itself in a peacemaking initiative whose outcome is in much doubt; it needs to be sure of American backing, sure that American pressure can bring around the Saudis, sure that the US would offer protection from Syrian pressure or even invasion. (“Hussein,” an Egyptian ambassador put it to me recently, “will always be ready for peace and never for peacemaking.”) Has Jordan taken itself out of the “peace process” for good?
I decided to put this question to Crown Prince Hassan, though the Hashemites have not been particularly patient with journalists who have raised it recently. Last spring, in The New York Times, King Hussein scolded the Reagan administration, insisting that the US can no longer be an impartial mediator. At the same time, he attacked American congressmen for kowtowing to American Jews whenever they consider the sale of weapons to Jordan. Much had gone sour since I last talked with Hassan and I was prepared for harsh words.
I was ushered into a map room at the royal palace: on the wall was a large topographical map of the entire Middle East; on an easel, a more abstract drawing of the West Bank, speckled with black and red dots for every Jewish settlement, existing or planned. Hassan swept in, a stocky, short, yet graceful man of thirty-seven; as before he seemed cheerful, thoughtful, open to making fine distinctions. When I put my question Hassan rose, took the pointer, and went to the map.
“Let us acknowledge the context,” he began. “There should soon be three pipelines traversing the Arabian peninsula, from Jubail on the Gulf, to Yanbu’, on the Red Sea. We are also looking forward to the construction of another pipeline from Haditha, in Iraq, to Aqaba.” (This last pipeline one of his aides emphasizes, is to be built by America’s Bechtel corporation, though a German company was eager to barter oil for it.) Hassan continued: The Americans and Egyptians are currently taking mines out of the Red Sea, which is just where the tankers will one day be meeting these pipelines.
Surely, he went on, “regionalism,” the mutually reinforcing cooperation of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, a “smaller Israel,” and the US, is a better alternative for the Middle East than the “Balkanization” practiced by Greater Israel and Greater Syria. (“Look at Whalid Jumblat,” Hassan laughs in exasperation. “A hundred thousand dinars from Damascus while he is talking with the Israelis about Druseland! Is that the kind of region we are to have?”)
As if to underscore Hassan’s warning, persistent reports had recently reached Amman regarding secret negotiations between Hafez Assad’s brother, Rifaat, and senior Israeli officials, apparently over a possible Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. In late June, presumably after long negotiations, Syria and Israel exchanged prisoners of war. The talks, according to one unconfirmed report,3 helped to produce the current peace plan for Beirut. More inclusive negotiations were to have led to a Syrian undertaking to keep southern Lebanon free of Palestinian guerrillas. The talks stalled, it seems, only when Israel decided Syria was not offering enough of a quid pro quo. (Israel wanted to be able to keep its early warning station at Jebel Barouk—which not only looks out over the Bekáa valley, but is widely suspected in Israel of housing a high-powered spy station, capable of monitoring the skies over the southern Soviet Union. Israel also wanted to maintain close links with General Antoine Lahd’s pro-Israeli forces in the south.)
Jordan’s official position is that Israel must evacuate Lebanon. But a closer look at Hassan’s map, at Jordan’s “position” in a geographic and strategic sense, forces one to ask how seriously Hussein wants that policy to be taken. An accommodation between Israel and Syria that allows for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in the near future could work against Jordan. It might clear the way for Syria to approach Iraq to reopen their old pipeline from Kirkuk to Tripoli, in Lebanon: the old pipeline would give Iraq access to the Mediterranean and Iraq would no longer need to incur any part of the billion-dollar expense of building the new pipeline to Aqaba.
A revived Beirut, moreover, is bound to cut into Amman’s growth, which has attracted many of the insurance and banking interests whose officers used to be in the Lebanese capital. An agreement by which Israeli politicians depend on Syrian forces to control Palestinian fighters in southern Lebanon could undermine prospects of an independent American-Jordanian initiative on the West Bank. Assad will oppose any such initiative, not only because of Syria’s own historic claims on Palestine, but because he does not want to be isolated without having regained any part of the Golan Heights; a secret accord between Israel and Syria could make Israel a hostage to Syrian pressures.
Jordan’s hope, Hassan explained, is to contain the forces at Syria’s disposal by means of what he euphemistically calls the “West Bank buffer.” If Jordan and israel could soon start to solve the question of the West Bank, the way would be open for both to create the “regional” strategic alliance that Hussein believes is in Jordan’s interests. The prospects for such an alliance would improve if UN participation were increased, whether on the West Bank or to bring about withdrawal in southern Lebanon. Nor is the alliance conceived in merely strategic terms. There are vital economic interests as well. Jordan’s economy needs a system of regional cooperation if it is to sustain the growth that is necessary for its internal peace. The government has made huge investments in phosphate production, chemical fertilizer plants; the port of Aqaba is growing. “If Jordan is to attract more medium-sized European companies,” Hassan notes, “it needs the guarantee of a regional market.”
How could this West Bank “buffer” be created? Hassan is not dogmatic. The Palestinians should enjoy “positive neutrality,” that is, they should have an “umbrella,” preferably some combination of Israeli, Jordanian, American, and United Nations forces that would guarantee their security while they evolve their national institutions. What is clear, however, is that Reagan’s proposals are not repudiated in the royal palace; they still fit precisely with Jordan’s hopes.
“We have been on the razor’s edge since last year,” Hassan declares. “Jordan is caught between Herut and the PLO charter. The American press has begun to write about my brother’s alleged ‘depressions,’ just as they used to write about the Shah. Shultz is suddenly talking about the ‘quality of life’ on the West Bank, as if there is no political problem there. The Saudis have been sitting in a self-contained American bubble and we do not know if this bubble extends to us.” Meanwhile, Hassan continues, Jordan has been forced to go to the Soviet Union for weapons, though it would obviously be best to prevent the Soviets from playing a “spoiling role.”
What the United States should be specifying, and pressuring Israel to specify, is the shape of Palestinian self-determination. It is not necessary to carry out a settlement all at once. We should have a “checklist,” Hassan urges, regarding the use of land, the use of water, the end to military rule; by the end of the day, we could have developing coexistence, and the Palestinians can have their flag. “In the absence of a full peace, you have to build up the threshold for peace!” There could be a “borough system” around Jerusalem—a vaguely stated but interesting idea, for it stopped short of demanding sovereignty over the city. Nor in his view is it too late to start the devolution of Israeli control of the West Bank as the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti has argued. (“I admire Benvenisti,” Hassan remarks, “but what is the practical difference between his view and the claims of Israeli extremists?”)
The phone rings. It is the king. Hassan must leave. (“This is what it is like to be number two,” he shrugs.) We agree to meet again the following morning, and when we do, Hassan is wearing a golf shirt, preparing to go off to visit a new archaeological find near Petra. I ask him to say more about the state of relations between Jordan and the PLO. Surprisingly, he responds quickly and sharply.
“They have never expressed adequate concern for the people in the occupied territories,” Hassan insists, “and we were on the verge of getting them to confront their national constituency.” By this he means West Bankers, not the Palestinians in the refugee camps, who do not fit into Jordan’s plans for the West Bank. “The only hope is for the PLO to be put on the spot by its West Bank constituency.” But then the United States “embarrassed Jordan” by talking directly to the PLO, and the Israelis made things worse by forbidding West Bankers to attend and influence the Palestinian National Congress.
“What we should be doing along with the Americans is calling the bluff of the PLO. The situation for us is not normal. Every day, I hear from parents, good Jordanians, complaining about how their children’s classmates are pressuring for more lessons on ‘Palestinian identity’ in school. But we can have a corresponding process of ‘public accountability,’ of parliamentary ‘democratization,’ on the East Bank. There is greater expression in Jordan than anywhere else in the third world.”
Like Mrs. Sharaf, Prince Hassan sees Palestinian extremism as a part of the threatening groundswell of Arab radicalism. Look, he says, at Numeri in the Sudan cutting off the hands of thieves. Or talk to Palestinians in the camps, with their “tunnel vision.” Listen to the dean of the religious college insisting that the whole of life can be found in the Sharia, the Islamic code. Think of the madman Qadhafi screaming how “egalitarian and socialist” Islam is. Is this what the Americans want for the Middle East?
The Americans must face a choice between peace or a region that will surrender to extreme forces. Nor—as is often claimed in Israel—would Jordan refuse to go ahead with negotiations out of fear of Syria. The unspoken assumption here is that the US would be willing to provide protection against Syrian pressures. But Hassan’s press officer insisted to me that “Jordan does not need Syrian approval. For Jordan’s part, the chances of reviving the climate of the winter of 1983 are still good.” A freeze on settlements would still be an important breakthrough.
In view of Israel’s economic difficulties, a freeze on settlements does not seem so far away. I asked Hassan if it would be enough for Jordan if there were a de facto freeze because of the tight Israeli budget, or because of congressional restrictions on any emergency aid for the Israeli economy. “Any linkup between West Bank settlements and American aid would be a major step,” Hassan told me, for it would be a measure of American seriousness. “In contrast, if Israel were to freeze settlements just because it had no money for them at present, this would mean nothing.” Israel must make a policy decision, not an economic calculation.
It was hard to imagine a new Israeli government taking an initiative with respect to Jordan after the last elections. But a former aide of Yitzhak Rabin had told me a few days before how, were Rabin to become defense minister, he might well insist on a settlements freeze; he might be open not to direct negotiations, but to an American plan for an agreement on disengagement of forces between Israel and Jordan. Rabin, Kissinger, and Hussein were keen to work out such an agreement in the spring of 1974—before the Israeli National Religious Party forced Rabin, the new prime minister, to break off negotiations. “Had we achieved a disengagement of forces agreement then,” Hassan said wistfully, “there would never have been a Rabat Conference.”
But could a disengagement of forces agreement work today? “It is a conceivable first step,” he agreed, but “every step must be put in context,” must be clearly linked to a next step. Jordan cannot be seen to be taking steps in no particular direction. It must be clear that there is a plan, and that the American government will back this up to the end.
My last meeting in Amman was at the American embassy, which was in a state of almost total disruption, awaiting a new ambassador. The political officer I talked to was willing to be candid. “Nobody in Washington really knows quite what to do now. To be blunt, we were all counting on a Labor Alignment victory to take us off the hook.”
This American diplomat’s answer came as no real surprise, yet it was painful to hear. Traveling from Jerusalem to Amman, seeing the activity at the border, I was all the more convinced that the Likud’s program to annex the West Bank by means of overextended Jewish settlements has been a failure; that the trade and tourism going on between Jordan and Israel are no less significant than the Jewish settlements. No doubt President Sadat was right to deplore the “psychological barrier” between Jews and Arabs that now separates Israelis and Jordanians, but this does not seem very high at the moment, especially so far as Israel’s Labor Party is concerned. Nothing can be expected until after the US elections in November and much will depend on the outcome of the Labor Alignment’s efforts to put together a government in Israel. It did not appear implausible, however, that US diplomacy could once again lower the barrier, as it did between Egypt and Israel in 1974. But will the US undertake the kind of diplomacy it pursued in 1974? And would it do so, not to manage the consequences of the war but to prevent one?
September 27, 1984