Hussein Seeks Direct Talks With Israel : Favors Palestinian Tie to Jordan Instead of Statehood, Shultz Says
Secretary of State George P. Shultz has told Israeli officials that Jordan’s King Hussein is ready for direct peace talks with Israel this year, government sources said Sunday.
Shultz’s assessment of Hussein’s latest proposals for advancing the Middle East peace process were contained in a letter sent Saturday night to Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and came in the wake of a series of meetings in Washington last week between Hussein and U.S. officials, including President Reagan.
Shultz reportedly told Peres and Shamir in the letter that Hussein’s expressions go far beyond any public statements by any Arab leader in the past and represent progress toward peace.
Report to Cabinet
Peres reported on the letter to his Cabinet at its regular meeting Sunday.
As outlined by the government sources, Shultz’s letter said Hussein informed the U.S. government that he favors direct talks with Israel based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Resolution 242 followed the 1967 Middle East War, in which Israel occupied territories previously held by Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Resolution 338 dates from the 1973 Middle East War.
Resolution 242 calls for an Israeli withdrawal from unspecified “territories” in exchange for recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Resolution 338 calls for negotiations for “a just and durable peace.”
The sources here said that Shultz, in commenting on Hussein’s thinking, made no mention of the notion of holding preliminary talks about a proposed international peace conference, an option that Hussein advanced at one point during his Washington talks.
Retreat From Endorsement
In fact, Shultz’s letter seemed to continue a U.S. retreat from what earlier had appeared to be a highly qualified U.S. endorsement of a peace process involving the Soviet Union, among others, the sources said. The letter said the United States remains opposed to an international conference, they reported.
Also, Shultz reportedly said that Hussein indicated a preference for a Palestinian solution based on a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation rather than on an independent Palestinian state. This is not new thinking on the part of Hussein, but it seemed to be given special significance by Shultz, the sources said.
In addition, they said, the letter reported that all of Hussein’s proposals have the backing of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and of the PLO’s Executive Committee.
An Israeli Cabinet statement issued after the Sunday meeting said Israel “will give its blessing to any progress made toward peace” but reiterated the government’s refusal to negotiate with the PLO or anyone “advocating the destruction of Israel.”
The government sources said that Shultz added his own views to his letter, beyond the comments he made on what Hussein was reported to have proposed. First among these was a renewed pledge that the United States will not deal with the PLO until it accepts the two Security Council resolutions and renounces the use of violence.
Shultz also said, according to the Israeli sources, that no progress was made during Hussein’s Washington visit on the composition of a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to negotiate with Israel.
In addition to the question of a proper forum for negotiations, the issue of Palestinian participation in any kind of peace talks has been one of the most serious obstacles to resuming the peace process.
Israel flatly refuses to deal with any delegation that includes PLO members or anyone else who supports Arafat’s organization and does not renounce the use of violence against the Jewish state.
Inclusion of Palestinians
In a news conference Friday in Washington, Shultz said he could accept some members of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians’ so-called parliament in exile, in the peace talks.
“I am sure that there are members of the (council) who could be considered non-PLO,” he told reporters.
Israel’s position that the council is “the body and soul of the PLO” was reiterated by Defense Minister Shamir in a statement to reporters Sunday, but other government officials seemed less categorical.
Yossi Beilin, secretary of the Israeli Cabinet, said the government will judge prospective Jordanian-Palestinian delegates on an individual basis once a list of names is proposed.
Beilin said nothing about automatic exclusion of Palestine National Council members, and his statement was issued several hours after Shamir had again condemned the council.
Shultz’s letter, according to the Israeli sources, said the Reagan Administration “in the coming weeks” will hold preliminary contacts with Jordanians and Palestinians but will not negotiate with them. This point drew fire from David Levy, the second man behind Defense Minister Shamir in the Likud bloc, which shares control of the Israeli government with Peres’ Labor alignment.
Damaging to Relations
Such contacts are “a most dangerous process leading toward de facto recognition of the PLO” and could seriously damage U.S.-Israeli relations if they involve the Palestine National Council, Levy said.
Cabinet members of Peres’ Labor alignment reacted favorably, although cautiously, to the Shultz letter. Peres said that he “welcomes any progress toward peace” and that the way to accomplish this “is through direct negotiations” between Israel and Jordan.
For his part, Shamir told a news conference before word of the Shultz letter leaked out that Hussein’s public statements in Washington last week “do not advance direct negotiations with Jordan.”
A formal response to the Shultz letter will not be made until the Cabinet holds a formal meeting to consider it, and this may not come until Shamir returns from a trip to Europe that begins today in London.
In Washington, the State Department had no comment Sunday on the Shultz letter.