King Hussein's visit to the United States last week clearly did not improve the chances for direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan. For such negotiations, Jordan's leader didn't need to come to Washington and call for an international conference with Soviet participation, a condition he knows is unacceptable to the United States and Israel.
What he accomplished was to revive the Palestine Liberation Organization and to bring closer the possibility that the PLO might accept U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, recognizing the state of Israel and thereby earning U.S. recognition. The result? A wedge between the United States and its ally Israel; the possible toppling of the present Israeli coalition government, and the seeds for the ultimate destruction of the Hashemite kingdom.
The cast of characters in the continuing Middle East turmoil has hardly changed during the last few years, but many roles have become weaker, including Yasser Arafat's. "Hussein isn't doing anything he hasn't done before except for speaking on behalf of the PLO," said one knowledgeable U.S. official. "He wants to deliver the PLO and make it our problem. Is that something we want to praise?"
Why Hussein has resurrected Arafat, a man for whom he has contempt, a man who has let him down in the past, is a mystery. A former high U.S. official believes it is to cover him in case the king must make concessions on the West Bank in negotiations with Israel.
Hussein offered a variety of devices for U.S.-Jordanian-Palestinian talks--such as naming members of the Palestinian National Council, claiming they are not PLO members.
From Jerusalem came conflicting signals that in part allowed Hussein to succeed. Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, anxious for a settlement on the West Bank has, in the view of one U.S. official, been trying in a conciliatory fashion to "let Hussein step forward without Arafat."
The position of the Israeli Labor Party and the prime minister, according to Labor media adviser Uri Savir, is "anything leading to direct negotiations will be welcomed by us."
A senior official in the prime minister's office explained, "the only way to proceed with the peace process is through direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan. If the idea is to solve the Palestinian problem within a Jordanian framework, it's natural that a Jordanian delegation will include Palestinians."
Ariel Sharon, the minister of trade and industry and a Likud candidate for prime minister, called the idea of U.S. talks with a Palestinian-Jordanian delegation "an American attempt to rehabilitate Arafat and the PLO . . . .
"It's part of the chain of mistakes they've been making in the last three to four years," Sharon said. "It will not bring peace but postpone peace. The PLO is the same organization, only weaker, with the same purposes and targets--the elimination of the state of Israel and of the Jewish people. Nothing has changed. The only way to bring peace is to eliminate terror. Israel does not need the recognition of the PLO murderers."
Israel, as Sharon observed, is divided; the other half of the coalition government is the Likud Party, which refuses negotiations with PLO participation. "Every member of the PNC is a member of the PLO," said Sharon.
Ironically, it was former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger's 1975 formula, stipulating that the United States shouldn't recognize the PLO until the PLO recognized Israel and U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, that has given the PLO a way to stage a comeback in the wake of Israel's Lebanon invasion.
In the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli intrusion, some U.S. officials tried to persuade Secretary of State George P. Shultz to declare that the PLO was no longer the official representative and voice of the Palestinian people. Had he accepted this advice, it would be impossible today for Jordan's king to visit Washington and announce, with fanfare, that the much-weakened PLO at last recognizes U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338.
The 1975 formula, still intact, in effect told the terrorist organization to "clean up your act and then we'll deal with you," a former U.S. official explained. "They inched toward recognition and put the heat on us to give something in return."
Hussein's motive in promoting an organization he drove out of Jordan in 1970, killing many of its members, driving the rest into Lebanon, is something of a mystery. Indeed, it is arguable whether he really does want the West Bank returned to Jordan, and he most certainly does not want an independent Palestinian state established there.
Arafat, now presented by Hussein as a man of peace, is the same man who recently launched two terrorist attacks against Israel, both interrupted. Moreover, the United States may find itself engaged in a search for peace with the same man who rearmed the Palestinians in the refugee camps outside Beirut, leading to bloody confrontations with Nabih Berri's Shia Amal militia.
"If this creates U.S.-Israeli problems, bringing down the Israeli government, Hussein will just sit there and grin," said one U.S. official bleakly. "He's delivered Arafat."