Israel Must Act While There Is Time for Peace : Geopolitics: Israel and the PLO must offer their peoples practical options. Time is critical; the fundamentalist threat grows each day.

<i> Hassan bin Talal is crown prince of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan</i>

The world’s attention has focused these past few weeks on the release of hostages in Lebanon. But other than this long-playing human drama, the Middle East seems curiously passive.

The region’s longstanding problems--Palestine, the occupied territories, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, economic development--seem nowhere near equitable solutions. Serious efforts by Arabs and Israelis to get the peace process advancing meaningfully seem equally absent.

Yet there is an unprecedented opportunity for the Israelis to accommodate their neighbors and seriously tackle the festering issues that have haunted our region for generations. Jordan stands ready to seize the opportunity in a spirit of cooperation and goodwill.

But the opportunity for a genuinely lasting peace in our region diminishes--and recedes--daily.


An expanding, international, fundamentalist Islamic movement, influential in the politics of Muslim societies from South-East Asia westward through Afghanistan to Lebanon and North Africa, may become active in the intifada . Unless peace prevails, there will be a war that knows no territorial or national boundaries. It will be a war of attrition that seeks to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation-states by dissolving them into their components.

The sole triumphant residue of this war will be fundamentalism--Islamic, Christian and Jewish. The gulf, Palestine, Lebanon--these are only the flash points. The fanatical war, if unchecked and uncontained, could extend from Cairo to Islamabad and beyond. We would then witness the ethnic Lebanonization of our region.

Peace in the Middle East will remain elusive as long as Israel denies the existence of the principal aggrieved party in the dispute--the Palestinian people. Successive Israeli prime ministers have tried to deal with the Palestinian question through third parties. For several years Israel toyed with the “Jordanian option.” Egypt seems its current surrogate.

But it is neither Jordan’s nor Egypt’s responsibility to participate in this subterfuge. Nor should they, since it would signify their acquiescence to the denial of the Palestinians’ fundamental right to national self-determination.

Peace presumes that the other party undergoes a comparable transformation of attitudes, values and outlook. This is not the case in the Middle East. Israel, under Yitzhak Shamir, seems intent on squandering its opportunity by refusing to accept the exchange of land for peace--the only acceptable basis for a just and lasting settlement--as embodied in United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions call for the withdrawal of foreign presences from the occupied territories, and also offer implicit recognition of Israel’s sovereign existence.

Israel, meanwhile, has been energetically attempting to frustrate its own proposal for elections in the occupied territories. Its government’s objection centers on the emotive question of Palestinian representation.

With Israel continually denying the right of the Palestine Liberation Organization to represent the Palestinian people, the real purpose of the Israeli elections becomes only too clear: to drive a wedge between the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and their acknowledged and recognized leaders in the PLO.

To lift the situation out of this current quagmire, the region requires economic and political initiatives that hold the promise of working. But everyone seems obsessed with procedural matters. The Middle East situation has become a minuet.

Jordan’s leadership has always believed that for the peace process to be successful, both Israel and the PLO must offer their respective peoples practical options. Jordan is committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most appropriate vehicle for this outcome is an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations.

The resolution of the Palestine question can only be achieved in partnership, not by force of arms or by compelling immigrants to settle on occupied land. We cannot afford to wait until the Arabs and Israelis compromise themselves to the negotiating table. They must be induced to talk--and talk now.

The formulation of moderate policies and practical approaches, based on an Arab consensus, has been a Jordanian national objective toward which King Hussein has constantly worked. The time has come for our Western friends--and indeed well-wishers everywhere--to more fully recognize Jordan’s continuing efforts to promote peace and stability in the Middle East.

In the belief that a drastic jolt was needed for the peace process to become viable again, King Hussein embarked in July, 1988, on a fresh course to renew Palestinian responsibility for the liberation of its own homeland by severing all administrative and legal links with the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This decision defined Palestinians as distinct from Jordanians and other Arabs, and positioned them to secure, by negotiation, their national rights.

Regretably, Israel hasn’t chosen to join in the spirit of accommodation. It has chosen instead to distract attention from the issue of peace. This time it has gathered all its resources to welcome a new wave of emigration.

This massive emigration provides a powerful case for Israeli expansionists to keep the occupied territories for settlement of new immigrants. Not only will it exact a price by threatening all peace initiatives; the economic cost to Israel is staggering. The Shamir government has asked the United States for at least $300 million to help pay for the settlement of Soviet newcomers in Israel.

The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel estimates that 750,000 immigrants will arrive in Israel during the next five to six years. Already, more than 360,000 Soviet Jews have been invited to settle in Israel; the Israeli consulate in Moscow is issuing 200 visas a day to Jewish applicants.

The numbers are truly stunning: Between 1980 and 1988, only 15,752 Jews arrived in Israel from the Soviet Union. But when the Soviets relaxed their emigration rules, the flood began. In the first three months of this year, more than 17,000 Soviet Jews arrived in Israel. Recently, 1,000 Jews landed in Tel Aviv in one day. This huge migration could easily change the face of the Jewish state, whose current population is just 4.4 million.

Jordan has also advocated greater regional and interregional economic cooperation. This would promote political stability and also enhance the peace constituency in the Arab world.

Potential building blocks for this wider cooperation can be found in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Maghreb states. The oil resoures and revenues of gulf council members continue to be major factors in the economic growth of the region.

Another building block is a relatively new group known as the Arab Cooperation Council, which consists of Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and North Yemen. Our idea is to think in practical terms about such common concerns as water, energy, transportation and telecommunications.

To safeguard against a breakdown of the peace process, proposals that accommodate both the political requirements of the Palestinians and the resettlement of Soviet Jews must be designed.

The United States, the Soviet Union, Europe and other parties to the dispute should combine their expertise, wisdom and influence to chart a fresh course for peace, economic development and regional integration in the Middle East. Since the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories violate international law, the United States and Europe should tie their aid for the immigration and resettlement of Soviet Jews in the country to Israel’s freezing all settlement activity in the territories. They can also do much to ameliorate this difficult situation by increasing their annual immigration quotas for Soviet Jews.

For our part, Jordan has called for an Arab summit to formulate a peace strategy that would safeguard the legitimate rights of the Palestinians and the security and stability of the Arab regional order.

It is clear that the present climate in international relations is conducive to the convening of an international peace conference under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council. This conference would be an appropriate forum in which to deal with the problem once other methods have been exhausted. Whatever happens, the world should not simply wait until the Arabs and the Israelis are ready to make suitable compromises. They must be induced to doso.

A settlement of the Palestinian question will expel the threat of war and of communal strife from the Middle East political arena. The two superpowers would take a more direct role in resolving the regional conflict, through the United Nations machinery, without fear or prejudice to their respective positions or interests in the region.

Israeli expansionism will only fuel and nurture the Palestinian uprising. This is much like having a party in a small flat, and expecting your neighbors to move when your guest list grows too large.

Israel’s identity as a haven for the oppressed and persecuted is reinforced by its open arms to the Soviet Jews. This allows Israel once again to claim a moral high ground that was disintegrating into quicksand because of the cynical way in which it treated their own oppressed and persecuted--the Palestinians.

We hold out both a challenge and an olive branch to the Israelis. Will they seize the opportunity for peace?