AMMAN, Jordan — Following an indecisive meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Baghdad, a sense of deep pessimism has displaced previous optimism about efforts to arrange a Mideast peace settlement.
"I think the peace process is pretty much dead," said a Western diplomat who only a month ago was predicting major progress in arranging talks between Jordan and Israel under the auspices of an international conference.
Another diplomat noted that, ironically, the apparent failure comes just a year after the peace process began in earnest, when Jordan's King Hussein put forth a joint initiative with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Three months later, on Feb. 11, 1985, the two sides issued a joint declaration calling for peace talks that would lead to a confederation composed of Jordan and a Palestinian state.
Jordanian disillusionment with PLO leader Yasser Arafat--already running high, in part because of the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro--appears to have reached a new peak following last month's meeting in Baghdad of the PLO Executive Committee, the larger PLO Central Council, and the Central Committee of Arafat's mainstream Fatah guerrilla group.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 8, 1986 Home Edition Metro Part 2 Page 4 Column 6 Letters Desk 3 inches; 97 words Type of Material: Letter to the Editor; Correction
Your news report (Dec. 7), "Fading Hopes for Mideast Peace Talks Leave Jordan Upset with Arafat," states that I "boycotted" the November meetings of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Baghdad. This report is false.
I was not in attendance at the meetings in Baghdad but for different reasons than your reporter stated. I was attending a conference organized by the United Nations in Holland in solidarity with the Palestinian people and the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Cooperation Conference in Rabat, Morocco.
Al-Hasan is a member of the Central Committee of El Fatah and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Palestine National Council.
Counted on PLO
According to Jordanian officials, the king was counting on the PLO to endorse U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which guarantee Israel's right to exist within secure borders, as well as to take steps to improve internal discipline and control terrorism. Of the three points, the king was satisfied on none.
"Before, we thought the peace process wouldn't work without Arafat," a close adviser to Hussein said. "Now we know it won't work with him."
In addition, the Jordanians are increasingly frustrated with the role being played by the United States, and many diplomatic analysts here believe that the king's recent overture to Syria reflects, in part, Hussein's concern that the Americans will abandon him.
Richard W. Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, noted this week in Jerusalem that Jordan was trying to bring Syria into the peace process. But Israeli officials said Murphy had privately conceded that Syria is not interested in peace talks at this stage.
Humiliated by U.S.
Hussein was deeply humiliated by the overwhelming decision of the U.S. Congress to delay a major arms sale to Jordan and the failure of the United States to support unequivocally Jordan's call for an international peace conference to settle the region's differences.
"We couldn't get anything from the Americans," a Jordanian official lamented. "They came up with all kinds of weaseling formulas like 'umbrella' and 'auspices' of an international conference. But we never got a straight 'yes' answer."
Jordanian officials say Hussein is now planning to visit the Soviet Union, shopping for arms to replace the weapons the United States offered but did not deliver. One official said the king is so disappointed with Washington that Jordan's national airline, Alia, is considering buying European aircraft rather than American-built jetliners in a planned overhaul of its fleet.
The relationship with Syria is likely to be cemented soon in a meeting between Hussein and Syrian President Hafez Assad.
Needed Arab Support
The Jordanian officials, who requested anonymity, said Hussein embarked on his initiative with Arafat because he had concluded that he needed a Palestinian partner in the negotiations and wider Arab support.
The king counted on Arafat to bring along the Arab support, but the PLO leader failed to live up to the king's expectations. Now, according to these officials, the king is determined to use the growing rapprochement with Syria to provide both the Arab support and Palestinian backing for a peace initiative, even though Syria remains lukewarm to the idea of negotiations.
Jordanian officials are dropping broad hints that other, more sympathetic leadership may possibly be found for the PLO in cooperation with Syria, though nearly everyone agrees that it would be impossible to achieve such a move while Arafat is still alive.
There is considerable speculation here about a growing split in the PLO between a moderate wing led by Khaled Hassan, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, and radicals headed by Salah Khalaf, the deputy leader of Fatah who is also known as Abu Iyad.
Hassan is known to regard the PLO's relationship with Jordan as a strategic alliance and has been prodding Arafat unsuccessfully to move forward, while Khalaf is believed to have advised Arafat that he has gone too far already.
Victory for Hard-Liners
Significantly, Hassan boycotted the PLO's Baghdad meetings, which took place Nov. 24 and 25. The fact that the Baghdad meetings resulted in no movement in the PLO position is widely regarded as a victory for the hard-liners.