It should be good news for Palestinians that Secretary of State George P. Shultz has again ruled out a role for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Middle East peace process.
If those Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967 are to have an Arab future for themselves and their lands, and if those territories are to be a part of a Jordanian-Palestinian state, it is essential for a peace initiative to take place very soon. However, since U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which provides for an exchange of territories for peace, is the agreed basis for any initiative, and since the PLO refuses to accept this resolution, no peace initiative is in sight if a role must be reserved for that organization.
Yet, if a peace initiative based on Resolution 242 were to transpire, and Jordan, representing the Palestinians, retrieved the Gaza Strip and the West Bank from Israeli occupation, nearly 90% of all Palestinians would no longer be stateless.
It is a widely overlooked fact that 65% of all Palestinians already are Jordanian citizens, some living in the West Bank and in Jordan proper, and some working in the Gulf area and Europe. Another 13% are citizens of Israel.
The PLO's main strength comes from the 10% to 12% of the Palestinians who live, or have lived, in Syria and Lebanon. Most of them were originally from Haifa and Galilee, areas not addressed by Resolution 242. The PLO would no longer be able to promise them a return to their homes of 38 years ago, and would promptly lose that base of support, if it confined its aspirations to the territory taken in 1967 and accepted Resolution 242.
The PLO thus continues to call for the liberation of all Palestine, which makes it unacceptable to the other serious partners to a peace process.
To the people in the occupied territories, the liberation of all Palestine is not a top priority; ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is. Between 1977 and 1984 they saw more than 80 Jewish settlements crop up around their towns and villages, planted by Likud-led governments with the hope of eventually annexing these territories to Israel. In 1983, the mayor of Gaza, Rashad Al-Shawa, wired the Palestine National Council, which was meeting in Algiers: "From the dying city of Gaza, surrounded by Jewish settlements, we send you our greetings." His entreaty was that the PLO allow Jordan to negotiate an end to the occupation.
Since then, a Labor-led government has come to rule Israel, and Prime Minister Shimon Peres has offered to negotiate a peace settlement with King Hussein of Jordan, on the basis of Resolution 242. Peres has barely 10 months more to govern. Then, according to the terms of the coalition, the Likud will return to power, and chances of ending the occupation may be lost irretrievably.
Peres' offer has not been taken up so far because Hussein is abiding by the decision of the 1974 Arab summit in Rabat, which made the PLO the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Since then, several Arab states have had regrets, and, in 1978, at Camp David, Egypt broke the Rabat consensus by negotiating autonomy for the occupied territories. Hussein has asked the PLO to either delegate its mandate to Jordan or accept Resolution 242, but the PLO has done neither.
Under the circumstances prevailing in 1985, there is little reason for Jordan not to represent the Palestinians. Not only are two-thirds of all Palestinians citizens of Jordan, but two-thirds of all Jordanian citizens are Palestinians. Eighty percent of the capital city, Amman, is Palestinian. Palestinians are integrated fully into most aspects of national life. Half of the government ministers are Palestinian, including the minister of foreign affairs; several ambassadors are Palestinian, including Jordan's chief delegate to the United Nations. The two largest banks in Jordan are managed by Palestinians, as are the two largest newspapers.
The major difference between Jordan as a Palestinian state and the PLO is that Jordan is willing to make peace with Israel in order to retrieve the occupied territories, whereas the PLO does not wish to make peace with Israel and it is willing to risk the Arab future of the occupied territories to avoid it. For the Palestinians themselves, the real issue is between a future Palestinian-Jordanian state including parts of Palestine, or one without them.
If statesmen and others interested in the resolution of the Middle East conflict take notice of the changes among the Palestinians during the past 18 years, they will find that Jordan is the most practicable representative of true Palestinian interests. Their duty is then to seek ways in which Jordan can assume its role.
One important contribution would be to work for a referendum to be held, under neutral auspices, among the Palestinians in the occupied territories. They, as the party most directly concerned, should be asked whether or not they want King Hussein to negotiate on their behalf. A mandate from them might allow Jordan to take up Peres' peace offer while it still can.