King Hussein has had enough. After a year of intermittent efforts to find common political ground with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organizaton, the Jordanian leader has concluded that he was wasting his time on a fool's errand. The problem, Hussein said in an extraordinary 3 1/2 hour speech, was that Arafat would not keep his word on devising a joint approach for peace talks with Israel. Six months ago Arafat promised to endorse key U.N. Security Council resolutions that implicitly accept Israel's political legitimacy. Two weeks ago he reneged. With that, Hussein was left without an essential starting point for talking with Israel about the future of the West Bank.
The collapse of PLO-Jordan negotations comes as something less than a surprise. The PLO remains deeply and sometimes violently divided over the political course it should follow. While some in its upper ranks may favor concessions and compromises in an effort to advance the Palestinian cause, others are determined to accept nothing less than full achievement of the PLO's stated political goals, foremost of which is the destruction of Israel. Year after year, the only consensus the PLO shows itself capable of is for maintaining the sterile status quo. Arafat does not seem embarrassed to represent that consensus. It is in fact the very basis of his survival.