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Vexed Hussein Dissolves Jordan's Lower House : Move Appears to Reflect Frustration With Israel, U.S., PLO Over West Bank

July 31, 1988|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

AMMAN, Jordan — King Hussein, in a move widely believed to reflect his growing frustration with Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, dissolved the lower house of the Jordanian Parliament on Saturday, severing an important link between his East Bank kingdom and the Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The decision to dissolve the 60-seat Council of Deputies, half of whose members represent the West Bank, was described by senior Jordanian officials as one of a series of symbolic steps the king has taken or plans to take to distance himself from West Bank affairs in order to avoid charges that he is trying to compete with the PLO for the loyalty of the Palestinians.

Hussein today will deliver what his court calls an important speech, which is expected to redefine Jordan's relationship with the PLO and indicate the degree to which it plans to scale back its relationship with the West Bank, the officials added.

One Elected, One Appointed

The lower house of the Jordanian Parliament is elected; the upper house, or Council of Notables, is appointed by the monarch and supports his policies.

The officials linked the royal decree dissolving the lower house to an announcement Thursday that Jordan was abandoning a five-year, $1.3-billion development plan for the West Bank. Supported by the United States and Israel, the plan had been criticized by Palestinians and other Arabs who saw it as an attempt by Hussein to undercut the PLO's influence in the occupied territories.

Both decisions, like "other similar moves" that a senior Jordanian source said would be announced over the next few days, are being officially portrayed here as attempts to satisfy the PLO's demands for unchallenged authority, in Arab eyes, over the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories. "This is what the PLO wants, and so this is what it gets," the official said.

However, the real meaning and motives behind the decision to disengage from the West Bank are much more complex and far-reaching than this explanation suggests, diplomats and other analysts said.

'Clear and Firm Signal'

For, in essentially abdicating some of Jordan's more visible responsibilities in the West Bank to the PLO, Hussein is sending what one diplomat called a "clear and firm signal" to both the United States and Israel to stop thinking of Jordan as an alternative to the PLO when it comes to representing the Palestinians at any future peace talks.

"The king has been saying for some time now he won't represent the Palestinians, and now he is saying it in a way that should finally make people believe him," the diplomat said.

At the same time, this and other analysts said, Hussein is putting the PLO on the spot by saying, in effect, that "if you think you can do more for the Palestinians than I can, then go ahead and try."

Underlying the king's decision is a mounting frustration over a number of events that, during the past year, have tended to move him out to the margin of the peace process.

Of them, the most important has been the eight-month-old intifada, or uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which has radicalized the Palestinians living there and all but eliminated Jordan's influence over them.

The king has also been deeply frustrated by what he considers the Reagan Administration's half-hearted, unrealistic peace efforts. "The United States," he told an Arab League summit meeting in Algiers last June, "has no Middle East policy other than support for Israel."

Radicalizing Israeli Jews

Senior Jordanian officials have also been expressing alarm over the radicalizing effect that the intifada is having among Jews in Israel and the likelihood that this may result in a victory for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's hard-line Likud Bloc in November's parliamentary elections.

Ticking off his frustrations in a meeting with foreign journalists two months ago, Hussein, making no attempt to conceal his bitterness, said he was tired of shouldering "this tremendous responsibility" for the Palestinians without support or thanks from any quarter.

He sounded then like a man on the verge of giving up. But the last straw appears to have been his defeat at the Algiers summit, where Arab leaders agreed to bypass Jordan and channel a $120-million fund for the uprising exclusively through the PLO.

"This is 1974 all over again," one diplomat said, referring to the last time Hussein disbanded his Council of Deputies following an Arab League decision, made at a summit meeting in Rabat, Morocco, to recognize the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." The lower house was not revived until 1984.

Slap in Hussein's Face

The Rabat resolution, then widely viewed as a slap in Hussein's face, helped set the stage for a long and generally bitter struggle between Jordan and the PLO for influence over the West Bank, which Jordan ruled for 20 years until Israel captured it in 1967 during the Six-Day War.

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