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Inter-Arab tensions dim Jordan's hope for peace initiative

Jordan has been handed a fresh reminder of the odds against its bid to foster a new Arab diplomatic initiative for Mideast peace. The immediate focus of that effort has been to reconvene a pan-Arab summit adjourned in discord last year. Jordan's King Hussein wants such a summit, among other things, to abandon a long insistence on unanimous support for decisions at such meetings. He wants simple majority rule, hoping to deny rival states like Syria and Libya a veto of any new Arab initiative.

Arab foreign ministers were to meet Tuesday to try to set a date for the summit. But the meeting was pushed back to Saturday by what were termed logistic and travel hitches.

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Beyond abiding Arab-Israeli differences on all major peace issues, Jordan's problem is that a new Jordanian-sponsored initiative seems blocked by daunting divisions within the Arab world.

The latest reminder of this problem has come in the form of wordslinging by Syria, Jordan's powerful neighbor and rival, against far-off Morocco in north Africa.

The issue between the Syrians and Moroccans is as much symbolic as substantive. Damascus, angered at the unprecedented open presence of Moroccan-born Israeli parliamentarians in Rabat for a conference on local Jewry, accused Morocco of ''treason'' Tuesday. The Syrians recalled their ambassador for consultations.

Some rosy Israeli media commentary notwithstanding, the Rabat conference cannot seriously have been meant as even a ''first step'' in a new Arab-Israeli peace process.

Any serious Arab-Israeli diplomatic move would hinge not on the likes of Morocco but on the Jordanians, the Syrians, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

And to the extent other Arab states matter, the key voices belong to billionaire Gulf power brokers like Saudi Arabia or, to a lesser extent, to the post-Sadat Egypt of President Hosni Mubarak.

It is to the Saudis, above all, that King Hussein has been pitching his proposal for a summit. The issue is understood to have figured in talks late last month between the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

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Amman radio said the talks had reviewed ''the unprecedented problems'' of the Arab world.

Originally, an Arab summit had been set for Saudi Arabia in late March. But amid inter-Arab tension - notably between Syria on one side, and Jordan and the PLO on the other - the parley was postponed.

Arab diplomats suggest that the Saudis have been hesitant to appear to be lining up against Syria over the summit issue and may also be leery of the possibility such a meeting would advance chances of Egypt's return to a position of Arab leadership. Such a return could, among other things, trim Saudi influence.

King Hussein has, meanwhile, been trying to finesse inter-Arab tensions by sealing a preemptive joint diplomatic strategy with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. The King had hoped to present such an accord to an Arab summit for majority endorsement.

Jordan's prime minister, Ahmed Obeidat, used a local television interview a few days ago to couple fresh talk of an Arab summit with a report of some progress on the Jordan-PLO front. He said the PLO had ''to a certain extent'' softened its contention that a pan-Arab political consensus must precede any accord between the Palestinians and the Jordanians.

Still, he did acknowledge a remaining chicken-and-egg problem: Pro-Arafat ''PLO leaders . . . are under internal pressures by the other PLO factions on this subject.'' Indeed, divisions within the PLO mirror wider Arab divisions between states like Jordan and Syria.

The Jordanians are assuming there is no serious propsect for Arab-Israeli diplomatic movement before the American elections. But King Hussein would like to be ready by then with majority Arab endorsement for a formula trading ''land for peace'' with Israel.

The King envisages an Israeli withdrawal from the formerly Jordanian West Bank, the once-Egyptian Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights - all captured by Israel in 1967. The Palestinians would get ''self-determination'' in the West Bank and Gaza. And Israel's existence within pre-1967 borders would get Arab acceptance and recognition.

But the Syrians fear that, given present Israeli policy, such an initiative could at the very most lead to a ''separate peace'' among Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians. This would leave Syria, still minus the Golan Heights, alone to carry the military weight of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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