Palestinians on West Bank caught in Jordan-PLO feud. But they are likely to cling to PLO despite its bleak situation
West Bank Palestinians see themselves as trapped between a feuding Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization. That is the consensus of Palestinians interviewed here Tuesday as Jordanian troops closed most PLO offices in Amman and ordered PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's deputy, Khalil Wazir, to leave within 48 hours.
``This is the most dangerous period for our people,'' said Ghassan Ayub, a trade union official in Nablus.
Palestinians living on the Israeli-occupied West Bank feel they are being asked to choose between their political loyalty to the PLO and their economic interests, which are often tied to Jordan.
Prominent Palestinians said most Palestinians would choose to cling to the PLO, but added that the PLO's prospects had seldom appeared bleaker.
``I can't remember another time when we were confronted by Jordan, Syria, and Israel, backed by the US,'' said one pro-PLO Palestinian in East Jerusalem.
What unites Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the US in this instance is a shared belief that Mr. Arafat is no longer fit to head the PLO or represent the Palestinians. The irony for Arafat is that Syrian President Hafez Assad opposes him for being too moderate, while King Hussein, the Reagan administration, and Israel have concluded that he will never enter peace negotiations.
Jordan was important to Arafat because it provided a base of operations contiguous to Israel. That made dispensing funds to Palestinian organizations and individuals on the West Bank easier. It also made it easier to coordinate guerrilla operations inside the occupied territories. The PLO worked hard to reestablish a military presence in Lebanon, but Syrian intervention in Beirut in late June has made that goal more distant.
Arafat faces the prospect of having no military or political presence in any Arab state contiguous to the occupied territories. That would be a profound psychological and logistical blow to the organization that the Arab League recognized in 1974 as the ``sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.'' Twelve years later, Arafat has only Palestinian disunity to offer his people. There is no peace process and no real military option.
As Jordanian troops surrounded most PLO offices in Amman, Palestinians here said Jordan and Israel were clamping down on West Bank Palestinians.
``We condemn the latest Jordanian actions because this means that they have opened another side of their activities against the Palestinians,'' said Shihadeh Minaur, also a labor union official.
The union charged in a press conference that Israeli authorities had prevented its annual meeting and harassed its members. The Palestinians also charged that the military authority was harassing East Jersualem Arabic newspapers, two of which have been threatened with closure. The Israeli crackdown, Palestinians said, is linked to Jordan's moves against the PLO and prominent West Bank Palestinians who failed to support King Hussein's bid for peace.
``The Jordanians and the Israelis think they can avoid the PLO and find an alternative on the West Bank,'' said Mohammed Miari, an Israeli Arab Knesset (parliament) member. ``[They] will be foiled.''
According to an Israeli West Bank analyst, ``There does seem to be some coordination between Jordanian and Israeli moves'' against West Bank Palestinian organizations, such as the trade unions known for their pro-PLO sympathies.
The common interest between Jordan and the Labor-half of Israel's government lies in undermining the PLO on the West Bank, whose 800,000 Palestinians are Arafat's most important constituency.
From the Jordanian perspective, Arafat all but deserted the West Bank last January when he refused to accept United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for an international peace conference. Resolution 242 implicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist. The PLO maintains it is inadequate because it does not guarantee the Palestinians' the right to self-determination.
The King publicly said last year that time was running out to reverse the process of Israel's de facto annexation of the West Bank. He wanted to begin negotiations for a return of the West Bank to Arab control while Labor Party head Shimon Peres was still Israel's prime minister. On Feb. 11, 1985, the King and Arafat signed an agreement to jointly seek a negotiated settlement to the Middle East problem. A year later, the King announced the end of his efforts to include the PLO in the peace process.
Arafat's failure to accept the minimum requirements of Jordan, the US, and Israel for negotiations in January made the King resolute ``to get rid of Arafat,'' says a senior Western diplomat in the region.
Jordan cited a June 20 statement issued in Tunis by Fatah, the largest pro-Arafat PLO faction, as reason for closing the offices in Amman. The statement condemned Jordan's treatment of Palestinians on the West Bank and in Jordan.