The idea of establishing a Palestinian government-in-exile is steadily gaining ground in Palestine Liberation Organization circles. Recent reports from Baghdad quoted PLO officials as saying their Executive Committee, headed by Yasser Arafat, had decided to recommend the announcement of a government-in-exile, linked to a declaration of independence by the Palestinians inside the occupied territories, to a special session of the Palestine National Council.
The council, an unofficial parliament-in-exile, establishes the broad policy guidelines within which the PLO is supposed to work. No date has yet been set for the special session, but it is expected to be held in Algiers sometime in September.
Meanwhile, three days of talks in Amman this weekend between Jordanian officials and a PLO delegation appear to have laid the basis for a working relationship. Statements issued by the two sides indicated they had agreed both on practical measures affecting the daily lives of West Bank and Jordanian Palestinians, and on consultation over future PLO political initiatives.
Jordan's King Hussein fueled consideration of the government-in-exile idea by his surprise statement two weeks ago, in which he renounced sovereignty in the West Bank in favor of the PLO.
One of Mr. Arafat's top aides has said another formula - announcement of an independent Palestinian state with a provisional government in the occupied territories - is also being considered.
In an interview with a Paris newspaper published Sunday, Salah Khalaf did not explain how a provisional government could be set up in the territories despite Israeli vows to crush any such moves. Mr. Khalaf, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Iyad, is the No. 2 figure in Arafat's Al-Fatah group.
The official Egyptian news agency, MENA, published a document yesterday also indicating the PLO is giving serious thought to proclaiming a state and provisional government, based partly in the territories, and partly in exile.
PLO officials said the outcome of the current debate within the organization won't affect the cooperation agreement reached with Jordan over the weekend.
The measures announced by Jordan to sever links with the West Bank had raised widespread anxieties among Palestinians living on both sides of the Jordan River. Although Amman said its steps were taken in deference to the PLO's claim to represent the Palestinians, the moves were not coordinated with Arafat.
PLO officials admitted they were taken aback by the decisions. It took them two weeks to send a delegation to Amman for what were clearly very delicate talks to clarify Jordanian intentions and map the future of PLO-Jordanian relations.
PLO officials said Jordan had agreed to keep up remaining day-to-day services to the estimated 1 million Palestinians living in the West Bank. These include the supervision of education; the registering of births, marriages, and deaths; and the issuing of export certificates for West Bank agricultural products.
The Jordanians were also reported to have agreed that the two vital bridges across the Jordan River linking the West Bank to Jordan would remain open. West Bank Palestinians will be issued two-year Jordanian passports for travel purposes, but will no longer be Jordanian citizens.
An official Jordanian statement last weekend said rights and obligations of Jordan's Palestinian citizens ``will not impinge on their legitimate rights in Palestine.'' This is taken as a signal that Palestinian Jordanians need not fear being put to a loyalty test.
PLO officials were clearly pleased by the outcome of the talks. ``We feel great relief that day-to-day needs have not been negatively affected by Amman's decision to cut legal, administrative, and political links with the West Bank,'' said Executive Committee member Abdullah Hourani, who took part in the meetings.
A Jordanian communiqu'e indicated that a new ``mutual understanding'' extended also into the political arena. It said Amman had agreed consult with the PLO on future moves the PLO might make ``to achieve the national goals of the Palestinian people.'' The King has indicated publicly he would grant immediate recognition to a government-in-exile.
The new working relationship that Amman and the PLO have apparently reached after a period of doubts and mutual suspicion was reflected in the Jordanian newspaper Sawt al-Shaab, regarded as close to the government.
It had been taking a hard line toward the PLO in the days before the Amman talks. But on Monday, it said the meetings had ``opened a new page in relations between Jordan and the PLO.''