After Fez: key role for PLO in peace talks
The Arab summit in Fez, Morocco, has:
* Put the Palestine Liberation Organization back in the political center stage after its military defeat in Lebanon.
* Made it more difficult for Jordan to respond positively to President Reagan's ''fresh look'' peace proposals. It cannot now act without PLO approval.
* Indicated, nonetheless, that the Arabs are willing - eventually at least - to play their trump card: recognition of Israel (see report from Beirut later in this story).
Jordan was the focal point of Mr. Reagan's initiative. The President's clear aim was to draw Jordan into the negotiation process. He pointedly ignored the PLO - keeping in line with a 1975 US commitment to Israel not to talk to the PLO until it recognizes Israel.
The PLO was the focus of the Fez summit. The Arab leaders there called for an independent Palestinian state under the leadership of the PLO. And they reaffirmed the PLO's sole right to represent the Palestinians, granted by a 1974 Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco.
Furthermore, the American plan looked to the Camp David accords as the negotiating framework through which the fate of the West Bank and Gaza would be determined. Until now, Jordanian and Palestinian representatives have refused to join Egypt, Israel, and the US at the negotiating table.
The Arab plan, on the other hand, looked to the United Nations Security Council for ''guarantees for all states of the region, including the independent Palestinian state.'' While this phrase implies Arab recognition of Israel and is cited by many moderate Arabs as a breakthrough, it is weaker and more indirect than some analysts here expected.
The gap between the American approach and the Arab proposals, therefore, remains great.
Before Fez there was speculation here that the Arab states and the PLO might now acquiesce in allowing Jordan - with PLO backing and Palestinian participation - to try to win back Palestinian land at the negotiating table. Jordan had indicated that Mr. Reagan's long awaited clarifications of how the US interprets Camp David had gone far to remove Jordanian objections.
But at Fez the mantle for the PLO was confirmed and Jordan kept out of the negotiating arena. Many well-placed Jordanians here do not hide their disappointment.
The timing of the conference is seen as critical.
Observers here believe the Fez proposals were a product of a deeply felt Arab - and especially Saudi - need to arrive at a consensus of both moderates and more radical states in the wake of their humiliating inactivity during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and their deadly internal divisions.
''With the PLO arriving fresh from the wounds of Beirut, who could refuse them their role,'' said one Jordanian journalist.
The full implications of Fez will not be clear here until the keenly awaited return of King Hussein - who has so far issued no public statements - from a post summit vacation in Spain.
However, some observers here see grounds for guarded optimism that the gap between the Fez and Reagan proposals can be bridged.
''Fez is the Arab maximalist position,'' says one Western diplomat. ''It does not reject the American proposals. This leaves room for manuever.''
Jordanians are both skeptical and intrigued by prospects for a high-level six-member commission - possibly including kings and heads of state. This was set up by Fez to consult with UN Security Council members on the Fez and Reagan proposals.
But the Jordanian press gave front-page coverage to the doubts of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who said Saturday that he preferred the Reagan plan because Fez ''lacks the mechanism to achieve its goals.''
It is this practical problem - US and Israeli opposition to involvement of the UN and the Soviet Union versus Arab opposition to the Camp David accords as the only negotiating framework - which lead some observers here to believe that the Arabs may have to turn once again to Jordan as an intermediary for the PLO in negotiations with Israel.
But Jordan, they stress, cannot and will not act without PLO approval, while an Arab consensus would be desirable but not as critical. Only the PLO is in a position to redefine the unequivocal mandate bestowed on it by Fez.
''The potential role of Jordan now,'' says one well-informed Jordanian analyst who supports the PLO, ''is as a front for the PLO because Jordan is politically acceptable to Israel and the US. Jordan will block but not carry the ball.'' Special correspondent T. Elaine Carey reports from Beirut
If Middle East peace plans were being traded in a souk in an Arab capital, the newly adopted Arab League version would rank as a high opening bid - and President Ronald Reagan's would be rock bottom.
As seen here, the most important point is that the bargaining has begun and the Arabs have shown they are willing to eventually play their trump card - recognition of Israel.
The ''Fez charter'' adopted last week in Morocco is the first comprehensive Arab peace initiative since the creation of Israel. It marks the first time Arab leaders have implicitly recognized the Jewish state.
The ''Fez charter'' is also significant for what it doesn't say. It doesn't reject President Reagan's initiative.
The Arab leaders suggested sending representatives to Washington to air their plan and discuss ''the views recently put forward by the United States'' - avoiding naming Reagan specifically, but certainly not ruling out dialogue. The league said a committee should be sent to the US and the other permanent UN Security Council members for talks.
Arab analysts read this as a way to sit down with the Americans for give and take on their varying plans. It is also seen as a way to include the Soviet Union in the process so as to appease hard-line Arabs.
The Arabs also avoided mentioning anything except Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967. There isn't a peep about the Arab right to ''Palestine'' proper or Israel.
Paradoxically, for the first time, the Arabs are not the ones flatly rejecting the ideas being floated. Israel is hostile while the Arabs are still basically noncommital on the American plan.
But the Arab plan goes far beyond Mr. Reagan's. The Arab leaders are calling for an independent, PLO-led, Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza strip with Jerusalem as its capital after a short transition period under the United Nations.
It too, therefore, is flatly unacceptable to Israel.
The Fez charter is nearly the same as an earlier Saudi Arabian peace proposal - the eight-point ''Fahd plan.'' King Fahd, who was then crown prince, presented this in August 1981. In fact, both Gulf and Palestinian sources admit PLO chairman Yasser Arafat wrote much of it and Fahd signed his name.
However, the Fahd plan left the Arabs divided over its implied recognition of Israel. The hard-liners who balked at this point the first time around bought it this time with different window dressing. Summit sources said the radicals, particularly Syria and the PLO, agreed to bypass this sticky point by calling for the UN Security Council to guarantee both the security of nations in the region (implicitly including Israel) as well as full implementation of the plan.