Arafat, Hussein face diplomatic tests ahead -- despite constructive talks
Yasser Arafat has laid down the broad principles for a coming Palestine Liberation Organization response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the dispersion of the PLO throughout the Arab world.
Political analysts here say the four days of discussion recently concluded between the PLO leader and Jordan's King Hussein resulted in a general negotiating framework or understanding on the Palestinian problem.
It is this general basis the Jordanian monarch will use in any discussions on Middle East peace prospects with the Reagan administration. According to White House officials, a US-Jordanian meeting later this month is a distinct possibility.
But both King Hussein and Yasser Arafat are on diplomatically tricky ground.
The King faces several problems, in part because he has failed to get a mandate by the PLO to negotiate with the United States. Instead, he is expected to attempt to bridge the joint Arab plan endorsed at Fez, Morocco, and the Reagan peace initiative unveiled Sept. 1. This effort, in itself, could prove difficult.
Arab heads of state meeting at Fez last month adopted a plan calling for the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River with its capital in Jerusalem. The plan also calls on the United Nations to guarantee the security of the states in the region.
The Reagan plan calls for the creation of a Palestinian entity in federation with Jordan on the West Bank.
The PLO position has been that a Palestinian state should be established first - before discussion of possible federation with Jordan. And Israel has rejected both plans outright.
Mr. Arafat, too, has to walk a careful diplomatic line.
(On Oct. 13, five Palestinian groups issued a statement condemning the concept of a Palestinian-Jordanian federation. Although Arafat was not mentioned by name, the statement was said to be aimed at his leading role as negotiator for the PLO. Some analysts say this may signal the PLO's most serious internal dispute ever.)
Arafat has also been criticized in recent days by Syrian Information Minister Ahmad Iskander for his meeting with King Hussein inAmman. Mr. Iskander was reported as saying Syria recognized ''the PLO'' as the sole representative of the Palestinians and that no one had the right to dispose of the Palestinian issue without a ''mandate'' from the PLO. This was an undisguised slap at Arafat's leadership.
Arafat did not respond to the Syrian statement directly, but he did subsequently summon the PLO executive committee to Amman for consultations regarding his talks with Hussein. Of the 15 committee members, who represent the various groups that make up the umbrella organization known as the PLO, only eight went to Amman. Later Arafat told reporters that before any policy decisions were taken, the issues would be submitted to the 310-member Palestine National Committee, the organization's parliament-in-exile.
Analysts say Arafat is interested in taking the diplomatic initiative to approach the Reagan plan in part because it is ''the only game in town'' and the only feasible means available to get the Israelis to turn over the West Bank. He has said there are ''positive elements'' in the Reagan plan but that it does not address ''the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and statehood.''
But observers have warned not to read into these actions an erosion of support for Arafat or an unresolvable split in the PLO. Rather, they say Arafat remains unquestionably the leader of the Palestinians and enjoys wide support. Following the Amman meeting, many West Bank politicians and leaders expressed their support for the PLO and Arafat.
Observers say the reason for Syria's position is that any rapprochement between Arafat and Hussein undermines claims the Syrian President might make as to being the only true friend and protector of the PLO in the Arab world.
Still, analysts say Arafat will seek to gain as much political and diplomatic mileage as he can from the current heightened world sympathy for the Palestinian cause, which came as a result of events in Lebanon - especially the massacre in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. But, they add, to score diplomatic points he will necessarily have to operate freely - autonomously above the domestic politics of any one Arab regime.