Jordanians cool to Israeli talk of peace
One of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres's first acts upon taking office little more than a week ago was to call on King Hussein of Jordan to negotiate peace with Israel.
To the Jordanians, that call seemed at best disingenuous.
''What is there to talk about?'' scoffed Leila Sharaf, Jordan's minister of information, during a lengthy interview Monday on the prospects for peace in the region.
There is, of course, no indication that Israel could have found a negotiating partner had the election turned out differently. The Arab world is in disarray, and King Hussein would have been under enormous pressure to resist any serious call to the negotiating table from the Israelis.
But the formation of Israel's Labor-Likud government seems to have added fuel to an almost regional sense of malaise that appeared after the Reagan plan was introduced in 1982 and promptly rejected by Israel.
Mrs. Sharaf represents the official Jordanian view. But talks with Jordanian political figures representing a range of opinion drew virtually the same reaction: The Israeli election results showed that Israel is not interested in negotiating a return of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Arab rule.
A government divided equally between the Labor Party and the Likud bloc, those interviewed said, cannot be expected to make any meaningful territorial concessions. And if Israel is uninterested, ''we're all just talking to ourselves,'' said a downcast Palestinian journalist.
The Jordanian position has long been that it will negotiate peace only if Israel agrees to relinquish all the territories it occupied in 1967 during the ''six-day war.''
The Israeli elections were inconclusive, and reflected a host of internal political divisions. But the Jordanians read the elections as a referendum on peace - and in their view, peace lost.
''Events now are forcing people to be either very, very passive or fanatics, '' said a businessman who has long been active in Jordanian politics. ''There's no room for anyone in between anymore, and when people realize this, God help us.''
Those interviewed expressed bitterness toward both Israel and the United States, which they said has done nothing to help the position of moderate states such as Jordan. Their comments in general echoed the recent public criticisms Hussein has made of the US.
''People are frustrated by the situation and they feel terribly impotent,'' said an informed observer.
The only ray of hope, from the Jordanian perspective, is the likely reelection of President Reagan.
''We feel that whatever mistakes the Reagan administration has made, it has had time to understand the issues, to come to grips with what the issues are,'' Sharaf said.
But some Jordanians say they feel that it is a mistake to look for an American initiative even should Reagan win reelection.
''The people who say that have a naive view of the situation,'' said a moderate political observer. ''They think that Reagan in a second term will be like Eisenhower, that he'll pressure the Israelis to make concessions. There is no evidence that would happen. That whole line of thought is just another sign of Arab desperation. The Arabs realize now that they can't make war and they can't make peace. They're stuck in this twilight zone.''
The ''twilight zone'' is a particularly dangerous place for Hussein, who in recent months has been trying to distance himself from US policies that are growing unpopular in the region. In March, the King harshly criticized the Reagan administration's policies while Congress was considering the sale of Stinger antiaircraft missiles to Jordan. The sale was killed, further angering the Jordanians.
''The King's statements were not an accident,'' Sharaf said. ''They were made after a series of frustrations.''
Hussein, she said, has called for an international conference to discuss peace in the Middle East ''because we have reached the decision, the conviction that the United States cannot be an objective mediator or an objective third party.''
Both the US and Israel have rejected the idea of an international peace conference that would include the Soviet Union.
''It is very discouraging,'' Sharaf said. ''Now the talk is that it is going to be too late in a few months. We say it. The Israelis say it. But do we know the implications of that? Do we know how much extremism we will have in the area if that is true?''
Now, Jordanians say, they can only wait for the results of the US election. Hussein has been making moves toward the Soviet Union, but both the Jordanians and the Americans seem to be playing down the significance of arms deals between Jordan and the Soviet Union.