Joint Arab peace moves put pressure on Israel for positive response
Pressure is building on Israel to reciprocate with a positive response now that Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization have agreed on a list of negotiators for prospective peace talks with the Jewish state. This was a view expressed here Thursday by Jordanian officials and Western diplomats. They confirmed that a list of names for a joint Palestinian-Jordanian negotiating team was handed to Washington a week ago. The Americans, these officials said, had apparently given the list to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
``The ball is in their court,'' said a Jordanian source.
A well-placed Western diplomat said it was now apparent that PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was ready to make two declarations that would satisfy US conditions for direct dialogue with Mr. Arafat.
These are: a recognition of Israel's ``right to exist'' and an endorsement of United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, which call on the Arabs to give Israel peace in return for lands occupied in the 1967 Middle East conflict.
``It is quite conceivable they [the PLO] may do this,'' said the Western diplomat. ``It is obvious that they want to. It is a question of timing, making sure that it helps the process, pushes forward the process of negotiations.'
The diplomat, who has closely observed the unfolding peace process from here, suggested that Israel was the obstacle at the moment, in part because the Peres government is distracted by domestic crises. ``On the Arab side, things are moving along reasonably well,'' he said. ``There has been a fundamental change on the Arab side, but the echo in Israel is very faint.''
Jordanian, PLO, and US Embassy officials in Amman refused Thursday to divulge names of the Palestinians on the list of prospective negotiators.
Some sources said it could be assumed most or all were members of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO's ``parliament in exile.''
This would satisfy American criteria and pave the way for a meeting of the joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation, as a preliminary to peace talks with Israel, with Richard Murphy, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. The diplomat said this meeting could take place very soon, as the Jordanians and Palestinians ``are in a hurry.'
The US has said it is willing to talk with members of the PNC as long as they are not members of any Palestinian guerrilla organizations in the PLO. Israel has rejected the idea of talks with PNC or PLO members. One scenario is that formal PLO recognition of Israel and concommitant US recognition of the PLO may follow the Murphy talks expected to take place in Amman. ``The next important development is that meeting,'' said the diplomat.
Sources close the to the PLO leaders say they fear that the people nominated for the Palestinian-Jordanain team would be murdered if their names were made public now. Such disclosure would be highly irresponsible, they say, since there is no guarantee the nominees will serve as negotiatiors, or even that there will be peace talks.
Fahd Kawasmeh, a former mayor deported from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and a member of the PLO's ruling executive committee, was assassinated last December outside his Amman home by a suspected Syrian-backed hit squad. Syria, and the hardline PLO wing based in Damascus, oppose Arafat's moves toweard peace in conjunction with Jordan's King Hussein.
The peace process got a push in February when Hussein and Arafat agreed to jointly pursue talks with Israel.
But, according to the diplomat, the turning point was Hussein's talks in Washington several weeks ago with President Reagan and administration officials.
The King offered the ``new'' positions including an agreement to direct negotiations with Israel, a willingess to commence talks before the end of 1985, and a pledge that Jordan's relations with Israel could immediately enter a state of nonbelligerency. Finally, the diplomat said, Hussein indicated on behalf of Arafat that for the first time the PLO chairman was prepared to explicitly endorse the UN resolutions.
``All the cynics were saying that before the King turned away from the microphone, the PLO would contradict him. But it hasn't, not at all,'' said the diplomat.