US envoy's Mideast visit disappoints Jordan and PLO
Jordanian officials and Palestinian guerrilla leaders are blaming the United States and Israel for the apparent deadlock in efforts to revive the Mideast peace process. There was disappointment and some bewilderment in Amman because US envoy Richard W. Murphy ended a six-day visit to the region yesterday without holding a long-awaited meeting with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
The proposed dialogue has been at the center of diplomatic moves in the region for much of the year. Jordan strongly advocates the US-Jordanian-Palestinian meeting as an essential first step toward Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization feel a meeting between US and Palestinian leaders may be a way of breaking the US's diplomatic boycott of the PLO, thus eliminating what they see as a major obstacle to effective talks.
At a rare press conference pointedly held just as Mr. Murphy was flying back to Amman Saturday, Jordanian Prime Minister Zaid Rifai said he could not explain the American delay in arriving at final plans.
King Hussein had submitted a list of prospective Jordanian and Palestinian delegates -- the latter chosen by the PLO -- to the US which had raised hopes here by suggesting that some of the names were acceptable.
``The only reason that we have not had the meeting so far is that we haven't heard the final American response to accepting the names [of the Palestinian delegates] and agreeing on the date,'' said Mr. Rifai.
The US Embassy in Amman refused to comment. Before his departure, Murphy said the US remained willing to meet with the Jordanian-Palestinian team if it would further peace prospects. Sources say the Reagan administration appeared to be looking for assurances the Arab side would be flexible in peace negotiations with Israel if the US was to end the boycott of the PLO. Murphy met with King Hussein at the beginning and end of his journey and also held talks in Israel and Egypt.
The PLO also issued no formal comment, but two PLO leaders expressed cynicism and some disappointment during interviews yesterday.
However, Jordan's Rifai said some progress had been made in clarifying positions during Murphy's meetings in Amman. He said the US did not agree with Jordan's proposal for an international peace conference as the stage for Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, but he did not cite this as a reason that was holding up American talks involving Palestinian leaders.
Jordanian and PLO officials seemed somewhat quick to point the finger at Israel's increasing opposition to the proposed US-Arab talks.
``From what we hear, it seems Israel is against the whole process,'' said Rifai. ``If they are against the whole process, then it means they are against peace. It means all they are interested in is continued occupation and annexation of the West Bank, of Gaza, and perhaps even of southern Lebanon. We [Jordan and the PLO] are talking about a process we hope would lead to a negotiated settlement.''
The proposal for the US-Jordanian-Palestinian talks grew out of the ``Amman agreement'' signed by Hussein and PLO chief Yasser Arafat on February 11. The two leaders agreed to enter into negotiations with Israel on the basis of the ``land for peace'' principle embodied in United Nations Security Council resolution 242. But the PLO has not yet categorically endorsed 242 on the grounds it does not specify the right of Palestinians to self-determination.
Israel has repeatedly invited Hussein to enter into immediate bilateral peace talks. But Jordan and the PLO have said this is ducking the core problem of Palestinian self determination.
``Jordan will not make a unilateral peace or separate peace with Israel,'' said Rifai. ``The Soviet Union and the Syrians are involved and they must participate. [Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast conflict, when it also took the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt.]
``The Palestinian people have to participate in the peace process through their legitimate representatives. It is widely and rightly said the parties to the conflict have to be the parties to the peace. If the PLO is not a party to the conflit, I don't know who is.''
PLO executive committee member Mohammed Milhelm, a deported former West Bank mayor, ruled out more PLO compromises to spur the peace process.
The PLO already announced its wilingness to live in peace with Israel by declaring a readiness to negotiate with the Jewish state, Mr. Milhelm says. Other PLO officials point out that the Amman agreement does not call for an independent Palestinian state -- and on this basis has been denounced as traitorous by hardline Arab states like Syria.
``The meeting of the American administration and the joint delegation would be very important,'' Milhelm says. `` It would gain us recognition of the PLO and enable Americans to pressure Israel. If the US behaves in an even-handed way, it will be helpful to Palestinian, Israeli, and American interests in the Middle East.''
Jordan and Palestinian leaders suggested that Israel was trying to put up obstacles by escalating charges that Jordan is allowing the PLO to rebuild terrorist bases within its borders. Prime Minister Rifai stoutly denied the Israeli allegation, as did Khalil Wazir, deputy military commander of the PLO and a close Arafat associate. PLO sources in Amman say, however, that Jordan-based PLO leaders do give active encouragement to what they call ``commando operations.''
Mr. Wazir is not entirely discouraged by the stalled peace process, he says,beacuse the PLO has proved it retains political weight despite Israel's attempts to destroy the organization in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
``We are still here,'' Wazir said.