Arabs sincere about peace, US Jews say. Jewish leaders meet Egyptians and Jordanians on Mideast trip
The leaders of Jordan and Egypt are committed to making peace with Israel, a delegation of American Jewish leaders said Wednesday. Three representatives of the American Jewish Congress spoke to reporters here after traveling to Egypt and Jordan. The delegation met individually with Jordan's King Hussein, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Their impressions are important because their organization is influential with the Jewish community in the United States, which stands poised to fight a proposed arms deal with Jordan if the Middle East peace process appears moribund. A nonbinding provision enables the US Congress to ban the sale of advanced military equipment to Jordan in the absence of a commitment by Jordan to participate in direct peace negotiations with Israel.
However, according to American Jewish Congress executive director Henry Siegman, `` . . . there is a genuine desire to move ahead with the peace process,'' despite differences ``with respect to the procedure.''
The three men said that they were told in Jordan and in Egypt that a meeting between a US envoy and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation was important to furthering the peace process. Israel's Mr. Peres, however, told the delegation he is opposed to such a meeting.
Israel has said it opposes to such a meeting because it fears members of the guerrilla Palestine Liberation Organization would be included in the delegation. The Israelis claim the meeting would be aimed at gaining US recognition of the PLO rather than reaching direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian team.
In the face of Israeli opposition, the Reagan Administration has made no announcement on whether the meeting will be held. In a closed-door congressional hearing, Richard Murphy, US undersecretary of state for Near East and Asian affairs, reportedly said no decision had been made to hold the meeting because names of Palestinians submitted were unacceptable.
Jordan and Egypt hold that the PLO, recognized by the Arabs as the sole representative of the Palestinians, must be included in the peace process. Hussein submitted a seven-man list of names to the US that had been drawn up by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
According to Henry Rosovsky, chairman of the AJC's board of trustees, Egyptian and Jordanian officials were eager to move toward a meeting with Murphy. In their view, he said, ``It contains the promise that the PLO will recognize Israel.''
``They said that this is the test [for the PLO]. Put them to the test and allow them to go forward. If the PLO does not, then they might be prepared to drop the PLO -- that was broadly hinted,'' Dr. Rosovsky said.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem and Washington said recently that Mr. Murphy had recommended meeting with the joint delegation on the basis that it would produce a PLO statement accepting United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and Israel's right to exist. The US had pledged to Israel that it would not negotiate with PLO until those conditions were met.
In recent days, Mr. Arafat has appeared to try to meet the US conditions without breaking a long-standing PLO taboo against accepting resolution 242. The resolution, which calls for Israel's withdrawal from occupied territories, refers to ``refugees'' and not to Palestinians.
In a taped message to a meeting of the Arab Anti-Discrimination League, Arafat spoke of trading ``land for peace.'' He also gave an interview to an Italian leftist newspaper in which he reportedly said he was willing to meet with Israeli officials.
Israeli and US officials say privately that they feel Arafat's recent statements indicate the US's hardline stance is working.
The Israelis and the Americans now seem to be pursuing a squeeze play by which they are putting pressure both on Jordan and the PLO to make further concessions before allowing the process to advance.
Jordan now is faced with the prospect of congressional opposition to a proposed arms deal that the King has indicated he badly wants. Israeli officials have said that Israel's objection to the deal would be dropped only if Hussein declares a state of nonbelligerancy with Israel.
Attention now is focused on Hussein's impending visit to Washington. He will be followed there shortly by Mubarak and Peres.
``I don't think Murphy will return to this region before another round of talks is held between the administration and each of the three leaders,'' the Israeli official said.
What remains to be seen is whether the Americans can convince the King that he can proceed without direct PLO participation, or if the King can convince Arafat that he must renounce military strikes against Israel and accept the required UN resolutions before he can be counted in at the peace table.