Jordan's King Hussein Gives PLO Ultimatum: Unite or Go Alone
In a challenge to Chairman Yasser Arafat, Amman indicates readiness to talk with Israel
JORDAN may negotiate with Israel on its own regarding its role in implementation of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) does not start immediate coordination with Jordan, King Hussein implied on Saturday.
King Hussein's signal to the PLO was the strongest public manifestation of his frustration over the PLO's failure to consult with Jordan on its peace negotiations since the signing of the historic Palestinian-Israeli accord on Sept. 13 in Washington.
Although the monarch did not disclose details, he is expected to implement the terms of a memo reached with Israel last month to open branches of Jordanian banks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The king also indicated that Jordan will be ready to negotiate with Israel over disputed water rights and even on the issue of Jerusalem. The latter is a forthright challenge to the PLO's claim of responsibility for the eastern part of the holy city.
Arafat stops in Amman
The king's remarks came less than 24 hours after PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's stopover at Amman airport. The two leaders agreed to start closer coordination regarding the economic and security aspects of the implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian accord.
A top-level PLO delegation was expected to arrive here tomorrow to discuss Jordan's role, particularly in the economy, during the transition to Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank city of Jericho.
``On our part, we have said [to Mr. Arafat] that [Tuesday's meeting] will be the last chance,'' Hussein told senior Army officers on Saturday. If the PLO does not comply, the king warned, then ``each side will assume its own responsibilities.''
Jordanian officials yesterday sought to tone down the king's warning, saying that it was aimed at underscoring the urgency of close coordination with the PLO.
``Jordan is under immense pressure to sign a treaty with Israel and proceed with steps toward normalization. Without help from the PLO, Jordan will have to go ahead without them,'' says a Jordanian official source.
The Palestinian-Israeli accord has given way to growing tension between Jordan and the PLO. The Israeli-PLO pact contains provisions that will affect Jordan, without including Jordan in the talks.
The Israeli-PLO accord, negotiated in Oslo in August, was vague regarding the solution for Palestinian refugees and did not give the future Palestinian authority control over monetary policies in Gaza and Jericho.
Jordan was extremely alarmed by the repercussions of the vagueness of these two issues, because it is the host country of the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees, and Jordanian money is the primary currency in the West Bank and is used to a lesser extent in the Gaza Strip.
Arafat's aides tried to solve the problem with Jordan last November, by conceding that the Central Bank of Jordan was in charge of regulating monetary policies, and agreeing that the Jordanian dinar would be the official currency during the five-year-interim period to self rule.
But the PLO leader has so far refused to ratify the agreement for fear that Israel will use it to undermine Palestinian demands to full sovereignty. Jordanian officials reject this argument, pointing out that, according to the Oslo accord, the alternative will be full Israeli control of banks and currency circulation.
Israeli bank in control
``The accord does not give the Palestinians such authority, leaving the Israeli Bank in total control,'' says Jawad al-Anani, minister of information, who brokered both the economic agreement with the PLO and the opening of Jordanian banks with Israel.
In private, Jordanian and PLO officials admit that it is the old-new Palestinian fear that Jordan will use its control over the banks to regain its claim to the West Bank, which was under Jordanian rule until it was captured by Israel in 1967.
``Arafat is maneuvering so he can guarantee that the form of Palestinian autonomy will not consolidate Israeli occupation or bring back the West Bank under Jordanian control,'' says a senior PLO official.
Bigger role for Jordan
But as PLO officials concede, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Palestinians to disengage the West Bank and Gaza from Israeli control without accepting a bigger role for Jordan - at least during the transitional period.
Arafat has insisted that a bigger role for Jordan in the West Bank hinges on Jordan's acceptance of establishing relations on the basis of a confederation between two independent states.
King Hussein, however, on Saturday rejected flatly Arafat's demand to establish confederative ties, signaling to the PLO that it has only one choice: Either accept Jordan's role, or the kingdom will move on its own. ``I have appealed to President Arafat to drop the confederation from his dictionary,'' the King said.
Political analysts believe that King Hussein's tone not only reflected frustration, but also the realization that the PLO is in dire need of Jordan. PLO officials said that Israel has been exploiting the absence of Palestinian coordination with Jordan to claim that it could not yield to Palestinian demands to control the crossing points since King Hussein will refuse this plan.
But King Hussein refused the Israeli arguments, expressing irritation that the PLO seemed to believe the Israelis. ``Is it possible that if the Palestinians were able to take part in controlling the bridges that we will not but prefer Palestinian [control]?'' the king asked.
His refusal to clearly accept confederative ties with a future Palestinian entity is expected to remain a serious point of contention with the PLO, whihc will suspect that Jordan is trying to regain its claim to represent the Palestinians, analysts warned.