Jordan-Israel Pact Unites Palestinians in Protest
Arafat says the pact will block future Palestinian attempts to win control of East Jerusalem
WHILE the peace treaty Israel and Jordan signed yesterday mends one crack in Middle East relations, it has widened another between Jordan and the Palestinian leadership.
An estimated 1 million Palestinians went on strike in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the autonomous areas of Gaza and Jericho to protest what they see as a move by Israel to block their ability to gain control of East Jerusalem in future negotiations.
The row over Jerusalem has revived a historic competition between Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Jordan's King Hussein; the two have been engaged in a bitter, albeit indirect, war-of-words during the past two weeks.
The clash was triggered by a clause in the Jordan-Israel treaty indicating that when permanent-status talks of the Israeli-occupied territories begin, Israel will give ``high priority to the Jordanian historic role in'' preserving Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
Mr. Arafat argues privately that the Jordan-Israel agreement aims to undercut his role in Palestinian demands for sovereignty over East Jerusalem, his aides say.
Arafat sees Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, while King Hussein believes that he is the rightful guardian of the holy sites because he is a Hashemite descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
But some top-level Palestinian officials and opposition leaders say that if Arafat does not reassess his negotiating tactics with Israel, improve the performance of the Palestinian Authority in the autonomy areas, and try to reach an agreement with Jordan, the Palestinian people, exhausted from almost three decades of Israeli occupation, might shift allegiance to King Hussein.
Jordan had assumed custodianship of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, considered the third-most revered Muslim shrines in the world, when it incorporated the West Bank in 1950.
It has retained that role even after Israel captured the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.
Jordan argues that the treaty's reiteration of Jordan's role will safeguard the identity of the holy sites - especially since the accord signed between Israel and the PLO last year in Washington put the determination of East Jerusalem off until negotiations over the final status of the West Bank.
Those talks are to take place within three to five years after implementation of the Sept. 13, 1993 accord.
In a speech to Palestinian students at Al-Azhar University in Gaza on Tuesday, Arafat received thunderous applause when he indirectly accused King Hussein of using East Jerusalem to improve his regional and international political standing.
``We tell friends and enemies that Jerusalem is not for sale,'' Arafat said.
ARAFAT'S aides and Palestinian analysts say he believes Jordan's assertion of its role over the holy sites is a prelude to retaining its claim to the West Bank and the representation of the Palestinians.
Arafat and other Palestinian officials worry Jordan is exploiting the fact that the Palestinian Authority, set up in Gaza and Jericho in July to run Palestinian self-rule, is strapped for money and limited in its powers under the terms of the Israeli-PLO accord.
Such a strategy could put greater pressure on the Palestinian people to seek King Hussein's representation of their interests.
Arafat's anger over Jordan's role, according to Palestinian officials, has fed suspicions that Jordan is encouraging the recent escalation of attacks by the militant Islamic group Hamas against Israel. The sources say the king would benefit from proving the Palestinian leadership is powerless. Some of Arafat's aides have gone as far as claiming that Jordan encourages leadership to step up violence in an effort to discredit the Palestinian leadership.
But critics of Arafat argue he is using the Jordanian threat to deflect attention from the repercussions of the agreement he signed with Israel, and to justify a crackdown on Hamas if he is put under further pressure by Israel.
But Jordan's assertion of its stewardship of the holy sites has united for the first time in a year all Palestinian groups with Arafat, including Hamas and the leftist opponents of the Israeli-PLO accord.
At least for one day, observers note, they joined to protest the Jordan-Israel agreement.