After Fez: key role for PLO in peace talks
The Arab summit in Fez, Morocco, has:Skip to next paragraph
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* Put the Palestine Liberation Organization back in the political center stage after its military defeat in Lebanon.
* Made it more difficult for Jordan to respond positively to President Reagan's ''fresh look'' peace proposals. It cannot now act without PLO approval.
* Indicated, nonetheless, that the Arabs are willing - eventually at least - to play their trump card: recognition of Israel (see report from Beirut later in this story).
Jordan was the focal point of Mr. Reagan's initiative. The President's clear aim was to draw Jordan into the negotiation process. He pointedly ignored the PLO - keeping in line with a 1975 US commitment to Israel not to talk to the PLO until it recognizes Israel.
The PLO was the focus of the Fez summit. The Arab leaders there called for an independent Palestinian state under the leadership of the PLO. And they reaffirmed the PLO's sole right to represent the Palestinians, granted by a 1974 Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco.
Furthermore, the American plan looked to the Camp David accords as the negotiating framework through which the fate of the West Bank and Gaza would be determined. Until now, Jordanian and Palestinian representatives have refused to join Egypt, Israel, and the US at the negotiating table.
The Arab plan, on the other hand, looked to the United Nations Security Council for ''guarantees for all states of the region, including the independent Palestinian state.'' While this phrase implies Arab recognition of Israel and is cited by many moderate Arabs as a breakthrough, it is weaker and more indirect than some analysts here expected.
The gap between the American approach and the Arab proposals, therefore, remains great.
Before Fez there was speculation here that the Arab states and the PLO might now acquiesce in allowing Jordan - with PLO backing and Palestinian participation - to try to win back Palestinian land at the negotiating table. Jordan had indicated that Mr. Reagan's long awaited clarifications of how the US interprets Camp David had gone far to remove Jordanian objections.
But at Fez the mantle for the PLO was confirmed and Jordan kept out of the negotiating arena. Many well-placed Jordanians here do not hide their disappointment.
The timing of the conference is seen as critical.
Observers here believe the Fez proposals were a product of a deeply felt Arab - and especially Saudi - need to arrive at a consensus of both moderates and more radical states in the wake of their humiliating inactivity during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and their deadly internal divisions.
''With the PLO arriving fresh from the wounds of Beirut, who could refuse them their role,'' said one Jordanian journalist.
The full implications of Fez will not be clear here until the keenly awaited return of King Hussein - who has so far issued no public statements - from a post summit vacation in Spain.
However, some observers here see grounds for guarded optimism that the gap between the Fez and Reagan proposals can be bridged.
''Fez is the Arab maximalist position,'' says one Western diplomat. ''It does not reject the American proposals. This leaves room for manuever.''
Jordanians are both skeptical and intrigued by prospects for a high-level six-member commission - possibly including kings and heads of state. This was set up by Fez to consult with UN Security Council members on the Fez and Reagan proposals.
But the Jordanian press gave front-page coverage to the doubts of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who said Saturday that he preferred the Reagan plan because Fez ''lacks the mechanism to achieve its goals.''