Hussein's plan

JORDAN'S King Hussein deserves credit for stepping forward in Washington to offer another tentative piece for the Palestinian-Israeli talks puzzle. Not that the King's basic premises or his proposals were entirely new. For the past several months Americans have tended to focus on the part of Hussein's approach that calls for the United States to sit down with a joint Jordanian-Palestine Liberation Organization delegation. The focus was not on what would follow. Now, according to the King, what would follow would not be immediate direct Israeli negotiations, but an international conference, presumably with Soviet involvement.

Such a proposal leaves the situation far from resolved. The idea that an international conference, with Syrians, Soviets, the PLO, and the Israelis in attendance, could rise above the din of charge and countercharge has always been received with skepticism.

King Hussein could be saying, through this proposal, that there cannot be a resolution of the Palestine problem without involving the Soviets. Another and more feasible way to accomplish this could be for the US, in its own talks with the Soviets, to arrive at some workable procedure. Whenever the US has made any progress with the Syrians, for instance, whom Hussein has reason to watch, Washington has had to bring in the Soviets. Washington may need to seek some area of common interest with the Soviets to ensure cooperation.

As to Hussein's assertion that Yasser Arafat now endorses UN Resolutions 242 and 348 and Israel's right to exist -- the formula for Washington recognition of the PLO -- the Reagan administration is rightly cautious in wanting to hear it from Mr. Arafat's own lips. Arafat has his own problems in bringing along militant factions of the PLO. Definitive public endorsement would say a lot about his progress within his own ranks.

King Hussein's preference for an international conference reflects his concern that for Jordan and the PLO to sit down with Israel without banking the fires in radical Arab quarters would be suicidal.

The King wants to secure in some degree Palestinian rights in the Israeli-occupied territories. He is going about this goal in the only way he finds realistic. He has heretofore found little understanding in the US of his vulnerability. This time Washington responded attentively to his visit. If talks are not actually in view, at least the current constructive atmosphere continues.

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