Jordan hopes for support of Arab summit
Jordan's King Hussein is hoping that the Arab summit starting in Casablanca, Morocco, today will give a boost to his joint peace effort with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat. The first meeting of Arab heads of state since the 1982 summit in Fez, Morocco, comes at a time when King Hussein is struggling to keep alive a process he launched last February. At the time, the King and Mr. Arafat agreed to pursue together a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question based on the concept of Israel returning occupied Arab land in return for peace.Skip to next paragraph
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Since then, Hussein and Arafat have tried to drum up support in a deeply divided Arab world for their efforts to reach a negotiating table. The King has enlisted the help of the United States, but his efforts have been vocally -- and at times violently -- opposed by Syria.
If the Casablanca summit ends with a supportive statement for the Hussein-Arafat initiative, that will be seen as a setback for Syria and the other hard-line states that oppose negotiations. If the summit results in ``even a mild condemnation'' of the Hussein-Arafat accord, one diplomat in the Middle East says, ``it could kill the whole process.''
The Syrians fear that Jordan and the Palestinians will eventually negotiate the fate of Israeli-occupied territory on the West Bank and in Gaza, and leave Syria with no leverage for getting back the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
The Syrians have kept up a steady attack in their press and in their contacts with other Arab countries against the Hussein-Arafat initiative. The Jordanians and Palestinians have said they also believe Syria has been behind the assassination of one moderate PLO member and a Jordanian diplomat who was gunned down in Turkey last month.
Syria is leading a boycott of the Casablanca summit. Neither Syria nor Lebanon, Algeria nor South Yemen, will attend. Their absence further illustrates the deep divisions among the Arabs, and limits the ability of the participants to make any bold moves, analysts in the Middle East and Washington say.
However, says one State Department source, ``the very fact that there will be a summit and that Arafat is going to be seated at that table, recognized as the leader of the Palestinians, has got to be a plus both for Hussein and for Arafat.''
Arafat is hoping that the summit will condemn the Syrian-backed attacks on Palestinian refugee camps in south Beirut. Last spring, the Syrian-supported Shiite Muslim Amal militia besieged the camps for a month in an effort to defeat forces loyal to Arafat, who were trying to secure their military control over the camps. The Amal attack failed, but Palestinian sources said that Arafat fears another assault.
The chairman has been locked in a bitter power struggle with Syrian President Hafez Assad since the PLO was driven from Lebanon by the Israeli invasion of June 1982. President Assad has cultivated the anti-Arafat PLO dissidents in Damascus and accused the PLO leader of betraying the Palestinian cause.
In an effort to bolster the Jordanians and Palestinians, the Americans issued an announcement Monday from the State Department calling on the summit to endorse the peace process. The announcement also said that the United States is prepared to meet with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation ``as soon as arrangements can be made.''