Jordan's stance jolts other Mideast players. Hussein to meet with US envoy, PLO after `final word' on West Bank

King Hussein's decision to sever Jordan's links with the West Bank has stirred huge new uncertainties for Mideast peacemaking, for the Palestinians, and for Jordan itself. In statements over the weekend, the King made clear that his decision was a strategic move and that it was final.

``We are not playing at tactics,'' the King told a press conference in Amman Sunday. ``This is a decision which we have taken, and we will adhere to it.''

While Jordan remains committed to an active role in peace efforts, the King said the notion of Jordan speaking on behalf of the Palestinians is not an option, and the idea of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to an international conference is outmoded.

``Whatever I may have thought along these lines in the past, it obviously did not lead anywhere, so that is behind us now,'' he said.

The King holds talks today with the senior US Mideast envoy, Richard Murphy. Officials here admit publicly that the Jordanian moves reflect deep disappointment with what they see as the US failure to take a firm stand with hard-line Israeli leaders who oppose territorial compromise for peace.

Jordanian officials are also expected to meet later this week with a delegation from the Palestine Liberation Organization.

``The PLO, the Israelis, and others are in a very difficult position, because they never thought we would do it,'' says one senior Jordanian official.

The onus is now clearly on the PLO to find a way of steering the Palestinians toward their goal of statehood despite Israeli and American opposition. One option being actively explored is the idea of setting up a government-in-exile.

The proposal has been raised periodically but inconclusively for more than 15 years. But PLO sources say that for the first time, there is virtually no opposition to the idea within its inner councils, though much debate is going on over the composition and role of such a body.

If linked to a declaration of support - and perhaps independence - from the Palestinian uprising in the territories, it would be hard for any Arab government to withhold recognition from such a government-in-exile, observers say. King Hussein said on Sunday that he would extend recognition ``immediately and without any hesitation.''

If the proposed government-in-exile were to adopt positions which met the US criteria for dialogue - as some PLO officials are reported to be arguing it should - it would be equally hard for Washington to justify not dealing with the body, despite strenuous objections already voiced by Israeli leaders.

The practical measures taken by Jordan to act out its severance of ties with the West Bank have caused widespread alarm and speculation among Palestinians on both sides of the river Jordan. Last Thursday, Amman announced that it was dismissing or retiring most of its civil servants and all its other employees and contract workers on the West Bank. The step was thought to affect some 21,000 people.

Fearing that it might aggravate the situation of Palestinians on both banks, the PLO has ordered its officials not to comment on the moves.

Despite public affirmations of ``brotherly cooperation,'' both Jordanian and PLO officials refer to a long history of mistrust and suspicion between the two sides.

The Jordanian minister who was responsible for the affairs of the occupied territories until his ministry was dissolved last Saturday, Merwan Dudin, has said that more measures might follow ``until things are put into their proper perspective.''

It was up to the PLO, he said, to say ``loud and clear'' when the relationship between Jordan and the West Bank had been clarified.

While demanding Palestinian independence, even PLO officials concede that geographical, historical and demographic factors make some such relationship with Jordan inevitable.

Much may thus depend on the outcome of the PLO delegation's talks this week with Jordanian officials.

In the meantime, King Hussein has said that the two vital bridges linking the East and West Banks would remain open.

Palestinians in the West Bank would still be entitled to Jordanian passports, he said, though he indicated that the documents may be used only for travel rather than conferring citizenship, as they do at present.

Some of the many Palestinians resident in - and citizens of - Jordan itself have expressed fears that their status and loyalties may now be put to the test. Jordanian officials, alarmed at attempts by right-wing Israelis to portray Jordan as a potential Palestinian state, are reinforcing the message that Jordan is Jordan, not Palestine.

While many reports have estimated that Palestinians make up some 60 percent of Jordan's population, government officials insist that the true figure is less than 40 percent.

Stressing the need for national unity, officials also accuse the Israelis of trying to foment dissension between East Bank Jordanians and citizens of Palestinian origin, in order to ``export'' the Palestinian ``uprising'' to Jordan from the occupied territories.

Even government officials of Palestinian origin have expressed fears that their community in Jordan may now come under pressure to prove its loyalty to Jordan rather than Palestine.

But senior Jordanian officials say they are aware of the possible dangers of discrimination or harassment of the Palestinians, prodded by hard-line East Bank Jordanians.

``The extremist Jordanian is not going to feel he is better than the Palestinian living in this country,'' said one top official.

``We will lean over backwards to be fair to all, so as to leave no loophole for the Israelis or other enemies. We have watched very closely how Israel would try to create an overspill of the uprising here, to make it an Arab-Arab problem.''

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