AMMAN, JORDAN — AS Foreign Minister Shimon Peres made the first public visit of a senior Israeli official to Jordan, and negotiators from the two countries met under a desert sun, ordinary Jordanians quietly began to absorb the implications of significant change.
They silently and closely watched every step of the diplomatic developments on television. And except for a small demonstration and statements issued by Islamic and leftist opposition parties, there were no serious signs of protest.
``What else could we expect after the consecutive defeats: first the Gulf war and then the Israeli control of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization]?'' asked Khaled Mohammed, a grocery store owner.
``Now Jordan has no alternative ... if we join ranks with the US and the Israelis, maybe our lot will improve,'' he said.
In a country where public opinion has historically been influenced by the Palestinian political perspective, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's acceptance of peace with Israel in return for a limited autonomy has broken the resistance.
The combination of a government-orchestrated campaign and United States hints to write off $1 billion in debts has created rising expectations of promised peace dividends.
Jordanian-Israeli talks, the first on Jordanian territory, were held at a remote border point in the south. In spite of the festive atmosphere at the public meetings, officials concede it is too early for Jordanians to accept Israeli presence.
To effect a fundamental shift in public opinion, officials and analysts argue, not only should Jordan be able to get ``an honorable deal,'' but also economic dividends as a result of that deal.
Jordanians listened as US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who joined the meeting at the Dead Sea on Wednesday, reiterated that Washington will support countries that promote the peace process in the region.
``Christopher's remarks were not more than implied promises, and that is unacceptable,'' says Fahed al-Fanek, a leading economist and outspoken advocate for peace talks with Israel. ``The US will have to commit itself to concrete promises.''
King Hussein had already told Jordanians he had agreed to meet in Washington next Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in hopes of solving Jordan's political and economic problems. But Jordan so far has remained noncommital on whether it is ready to proceed with normalization of ties with Israel.
The talks on the southern border and the trilateral US-Israeli-Jordanian meetings on the Dead Sea gave mixed signals. Though Mr. Christopher revealed that the US, Israel, and Jordan have agreed to work on a plan to develop the Jordan Valley and on a road linking Jordan, Israel, and Egypt, Jordanian negotiators maintain that project implementation will not begin before disputed issues of boundaries, water, refugees, and security are resolved.
``There will be no normalization on any level before finalizing a peace agreement solving the main issues,'' says Marawn Dudin, a negotiator in charge of the Palestinian refugees issue.
The US and Israel expect economic cooperation to proceed hand-in-hand with negotiations on the disputed issues.
While Israeli negotiators were pressing for steps to normalize relations, Jordanian negotiators were emphasizing the urgency of solving the major issues. After two days of talks in a tent straddling the border, negotiators issued a vaguely worded com-munique that indicated they were not close to resolution on water and boundary issues. But Jordanian negotiators re-ported progress had been made.
In Amman, Jordanians were provoked when Israeli negotiators publicly refused to acknowledge that Israel is occupying some 140 square miles along the border.
``The communique was very weak. It reduced the conflict into a misunderstanding between two friendly neighboring countries, ignoring the facts that Israel has actually occupied Jordanian lands and that it has been systematically diverting water,'' says a former Jordanian minister.
Jordan had initially insisted that the boundaries be judged on the basis of a 1922 map charted by the British mandate defining the boundaries between Jordan and then-Palestine. But Israeli chief negotiator Eliyakim Rubenstein stated that no living person could tell the boundaries as defined then.
Whatever the progress made, nothing can minimize the significance of the dramatic events that have brought the many reported secret Jordanian-Israeli meetings to the surface and onto Jordanian territory. ``The state of war is over,'' Mr. Dudin says emphatically. In a joint press conference with Peres, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Salam al-Majali also seemed to play down the pending differences. ``Peace is a state of mind,'' he said.