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Arafat Uneasy Over Jordan's Role In Future of West Bank

By Lamis AndoniSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / August 1, 1994



AMMAN, JORDAN

LAST Thursday, Palestinian security officers confiscated all the issues of the daily newspaper Al Nahar, preventing its distribution in the autonomous areas of Jericho and Gaza.

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The next day, the paper was officially banned by the new Palestinian Authority, prompting its owners to stop printing. The incident, however, was more than a blatant case of censorship.

By banning the pro-Jordanian daily, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was sending a clear message to King Hussein: The West Bank and Gaza are his constituency and no Jordanian influence will be tolerated.

Mr. Arafat was apparently reacting to the Washington Declaration, signed by Jordan and Israel on July 26th, in which Israel recognized a special role for Jordan in determining the final status of East Jerusalem and acknowledged King Hussein as guardian of the Islamic shrines in the holy city.

Despite official Jordanian assurances, the declaration revived Arafat's fears that King Hussein was trying to reassert control over East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Jordan ruled from 1950 to 1967. ``As long as the final status for the West Bank and Gaza, including Jerusalem, is still undetermined and Palestinian sovereignty is not recognized,'' says a PLO source, ``Arafat will continue to fear that the United States and Israel could ultimately seek King Hussein's representation'' over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The current dispute is part of a long-running rivalry between Jordan and the PLO. According to United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, Jordan is legally the party that could claim the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Israel. But King Hussein renounced control of the West Bank in 1988 in response to the Palestinian intifidah (uprising).

In the Israeli-Palestinian agreement signed in Washington on Sept. 13, the PLO accepted three years of limited self-rule, to be followed by negotiations to determine the future of the territories.

LO officials argue that the uncertainty of the outcome of the final negotiations and Israeli reluctance to recognize Palestinian self-determination have created fears that Jordan will step in at the end of the self-rule period.

``Some already feel that the PLO has trapped itself by binding itself to a limited autonomy without either the funds or adequate jurisdiction,'' says a PLO official who asked for anonymity. `` A failure on the PLO part will restore Jordan's role in the West Bank.''

Both Jordanian and PLO officials say they realize that their futures remain intertwined. Jordan has the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees and a large percentage of its 3.7 million people are of Palestinian descent.

Jordan is also the West Bank's main gate to the Arab world, making it crucial to the Palestinian economy, and vice versa; the Jordanian dinar is widely circulated in the West Bank.

PLO officials have repeatedly emphasized that the Palestinian economy can only disengage from Israel - a prerequisite for Palestinian sovereignty - through close cooperation, if not integration, with Jordan.

But neither side has taken concrete steps to build a new relationship. Arafat has evaded an economic agreement with Jordan because it could give the kingdom a major role in determining Palestinian monetary policies - a Jordanian condition to ensure the stability of the dinar.

In public, Arafat says he is committed to a future confederation between Jordan and an independent Palestinian state. But King Hussein has made it clear that he is not ready to commit Jordan to any fixed ties before the future of the Palestinian territories are known.

``Any talk about confederation [or any kind of unity] is void until [the Palestinian] people become free to choose,'' Hussein said recently, implicitly reminding Arafat that the Israeli-Palestinian agreement did not achieve Palestinian independence.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Jordanian government sought to allay PLO fears by asserting its full support for the Palestinian quest for control of East Jerusalem. ``There is a difference between political and religious sovereignty,'' the statement said. But in statements that followed, King Hussein did not indicate a willingness to recognize Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem.

``I do not need a permit from anyone to visit Jerusalem,'' he said, commenting on invitations from both Israeli officials and Arafat to visit Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership, however, has apparently decided to contain the crisis in response to the conciliatory Jordanian statement and has dispatched a Palestinian delegation to Amman.

``It is high time that the two leaderships got down to details of the future relationship,'' says a Jordanian source close to the government. ``Maybe the controversy over Jerusalem will alert both sides to the urgency of discussing the future. It is disaster if both engage on a conflict over Jerusalem, when Israel is the actual occupier and insists on keeping the holy city.''