Israel to hand West Bank, Gaza to Jordan if Labor wins next election

If Israel's Labor Party triumphs in next year's national election, as is widely extected, it would hand over most of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to Jordan.

Such action is planned for immediately after the three-year interim period of Palestinian autonomy envisaged in the peace treaty with Egypt.

Joseph Sisco, former United States undersecretary of state, gave it an unexpected boost recently when he was quoted by the Jerusalem Post's Washington correspondent as saying: "The Jordanian option is still alive, absolutely."

Mr. Sisco was interviewed after a series of talks with Jordan's King Hussein and Crown Prince Hassan. "I realy don't believe that this option has ever been tried in a very serious way," he said.

Shimon Peres, Labor Party chairman and potential prime minister, sees the so-called "Jordanian option" as a more realistic approach to the problem than the incumbent Likud coalition government's alternative, which he envisages as outright annexation. It is so popular in Laborite circles that even the principal rivals to take over the premiership -- Mr. Peres and former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin -- agree on its desirability.

Both men hint at clandestine contacts with Jordanian officials, including King Hussein himself. They imply that such contacts confirm their belief that a deal with the Hashemite kingdom would be preferable to seeing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) move in as the nucleus of a militant Palestinian state.

Although there are slight variations in geographical terms, the basic Peres-Rabin idea is to restore the populated Arab Sectors of the West Bank to Jordanian control, and to add those of the Gasa Strip.

In return for handling back territory, the Labor Party would expect two tangible forms of compensation: peace: and exclusion of the PLO from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In other words, Jordan would be expected to exercise the same tight control that has kept the PLO's military formations out of the east bank of the Jordan River since the "Black September" showdown in 1970.

The Jordanian motive (as seen here) for making a deal with the Israelis might stem from a Saudi, and possibly even an Iraqi, desire to give top priority to countering the apparent Soviet pressure on the Gulf. This, it is said, would require a settlement or at least a de-escalation of the Israeli-Arab dispute.

Mr. Peres presented his outline of the Jordanian option to the Laborites' influential political committee, describing it as a necessary preparation of "policy for the government to be formed after the [1981] election."

He noted that the Camp David accords and subsequent Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty proposed Palestinian autonomy as a temporary stage pending negotiation of a permanent political arrangement for the occupied areas. But the church would come when the three Camp DAvid partners and local Palestinians tried to find a mutually acceptable political framework for the longer and open-ended term to follow.

At that point, Mr. Peres predicted, a Likud government would seek to annex the area earmarked for Palestinian autonomy. The number of Palestinian Arabs that would be added thereby to Israel -- 1.5 million -- would transform Israel into a Jewish-Arab state and eventually cancel its Zionist objectives: a Jewish majority and an open homeland for the Jewish people.

This analysis was sharpened by reference to the fact that Israel's current population of 3.8 million, according to the latest census, includes 600,000 Arab citizens, among whom pro-Palestinian alignments have been increasing, especially on the university campuses.

Jordan, on the other hand, could be reconstituted as a "Jordanian-Palestinian state," according to Mr. Rabin.

This, however, would presume retention by Israel of several strategic areas: the Jordan Valley, the Ezion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem, the Arab sector of Jerusalem, and, according to Mr. Peres, hilltops overlooking the valley.

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