In a palace on a hill overlooking this capital city, the talk is couched in diplomatic tentativeness, but through it runs a thread of optimism. The leaders of Jordan -- a parched, resource-poor nation considered politically important by the Reagan administration -- see strands in American policy that they say could lead to a fresh assessment by Washington of the status of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It was US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s interest in what Jordanian leaders were saying that most impressed Crown Prince Hasan Talal. Prince Hasan, who is King Hussein's younger brother and second in command, told the Monitor April 11 that the Haig tour gave him the "seed for hope" that the new administration would soon take a closer look at the "issues of the occupied territories as we see them."
Secretary Haig viewed a half-hour slide show narrated by Prince Hasan that detailed the problem with Israeli settlements in occupied territory and Israel's military policy toward Palestinians. Afterward, Haig pronounced the situation "grim and worrying."
He also listened to what several key Jordanian officials said was a "hard-line stand" by King hussein and Prince Hasan on the need to solve the Palestinian problem.
Up to now, Reagan policy toward the West Bank and Gaza has opposed three moves considered key by moderate Arabs such as Hussein and Hasan. The Arabs would:
1. Involve the Palestinians in joint talks with israel and the United States.
2. Mandate Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory, militarily if not overall.
3. Pursue the goal of Palestinian "national rights," which could mean an independent Palestine.
But Hasan puts hope in Haig's comment April 10 in London to the effect that the US supports a complementary European peace initiative in the Middle East. At meetings in Venice and Luxembourg, Hasan points out the European Council has focused on the need for implementing those three points. Haig's statements, Hasan argues, show that the ideas do not "meet a closed mind."
But to Hasan, who takes an active interest in the West Bank (an interest for which he is frequently criticized by Palestine Liberation Organization members who claim he is trying to upstage them), time is of the essence:
"Unless the rapid changes in the occupied territories are understood clearly in the US," he says, "we may wake up two or three years from now at a time when the Israelis may become the great 'self-determinists' -- when there is no one left among the Arab population to self-determine. . . . Waiting until the middle of 1982 for the final stages of withdrawal from Sinai is inviting an Israelization process in the occupied territories which would be irretrievable."
Already, Hasan says, 38 percent of the land in the arid West Bank has been ear-marked for Israeli settlements or for settlement expansion. By 1985, he says, the World Zionist Organization is planning 65 new settlements.
But Hasan does not believe either the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin nor ones by possible successors such as Laborite Shimon Peres or independent Moshe Dayan are positioning to pull out of the occupied territories in the near future.
Beyond that, Hasan is reluctant to predict what sort of compromise solutions could come about -- primarily because more militant Arab states frequently predict that Jordan will follow the example of Egypt's President Anwar Sadat in forging a separate peace with Israel.
While hesitating for fear of "jeopardizing any possible future developments," Hasan points out that neither the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) nor the Israeli Knesset (parliament) is homogenous on the question of what comes next.
Meanwhile, he warns that the Israelis are "inviting the radicalism they claim to fear" in the West Bank, Gaza, and among the diasporic Palestinians through their governing policies in occupied territory.
"Among the Palestinian population in the occupied territories you see a continuing fight between the uncommitted left and the communist element as to who should represent them," Hasan says. "And if one looks at the economic imbalance . . . [along with] the continuous subjugation of the people under occupation and of their representatives, I think that the PLO has don e very well so far in keeping the peace option open at all."