Hussein's new West Bank tactic
Amman, Jordan — King Hussein of Jordan has begun taking measures to restructure the relationship between residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Jordan-controlled ''east bank'' of his kingdom.
These measures reflect his doubts about retrieving the West Bank through negotiations.
So far the measures involve new restrictions on Palestinians crossing from the west to the east bank via the heavily traveled Jordan River bridges, which Israel has left open. On May 2, 24 West Bankers under age 25 were turned back from the bridges, West Bank sources say.
If no new formula for peace talks arises that is satisfactory to the King (after derailment of the Reagan peace plan), Hussein plans to be ready with contingency steps for changes in Jordan. It is already limiting movement by West Bankers to the east bank and examining a possible restructuring of the kingdom on the east bank.
Jordanian officials have long feared that Israel might attempt to push West Bank residents onto the east bank, whose population of 2.3 million is already about 60 percent Palestinian. Israeli leaders have frequently alleged that the east bank is already the Palestinian state. King Hussein told the Beirut daily an-Nahar on April 30 that Jordan plans to ''take certain measures . . . to prevent Israel from forcing the Arab population (of approximately 800,000) to emigrate from the West Bank.''
According to informed Jordanian sources, a special government committee has been set up in Amman to coordinate the new relationship between the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan, and the status of Palestinians with Israeli identity cards (issued to Palestinian residents of the occupied territories) who now live on the east bank.
The East Jerusalem Palestinian daily Al Quds wrote on April 29 that the Jordan government plans restrictions on how long West Bankers can stay in the East Bank and on how many West Bankers can work there. Jordanian media ran a similar story on April 30.
Jordanian sources say that West Bankers will now have to fill out a form at the Jordan River bridges stating the length and purpose of their visit to the east bank. Until now, West Bankers were considered to be moving from one part of the same country to another.
These sources add that strict security measures will also be instituted at the bridges, and Jordanian officials may turn back West Bankers considered persona non grata, or even confiscate their Jordanian passports.
Jordanian officials are also discussing the possibility of limiting West Bank agricultural exports to the east bank. West Bank farmers are currently permitted to send half the output of each dunam (quarter acre) across the bridges, a vital export outlet. While such a move has not yet been decided on, Jordanian sources say the exports could be limited to as little as 15 percent of output. Another item under study is rejection of West Bank admissions to the University of Jordan, on the idea that West Bank University can absorb them.
Jordanian officials are also said to be studying ways of holding parliamentary elections on the east bank only, in effect confirming the division of the kingdom. Before 1974, half the Jordanian parliament came from the east bank and half were West Bank Palestinians. After the 1974 Arab summit in Morocco , which recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as sole Palestinian spokesman, the parliament was suspended.
These measures reflect Jordan's frustration with the PLO. Jordan had hoped to work out a formula for a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team (with non-PLO Palestinians) to negotiate with Israel over the future of the West Bank. When the PLO vetoed this idea, Jordan broke off the talks. It has not ruled out resuming them, but the King has made clear he will only accept the formula the PLO has rejected.
For now, West Bankers are told to take complaints about occupation to the PLO.
Informed Jordanian sources predict that the PLO political presence in Amman, expanded substantially since the organization was forced out of Beirut last summer, will soon be reduced to the same size delegation permitted by other Arab countries.
In an editorial May 3, Al Quds wrote, ''The irony is that some on the West Bank argue that these restrictions aim at pressuring Palestinians to ask the King to go (alone) to negotiations. How wrong they are. Jordan is turning into another Djibouti or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. And aren't we all as Palestinians restricted in living or working or getting visas in these countries?''