A skeptical King of Jordan launches new peace move

Skeptical of chances that Israel will meet even minimum Arab peace terms but worried that the current deadlock may fuel Mideast extremism, Jordan's veteran King Hussein is launching a fresh diplomatic initiative.

The pace will be cautious - involving first a bid to bring Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat aboard, then a search for support from a majority of Arab states, including long-ostracized Egypt, to outweigh what officials term expected opposition from countries like Syria and Libya. Finally, there will be a move to win at least tacit Soviet support and effective United States pressure on the Israelis to soften their stand.

This blueprint, in much more hedged terms, was outlined by the King Monday in a keynote address to the Jordanian parliament - a body that was reconvened last week after a hiatus of nearly 10 years as the first step toward a more active Jordanian role in the search for an Arab-Israeli compromise.

The parliament includes Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The hiatus began when the Arab world declared the Palestine Liberation Organization the ''sole, legitimate representative'' of Palestinians. Jordan ruled the West Bank for 17 years before Israel captured it in 1967.

The Mideast's most durable head of state knows as well as anyone in the region that 1984 does not now seem likely to be a year of peace hereabouts.

Extremism, one of the King's aides notes privately, is on the upswing in the region. The Israelis, despite economic woes at home that may reduce available funds for settling Arab territory captured in the 1967 war, have signaled continued opposition to the minimum Arab insistence on Palestinian ''self-determination.'' And President Reagan will likely be busy with a reelection drive.

Mr. Arafat has yet to signal readiness to opt for diplomacy over ''armed struggle.'' Various senior Jordanian officials remain skeptical that he will unequivocally make such a move, despite Jordanian-PLO agreement to renew the search for a joint Mideast strategy.

Unsurprisingly, King Hussein - who has ruled this majority Palestinian state for more than three decades - avoided any preemptive talk of peacemaking in his reference Monday to talks with Arafat.

He spoke, instead, of ''resolve and determination to arrive with the legitimate Palestine Liberation Organization at a practical formula for cooperation. . . .''

So why, now, the fresh Jordanian move?

Violence, such as the suicide-bomb strikes elsewhere in the Arab world, and a recent series of traditional bombs in Amman, is clearly one catalyst. The King also signaled his concern over the militant theocracy in Iran, speaking of ''the aggression and fanaticism facing Iraq.''

Jordan perceives an equally serious, if nonviolent, threat from the situation on the West Bank.

The King spoke of an Israeli campaign there of ''Judaization, colonization, and gradual annexation.'' A source close to the King privately added a corollary: The situation might encourage West Bankers to leave and, with slumping oil prices limiting traditional job markets in the Gulf, many would opt for the unoccupied east bank of Jordan, causing economic and social strain.

Amman officials, though, are not utterly without hope that Jordan's diplomatic strategy will pay off. First, they sense that growing West Bank fatigue and bitterness over 17 years of occupation may help prompt a workable PLO-Jordanian accord on a joint strategy.

And the Jordanians hope that the US - and an Israel increasingly dependent on US economic aid - will come to feel that continued Arab-Israeli stalemate can only encourage what the King termed an ''impending danger of disintegration'' in the Arab world.

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