The process of bringing Jordanians and Palestinians to a peace negotiating table with Israel paused over the weekend while the United States pondered its next move. The Americans have in hand a list of seven Palestinians approved by the Palestine Liberation Organization and submitted to them by the Jordanians. The Jordanians are awaiting American approval to include some of the named Palestinians in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian team that could meet with State Department envoy Richard Murphy.
Western diplomats in Amman said they believed the Americans were disappointed by the names submitted.
Jordanians, Palestinians, and Americans all agree that the meeting between the United States and the joint team is a crucial first step toward bringing about a negotiated settlement between Israel and its neighbors. They differ, however, on who should participate in the meeting and on what it might accomplish.
``The problem with the list,'' one informed Western observer said ruefully, ``is that there is no one person you can point to on it and say, `That's the man you can build the rest of a delegation around.' ''
The Americans have insisted that the meeting with Mr. Murphy, should it occur, would be informal and a prelude to direct negotiations between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian team. The Jordanians and Palestinians see it as the beginning of a dialogue between the United States and the Palestinians that ultimately would lead to the Americans recognizing the PLO.
Last Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the list was not acceptable to him. The State Department responded that Israel would have no veto over whom the United States chose to meet with.
The problem facing the Americans is that by all accounts the list is composed of men who either are members of the PLO or members of its supreme legislative body, the Palestine National Council.
The Americans promised Israel in 1974 that they would not speak to the PLO unless it recognized Israel's right to exist. Israel's foreign minister, Yitzhak Shamir, said last week that if the Americans meet with PLO or PNC members, they would be violating that promise.
According to published accounts, the list includes PLO member Khaled Hassan, a close adviser to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat; Saleh Taamri, a PLO military leader who was held in Israel's Ansar prison camp; Nabil Shaat, also a close adviser to Arafat; Hatem Husseini, head of the Palestine information office in Washington; Hana Seniora, editor of the pro-PLO East Jerusalem newspaper, Al-Fajr; and Henry Kattan, a lawyer and historian who lives in Paris.
Neither the Jordanians, the Americans, nor the PLO has confirmed the names on the list. In fact, the Jordanian government has forbidden Jordanian newspapers to publish the list. One Western diplomat said Sunday that the published versions to date have not been ``entirely accurate.''
What is clear, however, is that the list was intended by Arafat to reassert the PLO's position as the ``sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.''
Mr. Peres expressed dismay that the more prominent West Bank leaders whom the Israelis consider moderates were not included.
``What I can [say] about the delegation is not only that I find unacceptable [the names] on it, but also that I'm surprised at who's not on it,'' Peres told an interviewer on Israeli television.
Arafat's selection reflects both his need to placate hard-liners in his guerrilla organization and his desire to keep the PLO in the negotiating game, diplomats in Amman said.
Israel remains just as determined to keep the PLO out -- despite the Feb. 11 accord signed between King Hussein and Arafat that pledges them jointly to pursue a peaceful settlement to the Palestinian problem.
Last Tuesday night Peres met with two prominent, conservative West Bank leaders. Friday, the Israelis leaked news of a secret meeting between the Israeli and Soviet ambassadors to France. According to Israeli accounts, later denied by the Russians, the ambassadors discussed the possibilities of restoring ties between the two nations. The Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The restoration of ties between Israel and the Soviet Union would make it easier for the Soviets to play a role in any negotiated settlement in the region. Both Israel and the United States have rejected the Jordanian and Palestinian position that any peace talks should take place in the framework of an international conference including the Russians. One objection raised to Soviet participation by the Americans and Israelis was that the Soviets had no diplomatic ties with Israel.
But at present, any prospects of a Soviet role in an international conference seems a long way off. What remains to be seen is whether the Americans will find the Palestinians offered by Jordan to be acceptable negotiating partners, and if the sides will find something to talk about at the informal meeting the Jordanians say should take place ``soon'' between Murphy and the joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiationg team.
Capturing the generally cautious mood in Amman this weekend, one diplomat said the planned meeting was being regarded by the Palestinians at this stage as ``movement for movement's sake.''