Israel stepped up efforts to drive a wedge between King Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat as the Jordanian monarch struggled in vain to win formal endorsement of his negotiating agreement with the PLO at last week's Arab summit. A series of Israeli warnings to King Hussein against an alliance with the PLO appeared to dim hopes this weekend that such a link could produce progress toward peace in the Middle East.
``It's a non-starter,'' says one Israeli official of the moves to involve the PLO in peace talks. ``It'll weaken Hussein and strengthen the terror organizations.''
The focus on the Palestinian guerrilla threat reflects a basic Israeli distrust of the negotiating strategy presented by Hussein at the Arab summit. While Hussein's initiative is widely believed to be sincere, there is suspicion that its linkage to the PLO is designed more to win US recognition of that organization than to move toward direct talks with Israel.
Prime Minister Shimon Peres charged that despite the PLO's verbal moderation, the organization is still planning attacks on Israeli civilians. He urged Jordan to prevent the reestablishment of anti-Israeli guerrillas within its borders and said Hussein was delaying the peace process and making a mistake by hosting the PLO.
Israeli defense sources cautioned against a PLO buildup in Amman. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said the guerrillas' proximity to the Israeli-occupied West Bank was dangerous and linked it to the recent spate of anti-Jewish attacks in Israel and the occupied territories. In the past month, three Jews have been killed by Arabs and a Jewish settler in the West Bank town of Hebron was stabbed Saturday.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said the PLO buildup was a cause for ``grave concern,'' and the regrouping of the PLO's Al-Fatah faction contradicted Hussein's professions of peace.
The Hussein-Arafat peace initiative began with a Feb. 11 agreement to negotiate for a Palestinian state in confederation with Jordan on the basis of United Nations resolutions and an exchange of land for peace. It culminated when Hussein submitted to the United States a list of proposed members of a Palestinian-Jordanian team for preliminary talks with US State Department envoy Richard Murphy.
Israel rejected the list because it reportedly included PLO members. The Israelis have consistently opposed US talks with such a team on grounds the meetings could lead to US recognition of what Israel considers a terrorist organization.
But the latest warnings, coinciding with the Arab summit, served the clearest notice in months that Israel would not negotiate along the lines mapped out for the conferees by Hussein.
Mr. Shamir says the Hussein-Arafat agreement has given the PLO ``veto power'' over future Jordanian peace moves. Officials say Hussein is liable to lose control over his initiative to the PLO, whose growing political and military presence in Jordan could both restrict his diplomacy and ultimately threaten his regime. Hussein put down one such threat in 1970 when his Army crushed the burgeoning Palestinian military force in Jordan.
The officials say there are already signs of Hussein's diplomatic subjection to the PLO. ``There's been a deterioration which is evident in the King's insistence on an international Middle East peace conference as opposed to direct talks,'' said one. ``That's a step backward.''
Israel has rejected an international conference on the grounds that hard-line participants would make agreement impossible. Others officials cite as evidence of his loss of flexibility Hussein's agreement to include PLO members in the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation and his insistence that the list is final.
Prime Minister Peres said last week that Israel wants to start direct talks with Jordan and the Palestinians, and that it could offer self-rule for residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as a first step in such talks. But he also vowed vigorous action against the PLO, accused it of planning terror, and promised a harsh crackdown on Palestinian violence against Israelis.
As he spoke, the military government in the West Bank moved to implement last week's Cabinet decision on harsh security measures in the area. It ordered the deportation of Khalil Abu Ziyad, a Palestinian, accusing him of being a senior Al-Fatah leader and engaging in subversive and terrorist activities. Earlier, four students from the An-Najah University in Nablus were detained without charges and accused of incitement and affiliation with Palestinian guerrilla groups. At the same time, 22 Arabs release d in the May exchange of 1150 convicted prisoners for three Israeli prisoners of war were ordered out of the occupied territories on grounds they lacked residence permits. They were later allowed to remain in the area temporarily on visitors' status.
The message to Hussein, Arafat, and the Arab leaders considering the Jordanian-Palestinian pact was clear: Talks with Jordan and non-PLO Palestinians -- yes; negotiations with the PLO -- no.