US analysts see Hussein's actions as tactical ploy

King Hussein's symbolic disengagement from the West Bank has refocused Washington's attention on the Arab-Israeli dispute. But the initial assessment of specialists in and out of the administration is that the King's moves do not alter the basic situation in the region, nor will they cause a reassessment of the United States peace plan.

``The King is feeling somewhat bruised,'' says a senior US official. ``After years of effort he still has no international conference, he has no territory returned, and he's getting a lot of criticism from the West Bank Palestinians.''

But this official and other specialists in Washington see the actions as tactical, rather than a strategic shift away from the peace process.

King Hussein is reminding everyone, and especially the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), that he is important, an administration Middle East specialist says. Hussein expects the Palestinians will come back to him, asking for help, the specialist adds.

``It's clear the King wants to distance himself from what's happening in the occupied territories and put the limelight and the responsibility for delivering on [PLO chairman Yasser] Arafat,'' says Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

``He's sulking,'' says Muhammad Hallaj, editor of the Washington bimonthly Palestinian Affairs. After being rejected in favor of the PLO during the June Arab summit, Mr. Hallaj says, the King is saying, ``If the Palestinians don't want me, let them stew in their own juices.''

Administration officials say Hussein must be a partner if there is going to be peace in the region and that the US still favors a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation for peace talks with Israel.

One well-placed administration analyst says the King's announcements are a message to PLO chief Arafat, who was to visit Jordan this week. ``The King is saying, `I'm not going to help you build an infrastructure for the intifadah [uprising], unless I get something in return.'''

The PLO is trying to keep the uprising in the occupied territories alive for the long run. As part of this effort, local residents are severing as many economic ties as possible between the West Bank and Israel, the analyst says. This means the PLO must get funds to the occupied territories and goods in and out via Jordan, he says. Hussein has his hands on the levers needed to do that. ``This is a shock of reality for Arafat,'' the analyst says. ``Hussein is saying, `You can't do a heck of a lot without me.' The King hasn't pulled the levers yet, but he may soon pull one or two to make his point.''

Indeed, Hallaj is concerned that Hussein may soon impose restrictions on trade and travel to and from the West Bank. Mr. Satloff says the Jordanians have been considering ways to differentiate between West Bank supporters of the King and others for the past six weeks.

The King is also sending messages to the US and Israel.

Hussein has tried expressing disappointment and anger at unfulfilled US commitments for a number of years now, without feeling he was heard, says a well-placed US official. So this is a more dramatic gesture.

Similarly, to Israeli leaders he is highlighting the stark option of having to deal with the Palestinians without him, another official says.

Yet Hussein is not eliminating his options. So far he is maintaining basic links to the West Bank. He has not yet cut off salaries to former Jordanian officials, recalled Jordanian passports held by many West Bankers, or restricted travel or trade.

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