The Palestine Liberation Organization, with billions of dollars at its disposal, announced this week it will be responsibile for paying salaries of West Bank civil servants. But getting PLO money into the Israeli-occupied territories to fund basic services will be another matter. Israel considers the PLO an implacable enemy, bent on Israel's destruction. Israel prevents direct contact between the PLO and the occupied territories and has flatly rejected the idea of the PLO taking over Jordanian functions there.
Last month, King Hussein abruptly dismissed Jordanian claims to the territory and announced Jordan would no longer pay $20 million per month to 18,000 civil servants.
Specialists on Palestinian affairs believe that if Jordan and the PLO can work out a simple technical agreement, the PLO could begin paying the salaries. That would go a long way toward enabling the PLO to give substance to the anticipated formation of a ``government in exile'' for Palestinians. It would also assure Palestinian workers that salaries and basic services will continue.
Getting the money to the Palestinians might not be the problem it first appeared. Even under Jordanian rule, most West Bank government workers chose to receive their salaries as direct deposits in Jordanian banks, says Khalil Jahshan of Palestine Perspectives, a bimonthly publication associated with the Palestine Research and Education Center in Fairfax, Va. This shielded Palestinians from Israeli inflation and protected their assets from seizure in the event of a conflict with Israeli authorities.
With Jordanian concurrence, PLO money bound for the West Bank could go into the same personal bank accounts in Jordan into which nominally Jordanian money had been going. Jordan would act as the banking center - in essence, a silent partner.
``King Hussein wants to divorce Jordan from the West Bank, but that doesn't preclude the PLO and Jordan from working together,'' says Mohamed Radie, an economist in Washington who has followed Palestinian affairs.
Mr. Jahshan points out that the money was not Jordanian in origin anyway. It came from a variety of sources - mainly the PLO, Arab governments, relief agencies, and aid donors such as the US. It was distributed by the Jordanian-dominated ``Joint Committee.'' Jahshan says in order for the PLO to take a more active role as paymaster to the West Bank, King Hussein would have to allow the PLO to ``function freely'' in Amman.
``It will be extremely difficult,'' he adds, ``if Jordan goes out of its way to create hindrances.''
The Jordanian dinar is in widespread use throughout the territories. When cash is needed, money changers take checks across the Allenby Bridge to Jordanian banks. Cash ($1,000 per person, under Israeli regulations) is then brought back into the West Bank. It would be a minor change for the PLO to replace Jordan as the source of that money.
Israel's chief coordinator for the occupied territories, Shmuel Goren, this week said flatly: ``We will not allow the PLO to send in money to encourage alternative systems to Israeli authority.''
But although Israel opposes a PLO connection, the payment of salaries would continue to occur in Jordan, outside of Israeli jurisdiction, Jahshan points out. The money would not necessarily need to be ``sent in.''
The PLO has no shortage of money. Estimates of its wealth range from $2 billion to $14 billion. Much of it is tied up in profitable investments - from farms in Africa to shoe factories in Lebanon. A large amount of the PLO's revenue comes from a 5 percent to 7 percent ``liberation tax'' that is deducted from the wages of Palestinians working in Arab countries. Arab governments contribute about $100 million directly each year to the PLO.
Dr. Radie, the Washington economist, points out that millions of dollars from the PLO to support the eight-month-old Palestinian intifadah (uprising), have flowed into the West Bank and Gaza Strip through secret channels. Often money has been carried in by sympathetic travelers, many of them Israelis, Radie says.
There is also a question about the fate of $30 million in United States funding that makes its way to the Palestinians under Israeli rule. This consists of $24 million bound for Jordan and $7.5 million for private voluntary organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. Jordan was to get all this money, but with Jordan pulling out of the picture, the aid picture is cloudy. The US would not direct the money to the PLO, and if the money went to Israel it might legitimize Israeli rule over those territories.