Jordan, Israel Map Road to Peace
One day after signing of Israel-PLO pact, Amman formalizes agenda for talks
| AMMAN, JORDAN
JORDAN on Sept. 14 became the first Arab state to formalize an agenda for bilateral peace talks with Israel, one day after the signing of a historic accord between the Jewish state and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The agenda, agreed upon last October but withheld pending progress between Israel and the Palestinians, sets Jordan and its Jewish neighbor on the road to a formal peace treaty, which would be signed only as part of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab settlement.
But as Palestinians and Jordanians move toward peace with their former foe, analysts now warn, an understanding between the PLO and Amman is crucial to preempt serious instability between the two Arab peoples in Jordan.
Provisions of the agenda call for an end to acts of hostility between the two sides (formalizing a de facto situation that has prevailed since 1970), a mutual commitment to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, and a commitment by Jordan to prevent use of its borders as a launching pad for guerrilla operations against Israel. The agenda also lays the ground for talks on the sensitive issues of water and Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.
Jordanian sources expected an agreement on the demarcation of borders that would incorporate Israel's return of roughly 60 square miles captured in 1968 when the Israeli Army launched wide-scale attacks against PLO commando bases along the Jordanian side of the border.
Residents of the border area have reported an unusual amount of activity by Jordanian engineers and construction workers in the last week, suggesting the demarcation process has already started.
There was no official confirmation from either side on the subject, but Israel has not insisted on any claim to the two narrow border strips it controls.
It remained unclear whether Jordan's monarch, King Hussein, will confine his agreement with Israel to the agenda or go further.
According to the original draft agenda, the implementation of any future agreement hinged on an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it has occupied since the 1967 war - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Jordanian sources say that Israel has contested the use of ``the territories'' in the final draft and asked that it be modified to ``territories occupied in 1967,'' following the PLO's acceptance of a partial Israeli withdrawal as a first step toward total self-government. Disquieted populace
An atmosphere of tense uncertainty now prevails in Jordan, particularly in the nine refugee camps that are home to the estimated 1.4 million Palestinian refugees who were displaced in the two wars of 1948 and 1967.
Although there were no big protest demonstrations on the day of the historic signing of the Israeli-PLO accord, partly because the government was reluctant to give opposition parties permission to organize rallies in an attempt to prevent violence, there were indications of a drop in PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's popularity.
Tin-roofed houses were draped in banners shouting slogans against the accord. Black flags were flown in a sign of mourning.
Many refugees who were displaced in 1948 express the feeling that the PLO has abandoned their right to return to their homes, which are now part of Israel.
King Hussein, who initially expressed shock at the Israeli-PLO accord, has now backed the Palestinian decision. But he and his younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan, have repeatedly expressed reservations about the contents of the agreement, and said that Jordan reserved the right to safe-guard its national interests.
All statements made by the monarch indicated that he was trying to avoid a showdown with the PLO.
Many Palestinians and Jordanians are worried about possible friction between the two people. But the king has warned against such fracture in the national unity and pledged there will be no discrimination among Jordanians, regardless of origin.
The palace seems particularly disturbed by provisions in the Israeli-PLO agreement that leave the final status of the occupied territories, particularly Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements, ambiguous.
Officials worry that Israel will use the accord - which involves a five-year limited autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Jericho - to consolidate its sovereignty over the land in the absence of an Israeli recognition of the Palestinian people's right to self determination.
The agreement has been extremely painful for King Hussein, according to officials and analysts, who only reluctantly relinquished his claim to share representation of the Palestinian people and to the West Bank in 1974 and 1988 in response to Palestinian pressure in favor of the PLO.
``We have relinquished our sovereignty in favor of Palestinian sovereignty and not Israeli sovereignty,'' Prince Hassan told a group of local journalists. Unease between sides
Palestinian officials who support the accord counter that Jordan is upset mainly over Arafat's success in securing Israeli and US recognition of the PLO's role, effectively upstaging and marginalizing Jordan.
But the accord leaves the two main bridges over the Jordan River under Israeli control, and Palestinians and Jordanians here are worried that the Jewish state could close the crossings either to prevent a potential influx of the Palestinians into the West Bank or keep Palestinians who cross into Jordan from returning.
Jordanians are wary of Palestinian dominance. Roughly 50 percent of the country's 3.5 million are of Palestinian origin. Analysts warn that an influx of Palestinians from the West Bank could create serious friction between the two peoples.