The PLO stands at a crossroads. The battle of Beirut revealed the valiant and tenacious character of Palestinian nationalism and the corresponding paralysis of the Arab state system, but the forced withdrawal of the PLO from Lebanon presented the organization with the most serious challenge to its cohesion and vitality in its 20 years of existence.

There have been discernible and immediate consequences for the Palestinian national movement: first, the institutional infrastructure of the PLO has been dealt a crippling blow; second, the movement has been reduced to a second-level player in the diplomatic configuration of the region; third, longstanding discord within the movement has erupted into a full-fledged civil war. [1] As a result, the political gains of the past decade are suddenly endangered.

The period since the movement’s departure from Beirut in late August 1982 began as a search for readjustment and accommodation, shifting between reconstruction of a shattered consensus and defining a new one more relevant to the tasks of the movement and conditions in the region. A new urgency had arisen to reexamine the politics of consensus, to make hard and unprecedented choices. No longer could the movement afford a cloak of multiple ideological coloration. Its future path needed to be clarified and refined.

The announcement on February 11, 1985, that King Hussein and Yasir Arafat had agreed on a joint approach to resolve the Palestine-Israel conflict is bound to sharpen the strategy debate underway within the Palestinian national movement. As the first substantive follow-up to the 17th Palestine National Council (PNC) meeting of November 1984, the accord endorsed the principle of exchanging territory for peace, the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people within the framework of a Palestinian state and a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, and a comprehensive settlement under the umbrella of an international conference at which the Palestinians would be represented in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Egyptian President Mubarak’s senior foreign policy advisor, Usama al-Baz, proclaimed the accord “historic.” “For the first time, the PLO has unequivocally and irrevocably accepted the premise of a peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” [2] Neither the United States nor Israel shared this enthusiasm, and the PLO Executive Committee itself expressed “reservations” about whether the accord fit within the consensus expressed in the resolutions of the Amman PNC meeting.

The immediate issue is this: whether the two principal provisions of the 1974 Rabat summit formula — Palestinian statehood and PLO representation — will emerge intact or suffer further corrosion, reduced to the status of negotiable items in the present diplomatic battle. These are the crux of the Palestinian debate underway since the movement’s departure from Beirut.

The Jordan Question

This Palestinian debate has focused largely on Jordan’s role in the new strategy, as the leadership of the movement endeavored to explore the “association clause” in the Reagan plan of September 1, 1982. [3] Where Sharon had succeeded in evicting the Palestinian spokesman from Beirut, Reagan now sought to transfer the spokesman’s role to Jordan. Jordan had committed itself at the October 1974 summit meeting in Rabat to recognize the PLO as “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” and to support the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. King Hussein even took steps to disentangle Jordan from the West Bank by suspending the Jordanian parliament (where the West Bank had been entitled to equal representation with the East Bank following King ‘Abd Allah’s annexation of the disputed territory in 1950).

But Hussein’s divestiture was more symbolic than substantive. In place of the parliament, he established a Consultative National Council and appointed Palestinians to it, including the deputy speaker. He neglected to revoke the 1950 Act of Union, and the West Bank thus remained juridically a part of Jordan. Akef al-Fayez, the speaker of the Jordanian parliament and a confidant of the king, spelled out the implications of this in February 1984:

The West Bank has been an integral part of Jordan under the constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom. Therefore, it is the responsibility of Jordan to regain the area either through peace or war… The PLO was established in 1964, before the occupation of the West Bank. Therefore, the PLO’s authority and efforts, as derived from the 1974 Arab Summit in Rabat, should be limited to the liberation of Palestine rather than the West Bank. [4]

The Jordanian government also maintained, since 1967, an active role in the affairs of West Bank municipalities, trade unions, agricultural organizations, charitable associations, and public education. Ten years after Rabat, Amman continues to pay the salaries of many civil servants in the West Bank. Today, Jordan is pressing forward with claims it had never in fact renounced.

At the same time, the views of the regime are not monolithic. The king and an important sector of the Jordanian establishment see Jordan’s future inextricably linked to that of eastern Palestine (the West Bank) and Gaza. Crown Prince Hassan and the queen mother view Jordan east of the river as a separate entity which rr\ust remain free of Palestinian “troubles.” Shortly after the announcement of the Reagan plan, Hassan expressed his fear that now “Jordan will be placed in greater jeopardy in terms of action by the Begin government than at any time in the past.” [5] A short while later, he wrote that “this area should evolve a distinct identity of its own. An Arab identity which is not a springboard for further Israeli expansion.” [6]

The position of the crown prince has restrained but not altered King Hussein’s approach. In January 1983, only one month after he had reaffirmed, in Moscow, his support of Palestinian statehood “under the leadership of the PLO,” [7] his regime embarked on a vigorous campaign to reassert this claim of responsibility for the fate of the West Bank.

The First Round

The Palestinian movement had then just taken the first steps toward formulating its own strategy in the aftermath of Lebanon. At a meeting in Aden in early December 1982, four resistance groups — Fatah, the Democratic Popular Front (DPF), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Palestine Liberation Front — insisted the struggle for an independent state be waged “in a way that guarantees [the Palestinian people’s] right to return and to self-determination.” [8] Their communique also included a categorical rejection of any “affiliation with neighboring countries.” The stand against Jordan was even more explicit: “Jordan will never be authorized [to represent the Palestinians]; the relationship between the Palestinians and the Jordanians is that of two independent states and must not be more than a confederal relationship.” The communique also ruled out “any relations” with Egypt as long as Egypt maintained its commitment to Camp David and called for “rectification” and “improvement” of PLO relations with Syria and Libya.

The Aden meeting, attended by Yasir Arafat, George Habash and Nayif Hawatmeh, was a first attempt to strike a balance between “hard-liners” and moderates within the Palestinian movement since the departure from Beirut. While the former inscribed maximalist phraseology (such as “historic rights” and the right of return), called for reconciliation with Syria and denied power of attorney to Jordan, the latter succeeded in leaving the door open for a confederal relationship with Jordan.

The tenor of the Aden resolutions permeated the pronouncements of the PNC meeting in Algiers in February 1983. [9] That meeting excluded any diminution of the PLO by means of partnership, proxy or delegation of authority, and resolved that the PLO is sole representative “inside and outside the occupied territories.” The session acknowledged the “special and distinctive relationship” between the Palestinian and Jordanian people, but declared that relationship could only take the form of a “confederation between two independent states.” Confederation could not be a substitute for statehood, and could only be established after statehood was achieved. The PNC further declared “its refusal to consider the [Reagan] plan as a sound basis for a just and permanent settlement to the Palestinian question,” and characterized the Fez plan as “the minimum for Arab political action.”

Conservative, pro-Jordanian Palestinians did not consider the resolutions of the 16th PNC conducive to a diplomatic settlement. Elias Freij, the mayor of Bethlehem, urged the PLO to place the Algiers resolutions “on the shelf.” [10] Since that time, an important part of the Palestinian movement has been searching for ways to refashion the decisions of the 16th PNC to accommodate the Jordanian option. The more intense that search has grown, the more pronounced the internal divisions became. This dilemma was precipitated by the growing Palestinian realization that the movement’s military options were closed. But the available diplomatic options were also untenable, and this created the paralysis which has plagued the movement to this day.

This first phase of the search for a joint Palestinian-Jordanian formula ended abruptly in mid-April 1983. The contradictions between the Palestinian and Jordanian positions were starkly dramatized in a Jordanian declaration and a Palestinian reply. The points of difference were as follows:

  • Bases for negotiations: Jordan considered the Reagan plan, the Fez plan and UN resolution 242 as the bases for a joint PLO-Jordanian negotiating platform. The Palestinian side recognized only the Fez plan and the 16th PNC resolutions as acceptable bases.
  • Sequence of negotiations: The Palestinian declaration considered confederation a “strategic goal,” which must follow the establishment of the Palestinian state. For the PLO, a future Jordanian-Palestinian relationship could not be a “tactical move aiming to facilitate motion towards the Reagan plan.” [11]
  • Role of the PLO: While the Palestinian declaration stressed “full and independent representation by the PLO,” the Jordanian declaration supported the PLO only “within its means and in so far as its national security allows.”

The Palestinian declaration warned that any attempt to render the Palestinian national cause, even indirectly, to a mere territorial problem was unacceptable. The bottom line of the declared Palestinian position was mutual recognition: endorsement of the Fez plan implied PLO recognition of Israel, and insistence on statehood to be negotiated only by the PLO implied reciprocal Israeli recognition.

But mutual recognition was unacceptable to either Israel or the US, and Arafat was unwilling and unable to yield the role of spokesman to King Hussein. This brought the talks to a halt. Even if Arafat had yielded on such a critical issue, a settlement based on the Reagan plan was still beyond reach. Any sign of US readiness to distance itself from Israel on questions such as the settlements would have dramatically altered the balance of forces in the PLO on the question of the Jordanian option. There was none whatsoever. Secretary of State George Shultz nevertheless blamed the PLO for the impasse; their decision to cling to the Rabat mandate was disruptive of the “peace process.” Shultz urged Arab governments to withdraw that mandate.

Arab Realignment

A second phase in the search for a common Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating platform surfaced towards the end of 1983. It was prompted by the worsening split in the PLO. The bloody conflict with Syrian-backed forces in Tripoli in November 1983 had the paradoxical effect of giving Fatah a new negotiating flexibility. Syria’s involvement in the Tripoli battle helped Arafat disengage himself from the seemingly steadfast positions of the Algiers PNC — as was immediately apparent with his trip to Cairo in December 1983. It was the first for any Arab leader since the Baghdad summit in 1978, and signaled a new readiness on the part of the Fatah mainstream to restructure its Arab alignments. The US hoped that a reoriented PLO might provide enough political cover for Jordan to enter the autonomy talks. [12] The conservative Arab states were now looking towards Egypt as a bulwark against insurgent Islamic movements, particularly in the context of the Iran-Iraq war. Jordan was hoping to seize the opportunity of this conjuncture to forge ahead as the primary Palestinian spokesman in an impending diplomatic encounter. Egypt’s President Husni Mubarak was reluctant to take the lead, preferring instead to act within the framework of an evolving consensus of moderate Arab states. Hussein and Arafat would have to step out front, with the Arab states pleading for US pressure on Israel to promote the Reagan plan. The interests of many strange bedfellows seemed to converge on the need for settlement that could only come with some revision of the Rabat mandate of 1974.

On January 9, 1984, King Hussein recalled the country’s long-dormant parliament into special session and amended Article 73 of the constitution to permit Palestinians living in the East Bank (60 percent of the total Jordanian population) to vote for deputies who would represent Palestinians in the West Bank. [13] Twelve of the 19 surviving representatives who served in the old parliament now live in Jordan. The Likud government permitted the seven still residing in the West Bank to go to Amman. The next day, January 10, Hussein appointed a new cabinet. Nine of its 20 members were Palestinians, compared with five in the outgoing government. Two Palestinians assumed the important portfolios of foreign affairs and occupied territories. [14]

The minister in charge of the occupied territories and refugees and the parliamentary committee for the occupied territories were entrusted with “domestic matters.” The message was clear: the West Bank remained an integral part of Jordan. In his message to the new cabinet, Hussein declared that the West Bank is a “general Arab problem,” but added that “it is a far more intimate Jordanian concern.” [15] His new prime minister, Ahmad Obeidat, underscored Jordan’s determination to diminish the PLO status as sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people when he told a Saudi magazine that “the PLO represents something of the Palestinian rights and something of the Palestinian legitimacy.” [16] Even the crown prince, who does not generally favor reincorporation of the West Bank, described the parliament decision as one taken so that “all citizens will have a say in the decision-making process.” [17]

Jordan simultaneously attempted to intervene in the appointment of members of boards of directors of West Bank universities and the application process for West Bank students at universities abroad. This was only one feature in its ongoing campaign to consolidate the monarchist bloc in the West Bank. Israel was ready to oblige: a 31-member West Bank delegation, representing mostly the pro-Jordanian establishment, was allowed to travel to Amman on February 28, 1984, to meet with Hussein and Arafat. PLO supporters were denied travel permits and thus excluded from the delegation.

The delegation, headed by Hikmat al-Masri, urged Arafat to find a practical formula with Hussein. [18] Al-Masri boasted that “the meeting has given added weight to the role of the residents of the West Bank in rinding a solution to the conflict.” [19] Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij bluntly lectured Arafat “to join in the efforts of the king.” [20] Arafat responded that “this time you may be certain that the joint communique issued by King Hussein and myself will be to your liking?you will not be disappointed.” [21] Mayor Freij, in a subsequent interview with the Jerusalem Post, promoted Hussein’s pressure tactics. “If Hussein, acting through the new cabinet, came to parliament and asked for a vote of confidence for moving without the PLO,” said Freij, “he would no doubt receive it.” [22] He continued: There is no real common ground between [Hussein and Arafat]. The Reagan plan offers nothing in particular to Arafat, and he could wind up as chairman of no more than a charitable organization concerned with the welfare of refugees outside Israel and Jordan.

The winter of 1984 was a busy time for the Jordanian government. Now the king had his constitutional amendments, revived parliament and mobilized West Bank constituencies. He did not hesitate to express his preference for negotiations that would not necessarily have the support of the Palestinian movement as a whole. Addressing the reconvened parliament, he expressed “re? solve and determination to arrive at a practical formula for cooperation with the legitimate and free Palestine Liberation Organization, with the Arab blessing and backing for the sake of salvaging the land and the people.” [23]

In the same speech, Hussein also called for an end to the Arab states’ insistence on unanimity in setting collective policies. Syria, and the Syrian-backed PLO opponents of Arafat, were thus neatly cut out of Hussein’s scenario. Majority rule would deprive Syria of its veto power in Arab councils and also equip Jordan with the political cover of Arab legitimacy for its diplomatic initiatives. The open split in the Palestinian movement and in the Arab world could thus provide Fatah’s mainstream, along with Jordan, greater room to maneuver towards a settlement, unencumbered by the requirements of consensus.

The Aden-Algiers Agreement

In 1984, the PLO was still gripped by two dynamics, one pushing towards a conservative Arab direction and alignment with Jordan and Egypt, and the other aligned with Syria. The battles of Tripoli in November 1983 produced three distinct groupings. The Fatah loyalists and the small pro-Iraqi Arab Liberation Front favored diplomatic initiatives and a Jordanian connection. The National Alliance, comprising the Fatah dissidents, Saiqa, the PFLP-General Command, and the Popular Struggle Front, was backed by Damascus and preached armed struggle. The Democratic Alliance — the PFLP, the DPF, the Palestine Communist Party (PCP), and the Palestine Liberation Front — emerged as an interlocutor, trying to heal the rift within Fatah, prevent a formal split, and preserve a common Palestinian political denominator. The Democratic Alliance at the same time actively opposed the opening to Jordan and impeded the search for that “practical formula” which King Hussein actively solicited.

The Democratic Alliance convened a series of meetings in Aden between June 22 and 27, 1984, to pursue these objectives. The meeting, held under the auspices of the ruling parties of South Yemen and Algeria, was attended by all factions of the PLO except the National Alliance. The National Alliance insisted, along with Syria, on Arafat’s ouster as a pre-condition for “comprehensive dialogue” and any further PNC session.

The Aden political document rejected the Jordanian initiative and labelled the revival of the Jordanian parliament a violation of the Rabat decisions of 1974. It reaffirmed previous Palestinian decisions regarding the Reagan plan, the Allon plan, the United Kingdom plan and any others which compromise “the right of return, self-determination, and statehood under the leadership of the PLO as sole legal representative.” It criticized Yasir Arafat’s Cairo visit as a “violation of PNC resolutions” and absolved the PLO of any responsibility for “its harmful consequences.” The document specifically barred any further contacts with Egypt as long as Egypt continued to adhere to Camp David. The political document called for a consolidation of Palestinian-Syrian relations based on “mutual respect, independence, equality and non-interference in internal affairs,” and considered the “joint Syrian-Soviet declaration, which affirmed the unity of the PLO on national, progressive and anti-imperalist bases,” as essential for surmounting the present predicament.

The organizational document agreed to in Aden envisaged an expanded participatory system and increased legislative checks on the PLO Executive Committee. Sweeping reforms in the existing structure aimed at diffusing power and assuring collective decisionmaking. For example, the Central Committee was to be elected directly from the membership of the PNC, and would have authority over the Executive Committee for implementation of PNC resolutions. The Central Committee could suspend up to one-third of the members of the Executive Committee. Under the rules proposed in Aden, the Executive Committee could elect an unspecified number of vice-chairpersons to assist the chairperson. The agreement also called for a general secretariat to represent “collective leadership” and be “responsible for transacting daily decision on organizational, political, financial and military matters when the Executive Committee is not in session.” Finally, the Palestine Communist Party, a component of the Democratic Alliance, was admitted as a constituent group in the PNC. [24]

The Aden-Algiers accord provided that Yasir Arafat could remain as chairperson of the Executive Committee pending the next PNC meeting and decision. But this accord was the first serious attempt to curb his freedom of action. In effect, the Aden- Algiers document represented an indictment of Arafat’s strategy of aligning the PLO with Jordan and Egypt. That indictment reflected the views of the Democratic Alliance, some independents, and a small sector of the Fatah mainstream.

Arafat’s Dilemma

By mid-summer 1984, the PLO seemed to be committed to two diametrically opposed strategies, both grounded in official declarations and formal decisions. A unified line might have emerged if the PFLP and Algeria had not succumbed to Syrian pressure and had allowed the 17th PNC to convene in Algiers. But the PLO dilemma was made impossible by Syria’s uncom? promising attitude towards Arafat’s leadership and strategy. Control of the PLO has been, since 1970, a primary objective of Syria’s regional strategy. Jordan and Egypt envisage a similar role for the PLO in their own regional strategies. One key issue thus was whether the PLO would be an appendage to Syria or to Jordan. Leaders and cadres alike have not forgotten the PLO experiences with Jordan in September 1970, and with Syria in 1976 and again in 1982-83.

In the short-term, neither Jordan nor Syria can promise the Palestinians fulfillment of their goals. Those Palestinians who decided to cast their lot with Jordan stress the need to “save the land,” and view their mission as a salvage operation in the face of steady Zionist colonization. From their perspective, the Mubarak regime has in practice shed Camp David. They welcomed Jordan’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Egypt in October 1984 as a step towards a settlement based on “land for peace.” At the same time, though, none of these leaders anticipates that the Jordan connection could fulfill the irreducible minimum of Palestinian aspirations.

Those Palestinians who embraced Syria’s position, or who refused to endorse the Jordan connection, are convinced that their minimum redress is definitely excluded by the existing and prospective balance of forces. The alternative for them is to hold out for a more favorable regional balance of power that could only accrue from a sustained resistance to Israeli occupation and a reinvigorated campaign against US interests in the region. They take inspiration from the success of the Lebanese resistance to Israeli occupation of south Lebanon and from Syria’s stand against US hegemony. Their perception of Israel as a declining power prompts them to insist on the need to restore Palestinian unity and strength and not to fall prey once more to Arab promises that can never be fulfilled.

A Momentous Decision

By the autumn of 1984, the need to go one way or the other became more imperative. Arafat could no longer balance himself between the views of West Bank politicians, diaspora leftists and rival Arab establishments. When the PFLP and the Algerian government effectively put off indefinitely the PNC called for in the Aden-Algiers document, Arafat was faced with the choice of presiding over a disintegrating movement or convening a new PNC in the absence of unity. The latter course would have the benefit of reducing or even eliminating the veto power of the Palestinian factions aligned with Syria, and avoiding the encroachments on his freedom of political maneuver that Aden- Algiers called for. Furthermore, he could portray himself as the aggrieved party, having exhausted every remedy, and impelled by the integrity of the Palestinian cause to move ahead. As a result, the 17th Palestine National Council was convened in Amman on November 22, 1984, by decision of the Fatah leadership and without the sanction of the Aden-Algiers decision.

Whether the PLO as embodied in the Amman PNC will be a phoenix or a phantom, only time will tell. What is clear now is that the decision to convene confirmed the schism and the realignment of the movement. A quorum was easily obtained (261 out of 384), even though the Democratic Alliance, the National Alliance, and many independents boycotted the session. Internal difficulties continued to overshadow the larger problems of the Palestinian people.

The Amman assembly was a clear tactical victory for Arafat. He outmaneuvered his PLO opponents and Syria. He fended off critics in the session who objected to his 1983 Cairo visit by offering to resign and provoking a predictable outcry to retract his resignation. When it all ended, he emerged with a resolution calling his Cairo visit “a step on the road to strengthening relations between the Egyptian and Palestinian people.” He could not have asked for a more eloquent exoneration!

To his critics who stayed away from the meeting and to those who straddled the fence, Arafat could simply wave the latest resolutions. Their forceful language posed a resounding challenge to the assertions of the radicals. The PNC communique issued on November 29, 1984, rejected all peace proposals which did not recognize “the right of return, right of self-determination and right to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.” This formulation recalled the language used in the Aden meeting of January 1983 and in the Algiers PNC. As for PLO-Jordanian relations, the Amman PNC appeared to leave them where they were in April 1983, when Yasir Arafat backed down from his initial agreement to explore the Reagan initiative with King Hussein. But the February 1985 accord with Hussein made it clear that Arafat is edging towards the Jordanian position with regard to UN resolution 242 and the Reagan plan.

The Amman session’s most visible accomplishment, therefore, may well have been the re-establishment of Arafat’s authority and the leadership of his Fatah branch. A second major accomplishment was the introduction of the PLO leadership and the Palestinian parliament to Palestinians in the West Bank, via Jordanian television. The nightly sight of the council meeting instilled a renewed pride among the captive population, and reinforced their sense of belonging to a national movement. The inertia and disillusionment produced by the Beirut debacle were temporarily alleviated. But while the scenes of Palestinian democracy in action boosted the morale in the West Bank, the outcome promised no reprieve. It had no material effect on the lives of Palestinians there or elsewhere.

It does not matter that King Hussein and Chairman Arafat called in their PNC opening speeches for an international conference as the proper forum for negotiations. That concept has no place on the agendas of the US or Israel, both of which possess a virtual veto over the issues of war and peace in the Middle East. More significant was King Hussein’s visit to Cairo only two days after the PNC ended, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ismet ‘Abd ul-Meguid’s hints of a new formula for representation by “certain Palestinians” outside the PLO. [25] Mubarak’s National Security Advisor, Usama al-Baz, told reporters his government regarded an international conference as something appropriate “at a later stage.” [26] Similarly, Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Tahir al-Masri, expressed the view that although his government supported the idea of an international conference, it had no objection to a revival of the Reagan plan, which implied a solo role for the United States. [27]

Saudi King Fahd’s visit to Washington in February 1985 reflected the place of Palestinian rights on the agenda of the Arab governments. He was utterly silent on three essential principles of the Rabat (1974) and Fez (1982) declarations: Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood and the representative character of the PLO. Fahd’s performance underlined the Arab world’s lack of leverage in Washington. Collective Arab lobbying for a new US initiative is not likely to prove more successful than the pathetic efforts to sell the Fez plan two years ago, or the Hussein-Mubarak meeting with President Reagan in February 1984. Arab lobbying in Washington today amounts to a euphemism for supplication.

The Israeli Agenda

Jordan’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Egypt was greeted with much approval in Washington and Tel Aviv. Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir described that decision as “a victory for the Camp David process,” [28] while the US State Department welcomed it as “helpful to the cause of peace and stability in the region.” The 17th PNC has publicly called for the readmission of Egypt into the Arab League. Egypt is now a player in this renewed bid for diplomatic maneuverability.

No Israeli agenda has any place for the idea of an independent Palestinian state. On the eve of the decision to hold the 17th PNC, Prime Minister Shimon Perez made the startling announcement that he was ready to talk to Yasir Arafat. His two conditions, however, were that the PLO agrees to forego the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and that it relinquish the aim of destroying Israel. [29] Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin revealed Israel’s own Jordan option:

There is no other solution than the one connected with Jordan…that will allow Israel to maintain a security border on the Jordan River for a period which I cannot for the moment set a term to, and [provide for] the return of parts of the West Bank and Gaza to form one entity with Jordan: one flag, one army, one capital?Amman. I would not object if Jordan and the Palestinians subsequently decided to establish cantons within one sovereign state, east and west of the Jordan. All this on condition that the peace agreement were signed between the State of Israel and one Jordanian-Palestinian state. [30]

The Jordanian version of this “compromise,” the United King? dom plan of 1972, derives from Hussein’s conception of the proper Jordanian-Palestinian relationship.

What are the implications of this compromise? The proposed arrangements — call it the Reagan plan, the Allon plan or the United Kingdom plan — seem clearly grounded in the strategic and territorial interests of the sponsors. They would give Israel the defense border on the Jordan River and the territorial border to the west of the river, thus fulfilling Israel’s demographic and strategic imperatives as interpreted by Labor. They would partially fulfill Jordan’s historic ambitions in Palestine and elevate its claims for pan-Arab leadership. It would reintegrate Egypt into the Arab fold and vindicate Washington’s claim to be the sole effective agent of conciliation in the Middle East. If it can be imposed on the Palestinians, it will place them under a virtual Israeli-Jordanian condominium, an advanced form of a League of Nations mandate.

Will Arafat’s decision to convene the 17th PNC in Amman encourage the Arab world to extricate itself from the Rabat commitment of 10 years ago? The answer depends largely on the coherence which the Palestinian movement can assume. The Jordanian option cannot possibly achieve the most minimal version of Palestinian requirements. But can it provide the political space for the movement to regroup and rebuild in the new conditions that prevail after Beirut?

The Syrian effort to dominate the Palestinian movement, and to eliminate Arafat from the leadership, was a major factor in pushing the movement in the direction of Arab conservatives. This in itself is a testament to the condition of Arab nationalism in the 1980s. It reflects the predicament of the “radical” wing of the Arab bourgeoisie, which has been striving to build modern nation-states, partners within the world system of nation-states. [31]

The failure of the so-called Steadfastness Front after the Baghdad Summit of 1978 to respond to Egypt’s separate peace, the preoccupation of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states with the Islamic fundamentalist challenge, and Iraq’s absorption in the Gulf war allowed Israel to attack the PLO in Lebanon and prepared the ground for the present realignment. The Fez summit declaration of 1982 signaled a shift to a new Arab guardianship over the Palestine question. This is the meaning of the Hussein- Arafat accord of February 1985. It may be that now the last organized presence of Arab revolutionaries has finally decided to join forces with the “moderate” Arab regimes, which have decided to submit to Washington’s terms.


[1] See Naseer Aruri, “Palestinian Nationalism After Lebanon: The Current Impasse,” American-Arab Affairs, 8(Spring 1984), pp.54-65.
[2] New York Times, February 13, 1985.
[3] For an analysis of the Reagan plan, see Naseer Aruri,, Reagan and the Middle East, (Belmont, MA: AAUG Press,1983).
[4] Al-Watan al-Arabi, February 17, 1984.
[5] In an interview with Anthony Cordesman, Armed Forces Journal International, November 1982.
[6] Trilogue, January 9, 1983.
[7] See the speech by King Hussein while heading an Arab delegation visit to Moscow, December 3, 1982.
[8] See text of the communique in Journal of Palestine Studies 12,3(Spring 1983), pp.243-245.
[9] Text of resolutions of the 16th PNC in Ibid., pp.250-254.
[10] Newsweek, March 14, 1983.
[11] Talia (Jerusalem), April 14, 1983.
[12] President Hosni Mubarak’s senior foreign policy advisor, Usama al-Baz, said on January 20,1984, that the coming talks between Egypt, Jordan and the PLO would be aimed at “widening the terms of reference” under which negotiations with Israel could be held. New York Times, January 2, 1984.
[13] Boston Globe, January 10, 1984.
[14] Taher al-Masri became Foreign Minister and Shaukat Mahmoud became Minister for the Occupied Territories.
[15] The Jerusalem Post, January 13, 1984.
[16] Al-Majallah, June 9, 1984.
[17] Hassan ibn Talal, The Search for Peace (London, 1984), p.68. (Emphasis added.)
[18] Hikmat al-Masr, a pro-Jordanian Nablus businessman-politician, told the Jordanian daily, al-Rai, prior to this visit that “the Jordanian-Palestinian bond is ancient, and has been reinforced by the 1950 Referendum which united both banks of the river. Any separation between them will multiply the problems faced by the Palestinians.” (January 16, 1984).
[19] Yediot Ahronot, March 6, 1984.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] The Jerusalem Post, January 13, 1984.
[23] Al-Fajr, January 6, 1984. (Emphasis added.)
[24] See al-Wathiqa al-Siyasiya wa al-Tanthimiya (The Political and Organizational Document). Adopted in Aden, June 22- 27, 1984 (mimeographed).
[25] New York Times, December 7, 1984.
[26] Washington Post, December 4, 1984.
[27] New York Times, December 2, 1984.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Uri Avnery, “Arafat’s Rabbit and Peres’ Hat,” Ha’olam Hazeh, October 24, 1984.
[30] Yediot Ahranot, June 5, 1984.
[31] See Samir Amin, “The Middle East Conflict in a World Context,” Contemporary Marxism 7(Fall 19815).

How to cite this article:

Naseer Aruri "The PLO and the Jordan Option," Middle East Report 131 (March/ April 1985).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This