‘disengagement Talks’ with Jordan?

A new dimension seems to have been added to the Mideast peace talks complex this weekend with Jordan’s suggestion at Geneva Saturday that it too conduct “disengagement talks” with Israel. Said el-Rifal, the Jordanian Foreign Minister, obviously did not intend to demand an immediate start to such talks. But U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger has indicated his view that such talks could begin in a few weeks. The suggestion gained two positive responses from Israel–from Deputy Premier Yigal Allon Saturday, and from Foreign Minister Abba Eban on his return from Geneva yesterday. The National Religious Party, however, took Allon to task at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting for seeming to agree to the Jordanian suggestion. They raised the issue again at today’s special Cabinet meeting.

Sources close to Allon said today that he does not envisage disengagement talks with Jordan aimed at an actual Israeli pullback–on the pattern of the disengagement talks with Egypt. Allon and Eban have explained through their aides that they have in mind talks aimed at thinning out the forces arrayed along the Jordan River banks–perhaps by agreed pullback of all artillery and tanks leaving only mechanized infantry to patrol the border which stretches down through the Arava to Eilat. Allon also thinks in terms of cooperation with Jordan against the Palestinian terrorists who are expected to intensify their violence on the West Bank with the aim of sabotaging peace talks. Both Israel and Jordan should be interested in preventing this, Allon believes.

Allon also envisages establishment of a permanent “hot line” for emergency contact between Israeli and Jordanian officers to avoid a broader conflagration in the event of incidents. Political observers here believe Rifai made his suggestion–and looked to Kissinger to support it–because he feared that a quick and successful outcome of Israel-Egyptian disengagement talks would overshadow Jordan’s interests and importance at Geneva. Allon and Eban feel Israel should seize upon the opportunity presented by the Jordanian uneasiness and explore possible preliminary talks with Jordan.

NO NEED TO RUSH, DAYAN SAYS

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, on the other hand, feels no purpose would be served by rushing ahead with talks with Jordan. He notes that the eastern border has been relatively quiet, the bridges have remained open and there is no tension which needs defusing by disengagement talks.

But the issue presents broader problems. It confronts the government unavoidably with the need to “draw maps” on the West Bank, some thing it has so far avoided doing. In disengagement talks with Jordan, the military representatives would have to be fully instructed as to what Israel has in mind for an ultimate peace settlement of the area.

Allon, according to his Allon Plan, sees the Jordan River as Israel’s military and political border, with Jordanian enclaves inside the West Bank. But the NRP wants to give up nothing on the West Bank, claiming that the entire region belongs to Israel for historic and religious reasons. The issue is likely to figure in the election campaign. It will highlight the difference of out-look between Labor and the NRP. Assuming that Labor retains enough power to form another coalition, it will certainly affect the coalition negotiations with the Religious Party.

Because of these problems no one, not even Rifai or Kissinger, contemplates, such talks starting before a new Israeli government takes office. But, as Eban predicted, they are likely to be high on the Geneva agenda after the elections. (By David Landau)

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