JERUSALEM (Oct. 8)
The Palestinian problem is not only the most complicated issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is also the biggest headache of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in his efforts to form a “unified Arab front” for the Geneva conference. Sadat explained recently that the Arabs cannot afford to go to Geneva before they settle their own differences. Otherwise, he warned, Israel would exploit these differences to her own advantage. He pointed to the Jordan-Palestine Liberation Organization crisis as highly ominous in this respect and vowed to do his utmost to breach the gap.
Sadat’s first step came with King Hussein’s visit to Alexandria, which led to the joint Egyptian-Jordanian statement of July 18. There Sadat granted Hussein recognition as representative of those Palestinians living in the Hashemite kingdom, and back publicly his drive for a disengagement agreement with the Israelis.
Two months of open denunciations by the PLO followed. Sadat was accused of betraying the Palestinian cause by “selling out” to the Americans and their ally Hussein. Relations between Cairo and the PLO leadership rapidly deteriorated to the verge of a political confrontation. Sadat refused to backtrack from his communique with Hussein. The PLO refused to accept Egypt’s demand for a dialogue in order to “coordinate” policies.
Finally, through Syrian mediation, a tripartite meeting took place in Cairo Sept. 20-21. In the joint statement issued by Egypt’s and Syria’s Foreign Ministers and the PLO delegate. Egypt once again recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Furthermore, Egypt announced officially, for the first time, its support of a separate Palestinian state to be formed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
JORDAN AND EGYPT AT LOGGERHEADS
This meant a definite departure from Sadat’s previous agreement with Hussein. Jordan was not mentioned at all in the tripartite communique but the contradictions between what Sadat gave Hussein In July and what he gave now to the. PLO was quite obvious: he apparently committed himself to a course aimed at cutting the West Bank from Jordan. Earlier he accepted Hussein’s concept of free choice by the local population after, and not before, an Israeli pull out.
Hussein lost no time. He threw the ball back by announcing a provisional “suspension” of Jordanian participation in all peace contacts, apparently to force the Egyptians to take a clear-cut decision: are they prepared to sacrifice cooperation with him for the sake of supporting the PLO or would they rather review their present position?
Hussein’s move was a serious threat to Sadat, who now lost his power to maneuver. Sadat–or so Jordanians calculated–cannot lose Jordan as an ally both in Geneva and when war. breaks out. Losing Jordan endangers the prospect for a political settlement with Israel, as well as America’s backing to it. At the same time it deprives Egypt’s and Syria’s armies from the considerable aid of 3-4 Jordanian divisions, for which Yasir Arafat’s 9000 terrorists can never compensate.
Nevertheless, Sadat still hopes for cooperation with Hussein. He now wants to summon him for negotiations with PLO leader Arafat under his own auspices. But what can he offer to the King? How can Sadat tie both Hussein and Arafat to his game? Sadat keeps the secret to himself. But his aides hint that he knows some miraculous way to combine his contradictory commitments into a compromise formula which can win the support of both rivals.
Clearly. Egypt does not wish to alienate Jordan from her, because her help will be needed either to make peace or go to war. At the same time. Sadat cannot afford to appear as opting for a settlement at the expense of Palestinians. The effort to get both Hussein and Arafat to climb on Sadat’s bandwagon is now the focal point of Egypt’s Arab policy. It won’t be an easy task to perform and chances of success are by no means secure.