Uniform Gloom over Rabat Decision Recognizing Role of the PLO Peace Prospects Appear to Be Destroyed

Initial reactions to the Rabat decision recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” were uniformly gloomy today. The consensus was that the Arab summit meeting may have effectively destroyed the prospects of a peace settlement between Israel and its neighbors in the foreseeable future. “The general feeling here is that the decision is bad–had for hopes of peaceful progress.” one highly placed observer said.

(See separate story for reaction of President Ford.)

Another observer suggested that “Likud will have a field day,” referring to the opposition party’s increasingly militant and emotional campaign against any territorial concessions by Israel on the West Bank. The Rabin government, like its predecessor headed by Golda Meir, is on record that it will never negotiate with the PLO under any circumstances.

One source remarked today that it was difficult to see how Israel could negotiate a settlement on the West Bank now even with King Hussein inasmuch as the Arab leaders meeting in Rabat have declared in advance that any territory restored by Israel would be put under the control of the PLO.

The declaration unanimously adopted by the Arab summit conference yesterday, with the concurrence of Jordan’s King Hussein, who was reportedly under severe pressure to go along with it, reaffirmed “the rights of the Palestinian people to set up an independent national authority under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people on any Palestinian land that is liberated. Arab countries must support this authority when it is established in all fields and at all levels,” the declaration added.

U.S. PEACE EFFORTS APPEAR GRAVE

The advance recognition of a PLO controlled state on the West Bank of the Jordan, without plebiscite or referendum by the inhabitants of that region, represented a stunning victory for PLO and El Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat. It was a severe blow to Hussein’s prestige and to the future of his Hashemite state inasmuch as it forces him to relinquish any claims to the West Bank which, before 1967, comprised about one-fifth of his small kingdom.

The implications for Israel and for the peace moves of U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger were viewed as grave by some here and abroad. The Israeli position has been that it would negotiate a West Bank settlement when the time is ripe only with Jordan, though it had no objections if Palestinian representatives were included in the Jordanian delegation. The Rabat decision apparently has removed Jordan as a potential negotiating partner and substituted the PLO which Israel regards as a gang of killers and saboteurs.

It also frustrates Kissinger’s strategy of a step-by-step approach to a Middle East settlement which relegated the Palestinian issue to a later stage, possibly after further agreements between Israel and Egypt. Meanwhile the possibility loomed that the PLO would soon set up a government in exile. The head of the PLO’s information office, Majed Abu Sharar, said in Beirut today that the Rabat declaration clearly gave it the right to do so. He said such a government would be established “at the proper time.”

One result of the Rabat developments may be the emergence of a more hawkish trend in Israel. The Rabin government has stated that it was prepared to negotiate for an exchange of territory on the West Bank for concrete peace moves by the Arabs. Opposition to that policy is now likely to grow. Most observers here do not doubt Likud’s claim that it obtained close to a half million signatures on a petition opposing territorial concessions.

One of the signers was former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Pressure is also expected to mount on the Rabin government to remove restrictions on Jewish settlement in the Judaea-Samaria regions. The Rabat decision is widely viewed here as an indication that the Arabs have no serious intention to negotiate on those regions.

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