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Report Contacts Under Way for Some Time Between Israel Labor Party and West Bank Notables

Contacts have been under way for some time between leaders of the opposition Labor Party and prominent West Bank public fugures. The latter have also been in contact with King Hussein of Jordan in an apparent effort to lay the groundwork for possible negotiations between Israel, Jordan and Palestinians aimed toward a peace settlement.

Spokesmen for Premier Menachem Begin’s government have taken a strongly negative view of these developments and are chastizing the Laborites. The latter are cautiously hopeful but stress that positions are still very far apart.

Mayor Elias Freij, of Bethlehem, the leading Palestinian moderate on the West Bank, just returned from Amman where he was received by Hussein and Jordan’s Crown Prince Hassan. In an interview published in the Jerusalem Post today, he expressed great optimism over the prospects for progress toward negotiations and predicted that there could be a settlement by early next year. Friej played down Hussein’s reported comment last month that he would never negotiate with the Begin government, noting that the Jordanian ruler had made no such statement in his interview with the BBC in London last Thursday.

The Jordanian monarch, in an interview with the BBC, said that PLO recognition of Israel “would be- an obstacle in the way of having all the doors open to us — and I’m not talking just about Israel but the United States, too.” The U.S. has repeatedly said it will not talk with the PLO until that organization recognizes Israel’s right to exist and accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Freij, in referring to the BBC interview, told The Jerusalem Post that the Jordanian-PLO rapprochement indicated that things were “moving in the right direction.” He said that Hussein was focussing on President Reagan’s Middle East peace proposals, noting that the Jordanian monarch is scheduled to visit Washington later this month. He confirmed reports that a prominent West Banker, Bassam Kanaan of Nablus, has been in separate contacts with Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres and King Hussein.

This was reported by Israel television last Thursday night. Kanaan reportedly was told by Hussein that while the Allon plan was unacceptable, Jordan would be prepared to negotiate security arrangements with Israel along the Jordan River. The Allon plan, proposed years ago by the late Laborite Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, called for a string of Israeli security settlements along the river while the heavily Arab-populated West Bank hinterland would revert to Arab control.

REACTIONS TO HUSSEIN’S REMARKS

According to the TV report, Hussein, despite his reservations, urged Kanaan to continue his contacts with the Laborites. Gad Yaacobi, a former Cabinet minister in Labor-led governments, said Hussein’s remarks were positive but still fell short of an expression of readiness by Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians to negotiate with Israel.

He said a Labor government would be prepared to negotiate on the basis of two states — Israel and Jordan — but not on the basis of three–Israel, Jordan and a Palestinian state between them. He said there was no basis for negotiations between Israel and the PLO even if the latter renounced terrorism. Speaking for the government, Deputy Agriculture Minister, Michael Dekel, contended that Hussein and the PLO were still plotting the destruction of Israel in stages. Hussein was urging the PLO to recognize Israel in its 1948 boundaries, not in defensible boundaries, Dekel claimed.

Another senior government official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he knew nothing of indirect contacts between Labor leaders and Hussein, through Kanaan, until the TV report. The official accused Peres of “hawking Israel’s wares cheaper than the government.”

But Peres warned on television last night that Israel must move “fast” to negotiate with Jordan. He said if the PLO were to adopt a moderate stance the United States would insist that it be brought into the negotiating process.

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