JERUSALEM (Oct. 15)
Israeli circles are plainly encouraged by the uncharacteristically clear-cut statement by the government of Jordan last night holding the Palestine Liberation Organization solely to blame for the last-minute cancellation by British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe of the meeting he was to have had in London with a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation yesterday, including two members of the PLO. (Related story, P. 4.)
Observers here believe the London fiasco, extremely embarrassing to the Jordanians, could be the first crack in the alliance put together by King Hussein and PLO chief Yasir Arafat last February II which would have Jordan and the Palestinians negotiate jointly in the Middle East peace process.
Aides to Premier Shimon Peres, who left today for Europe and the U.S., said the developments in London, on top of the discomfiture and discrediting of the PLO in the Achille Lauro hijack, could be a turning point in Peres’ efforts to bring Jordan and moderate non-PLO Palestinians to the negotiating table.
STATEMENT BY JORDAN
The official statement issued in Amman last night and carried by the Jordanian news agency, Petra, said the scheduled meeting with Howe fell through because one of the two PLO officials reneged on a previous agreement to subscribe to a statement worked out with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during her visit to Jordan last month. This was the first disclosure by Jordan that a prior agreement had been behind the London talks.
The Amman statement did not say which of the two PLO representatives reneged-Elias Khoury, the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, or Mohammed Milhem, former Mayor of the West Bank town of Halhoul. Both are members of the PLO Executive. The two Jordanian senior ministers in the delegation were prepared to endorse the statement which reportedly acknowledged Israel’s right to exist within secure, recognized borders and condemned terrorism in all its forms.
The Jordanian statement last night said: “An agreement was reached with the British side on the text of the (joint) statement in light of consultations between the members of the joint delegation. The delegation left for London on this basis. But one of the two Palestinian members of the delegation, unfortunately, said he was unwilling to approve the text of the statement as agreed. Therefore the British foreign minister concluded that under those circumstances it was not possible to hold the meeting at its scheduled time.”
Israeli circles are also assessing cautiously the possible significance of a parallel development–the failure of the Soviet Union to offer any succor whatever, political or rhetorical, to the PLO during a week of major setbacks to the terrorist organization’s attempts to gain political respectability and legitimacy.
On the contrary, observers here pointed out, signals from Moscow indicate grave displeasure over the hijack of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro a week ago and the subsequent embarrassment to Egypt and Italy. The Soviets may have been influenced by their own recent brush with terrorism at the hands of Beirut terrorists, who killed at least one kidnapped Soviet official.
The Israelis noted that the USSR made no move at the United Nations to prevent the withdrawal by the six sponsoring nations of an invitation to Arafat to address the 40th anniversary session of the General Assembly later this month. One senior official here summed up these developments: “A good week for Israel. The PLO has been set back many years,” he said.