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Israel and Jordan Close to Pact After Peres Meeting with Hussein

Israel and Jordan are close to a peace agreement, according to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who met at length last week with Jordan’s King Hussein.

The foreign minister gave this upbeat assessment in a speech here Saturday night during a seminar on relations between Europe and the Middle East, held under the auspices of the Hebrew University.

Meanwhile, the autonomy implementation talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, cut short in the Sinai border town of Taba last week, were to resume in privacy Monday morning in Cairo.

Palestinian officials suspended the Taba talks last week over disagreements regarding Israeli troop withdrawals in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. The pullback is scheduled to begin Dec. 13.

According to Israeli sources, each side will be sending five delegates to the security subcommittee, which is the main subcommittee in the autonomy negotiations.

The talks will continue indefinitely in Cairo, far from the prying eyes of the news media.

The Peres-Hussein meeting, one of many held in secret between the king and Israeli leaders over the years, was unique in that, with the consent of the two sides, it was leaked to the media almost immediately after it took place.

Peres himself, in hints and comments to reporters on Nov. 3, made it clear something was “in the air.”

By the next day, the Israeli press was hot on the trail, and by last Friday most newspapers here were reporting that a Peres-Hussein meeting had taken place on Nov. 2.

Most significantly, though, and seen as a Jordanian confirmation, was a brief report Saturday in the semi-official Jordan Times about the Israeli media’s stories.

This is the first time any Jordanian newspaper has ever published reports of a meeting between Hussein and Israeli leaders.

PROGRESS IN TALKS WITH SYRIA?

Hussein, who was originally shocked and disturbed by the secret dealings between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and top Israeli officials, later met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who reportedly alleviated at least some of Hussein’s concerns.

The king is concerned about any arrangements reached by Israel and the PLO because more than 2 million Palestinians live in Jordan, making up two-thirds of the country’s population.

Hussein reportedly has signaled to the Israeli side that he will be able to move ahead in the peace process after Monday’s parliamentary elections in Jordan.

Peres, it is understood, gave the king further assurances regarding Israel’s firm intention to keep full control of the Jordan River crossing points located near Jericho even after the autonomy accord with the PLO goes into effect.

Israeli control over the crossings will prevent undesirable or disruptive elements from crossing into Jordan, a subject of concern for Hussein.

Meanwhile, a flurry of media reports here have spoken in recent days of behind-the-scenes progress in negotiations between Israel and Syria.

According to these reports, secret talks between the two countries are focusing on possible territorial exchanges that would enable Israel to retain a foothold atop the Golan Heights.

The reports touch on a topic that is vitally important to Jordan: Hussein has been clearly reluctant to move out ahead of Damascus and sign a peace agreement with Israel while the Israel-Syria track remains paralyzed.

The meetings with Hussein and the prospect of further progress with Jordan are politically important for the Israeli government.

Israeli leaders have been attempting to maintain popular support and enthusiasm for the peace process despite a spate of fatal attacks on Israelis mounted by Arab rejectionist elements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli policy-makers are growing anxious about their ability to sustain public support during this interim period, when the PLO has not yet taken up power and authority in any part of the territories — and therefore cannot be held accountable for the attacks against Israelis.

On Sunday, following an attack by terrorists in Hebron, the Israeli Cabinet sent a plainly worded message to the PLO leadership, urging that Arafat and his top lieutenants issue a firm and unequivocal condemnation of all such attacks.

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