The one-day visit by King Hussein of Jordan and other Arab League leaders last Friday has revived the friendship between Britain and the Arabs.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Francis Pym used the visit to assert that the Arabs had “got their act together” and adopted a negotiating position for peace. At the same time, he said, Israel’s refusal to get out of Lebanon and its continuing settlement building on the West Bank were delaying progress to peace.
However, it remains doubtful whether Hussein will himself make the vital step towards negotiations which the United States has been urging him to take.
Senior Jordanian officials, quoted here, say Hussein made it clear here that he will not be going to Washington, at least for the time being, because he does not want to incur hardline Arab displeasure without being sure that the United States can extract sufficient concessions from Israel.
The Arab sources also claim that this was the advice which Hussein and his delegation received from the British. The Arab hard-line also reflects a reluctance not to antagonize the Soviet Union which has made an unprecedented commitment to defend Syria against any Israeli attack.
HUSSEIN’S FIRST PRIORITY
Instead of going quickly to Washington, Hussein’s first priority this week is to seek the agreement of PLO chairman Yasir Arafat over which Palestinians could eventually be included in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
Hussein has long aspired to represent the Palestinians, but has been barred from doing so since the 1974 Rabat summit meeting which awarded this role exclusively to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Palestinian representative in the Arab League team was Walid Khalidi, who although a member of the Palestine National Council is not an official of the PLO. Khalidi’s presence had been a compromise between Premier Margaret Thatcher’s embargo on the PLO and the Arabs’ insistence on separate Palestinian representation.
Khalidi was included following close consultations between Hussein and Arafat and hence the King’s keenness to report back directly to the PLO chairman on the success of this arrangement, and its usefulness as a precedent.
THE ONLY PUBLIC WARNING
The only public warning here against Hussein allying himself too closely to the PLO came from an Israeli and was published in The Times the morning of the Arab League team’s arrival.
It was contained in an article by Gideon Rafael, the former Israeli Ambassador to London, and its appearance was one of the few public relations successes which Israel has recently scored in Britain.
Rafael urged Hussein to enter talks with Israel and warned him that “hitching his fortunes to Arafat’s wobbly wagon will not advance him and his people one inch on the road to peace and the recovery of lands he lost when he joined the war against Israel in 1967.”
ARABS GET RED CARPET TREATMENT
Apart from this, the Arab visitors have had the British media entirely to themselves, from the moment of their red carpet arrival at the British Foreign Office and at 10 Downing Street to their final tea party with a beaming Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
Public interest in the visit had been enhanced by the fact that it had already been postponed at least three times since first mooted last summer in the wake of the Arab summit gathering at Fez. The idea was to acquaint the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the Arabs’ plans for a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in Jerusalem.
The ministerial visits to Washington, Paris, Moscow and Peking had all taken place with little attention by the international media. But the squabble with Britain over whether a PLO man should see Mrs. Thatcher and the Queen caused an uncharacteristic rift between Britain and the Arabs and ensured the widespread publicity once it was healed.
This was made possible by the inclusion of Khalidi, whom the British claimed was not a PLO man despite the PLO’s adamant claims to the contrary. It also provided an unexpected publicity coup for Hussein who led the mission after Morocco’s King Hassan, its original leader, lost patience and dropped out.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.