By cutting ties with the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the kingdom of Jordan this week has thrown the whole Middle East scene into confusion. The question far outnumber the answers, but one thing seems clear: The move will make any Israel-Arab peace more difficult to achieve.
The action by King Hussein of Jordan leaves Palestinians in the West Bank in an uncertain position. Despite the occupation by Israel, the Palestinians had been supported by Jordan in many ways.The withdrawal of Jordan from the scene does a number of things:
*** It clearly means the end of any Jordanian claim to the West Bank. The territory, annexed by Jordan in 1950 and lost to Israel in the 1967 war, is now in limbo when it comes to ownership. Will the West Bank become the basis for a Palestinian state, or will Israel feel free to claim it?
*** It means the loss of up to $100 million in stipends, salaries, and scholarships paid by Jordan to more than 13,000 Palestinian teachers, lawyers, ex-government workers, and Islamic institutions. Will the PLO take over some of this support? Will Israel even allow it to try?
*** It means the cancellation of a $1.3 billion Jordanian-financed development plan for the territory.
*** It may mean the loss of Jordanian passport privileges for some one million Palestinians. If Jordan no longer feels it can speak for the West Bank Palestinians - and Israel surely will oppose the PLO in any such role - who will be their spokesman?
*** It could affect everyday life in other ways. Jordanian money is the main currency in the West Bank, Jordanian law is used in the courts, Jordanian textbooks are used in the schools. What will happen to these materials and practices?
*** It could affect the election in Israel Nov. 1. The left-of-center Labor Party, which shares power with the hard-line right wing, had invested a great deal of effort in promoting King Hussein of Jordan as a stand-in negotiatior for the PLO in an international peace conference - a way to arrive at a deal without face-to-face talks with the PLO. Hussein's abandonment of the West Bank mean the end of such plans.
Why did Hussein bail out? No convincing explanations have been given so far, but the reasons may be both economic and political. The divorce from the West Bank will save Jordan a great deal of money. It also will save King Hussein many headaches.
The uprising by Palestinians the past eight months in the occupied territories has hurt pro-Jordan sentiment in those areas, causing people to be suspicious about any possible Jordanian deals with Israel.
Yet with Jordan out of the picture, the chances for a solution to the Palestinian question have become more bleak. They never were all that bright, but the one avenue for arranging a Palestinian homeland has now been closed.
Until some basic attitudes in the Middle East are changed - an unlikely occurrence at this point - any hope for fundamental Israeli-Arab peace appears very meager indeed.