Isolation unites Jordan with foes in PLO factions

September 19, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- At first, the short statement by George Habash about his meeting with Jordan's King Hussein might have sounded like little more than the obligatory thanks a guest offers his host.

But Mr. Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was talking amiably about the head of state he once sought to overthrow. In the process, he provided more evidence that Iraq's takeover of Kuwait has produced a radical reordering of the Arab world.

Mr. Habash, who had been barred for years from entering Jordan, said yesterday that on the subject of Kuwait he and King Hussein "shared the same ground." He said the king, whom Mr. Habash used to vilify as a traitor to the Palestinian cause, was a figure of "vast experience" who had much to teach any listener.

King Hussein met with Mr. Habash in recognition of the diplomatic isolation each is experiencing as a supporter of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. King Hussein also met with Naif Hawatmeh, head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who also was involved in the attempt to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy in 1970 and 1971.

Mr. Habash and Mr. Hawatmeh lead hard-line factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization and maintain that the main threat to peace in the Middle East comes not from Iraq but from the presence of U.S. military forces.

Their position is shared by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who flew here yesterday from Baghdad and reportedly talked with the king.

Over the last 25 years, Mr. Arafat and King Hussein have alternated between being allies and bitter enemies. They now publicly agree that the first step toward resolving the Persian Gulf crisis must be the withdrawal of all Western troops.

Mr. Habash made the PLO's most direct threat to date against the United States, saying Palestinians would retaliate for any attack on Iraq. "At this moment our finger is touching the trigger," he said. "We will attack the first moment Iraq is attacked."

Iraq's invasion has rescued the PLO's hard-line factions from near oblivion. Factions led by Mr. Habash and Mr. Hawatmeh have been in eclipse since late 1988, when Mr. Arafat indirectly recognized Israel as a state and limited Palestinian territorial claims to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr. Habash and Mr. Hawatmeh have now had their status restored and taken the opportunity to resurrect old causes. Instead of demanding only the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mr. Habash talks again about Israel proper as "the occupied territories of 1948." Instead of focusing on Iraq's attack against a fellow Arab state, he warns that U.S. and British soldiers have arrived to impose a new era of Western colonialism.

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