Peace over Jordan

October 18, 1994

And so it has come to pass that the American president is to make peace next week at the River Jordan between the Israelites, who hold sway over the lands on the West Bank, and the Hashemite monarch who rules the East Bank.

Yet the Palestinians who constitute the majority of those living on each side of the storied waterway remain restive, eager for full statehood, even muttering rebellion against the leader who has dared to abandon his revolutionary ways and cooperate with the Jewish state he fought so long.

Indeed it is the extremists in the Hamas organization who remain the biggest threat to the peace goals of Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Jordan's King Hussein and the head of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Jericho, Yasser Arafat. If these unlikely allies, enemies for so long, can pacify the bulk of the Palestinian people, the dream of an overarching Middle East peace may at last be realized. Even the Syrians, long the most adamant of the anti-Israel coalition, seem prepared to join the process as their relations with the United States continue to improve. They, in turn, can bring Lebanon along.

Events appear to be tumbling over themselves in interlocking crescendo. In the past turbulent week, Hamas has kidnapped and killed an Israeli soldier, Nachshon Waxman, sent its followers into the streets of Gaza to protest Mr. Arafat's roundup of 160 extremists and has even warned the Palestinian Liberation Organization not to replace the Israeli government as Hamas' oppressor.

The question then becomes, can Mr. Arafat control militants resisting his peace efforts? It is a question that must resonate with King Hussein, whose regime was at war with the Palestinians in its midst a quarter-century ago, and with Mr. Rabin, whose peace policies were rocked by the kidnapping and the subsequent failed attempt to free poor Corporal Waxman from his captors.

Yet all the top leaders in this drama are wily if they are anything. Mr. Rabin's initialing of a draft peace agreement settling serious land and water issues with Jordan is as popular in Israel as his pact with the PLO is not. It could offset a national trauma over the soldier's death. Mr. Arafat may yet use the incident as a pretext for attempting to disarm his adversaries in Hamas, this on the assumption that the extremists in the Palestinian cause are isolated as never before. And King Hussein may see this as his moment to assert independence of the Syrians by becoming the second Arab state, after Egypt, to make peace with Israel.

In these events, the U.S. is active in Israeli-Arab negotiations and stands guardian over oil states of the Persian Gulf, protecting them from Iraq and Iran and thereby nudging Saudi Arabia into a modus vivendi with Israel. The symbol of President Clinton extending his arms over the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn may soon be augmented by his embrace of the Israeli-Jordanian pact at the river Jews and Arabs most revere.

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