"We have no position yet," a Jordanian official said today. "The decisions are still in the mind of his majesty, but we must try to find a common line that can recognize the Arab stand into a coordinated position."
Jordon, a country many believe to be a key to the success or failure of the new Egyptian peace initiative, finds itself in an all too familiar dilemma.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadathas called upon Jordan, and other concerned Arab countries as well as the United States and the Soviet Union, to come to Cairo and hold pre-Geneva negotiations with the Israelis. Meanwhile, Syria, Jordan's northern neighbor withwhich Amman has been building political and economic bridges for the last three years, bitterly condemns the Egyptian initiative.
If Jordon goes to Cairo, it risks the wrath of Syria and perhaps more strains on Arab unity. If Jordan does not go, Sadat's conference could become little more than another Egyptian-Israeli dialogue in which the rest of the Arab states are left out.
The squeeze that King Hussein finds himself in is not new. The last time it happened, 1975 when Egypt signed a disengagement agreement with Israel in the Sinai, Jordan backed Syria. Jordan also backed Syria in its actions in Lebanon, which Egypt originally opposed.
Few foreign diplomats or Jordanians are willing predict what Jordan will do now, but the conventional wisdom is that when Jordan is faced with a stark choice between two alternatives, King Hussein will try to make some attempt at reconciling the Egyptian and Syrian positions before committing itself either way.
Saudi Arabia, for all its financial clout, has not tried to influence Jordan in thismatter, informed sources said.
The only official statement Jordan has made so far on the entire Sadat initiative was a masterpiece of fence sitting. The statement, issued on Nov. 19, said that such decision to visit Israel and that such decisions without consultations damaged Arab unity. On the other hand, the statement said, over reactions and undue critism of Egypt's initiative also harmed Arab unity.
"Jordan calls for the containing of differences and for establishing a unified Arab position based on positive dialogue and joint effort," it said.
Jordanians, on the whole, were impressed by the Sadat speech beforethe Knesset, and in the last week Jordanian public statements have been more pro-Egyptian than in the last two years, according to diplomatic sources.This may only be an effort to remain in the center, however, while Syria steps up its condemnation of Egypt.
Jordanians were dissapointed that Sadat got little out of Israel in the way of concessions or gestures, and it appeared here that Sadat gave more to the Israelis in the way of commitments than Israel gave to Syria.
Sadat's speech before his own Parliament yesterday, however, requires active decisions and not passive reactions and therefore put Jordan unpleasantly on the spot.
Attempts at building a political and military unity between Syria and Jordan have not gotten very far, perhaps because of Saudi disapproval of greater Jordanian sources believe that economic cooperation with the leftist Syria could survive political differences over the Sadat initiative.
Jordan has learned that its importance grows when Arab unity weakens, and Jordan cannot afford to get out too far ahead of the pack in any direction. Hussein is not in a hurry to make a decision but, with those adamantly opposing Sadat planning to hold a sumitt meeting in Libya soon and with Sadat calling for his own conference as early as next week, some Jordanians are wondering how long they can stay on the fence.
Israel and Jordan have a noticeable difference in their perception of recent events. Israelis tend to see the Sadat initiative in terms of a master stroke. They believe that Egypt, the most important country among the confrontation states, is in a position to make peace in face-to-face negotiations inwhich the other Arab countries can either join or get left behind.
Jordan, while recognizing that Sadat has made a psychological break-through with the Israelis, tends to see the entire Middle East situation as being in a state of confusion and perhaps out of control. It is not clear, in Jordan's view whether Sadat can pull off his conference or whether he has gone too far out on a limb as the head of a country in deep domestic troubles.
Jordan cannot afford to look at Syria as helpless and impotent. The feeling here is that a peace without Syria orthe Palestinians would be meaningless. Meanwhile, Washington seems to have lost control of events, in Jordan 's view.