King Husseing's government, in a bitterly skeptical mood, seems convinced that the current U.S. initiatives in the Middle East, especially toward Palestinians, are not likely to advance the West Bank autonotiations.
The pessimism here, shared by the many Palestinians resident in Jordan, reflects a judgement that the United States has only a fuzzy idea of where the autonomy talks are leading and that Israel will prevent them from moving in any direction acceptable to Hussein or the Palestinians.
Right or wrong, the conviction constitutes a formidable barrier against inducing Hussein or those Palestinians who still take signals from him to end their boycott of the negotiations, which have been going on among Egypt, Isreal and the United States since late May with only procidural progress.
Jordanian officials applaud attempts to amend U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 to include recognition of Palestinian rights as well as the effort to start a diagogue between Washington and the Palestine Liberation Organization. But they quickly add, the real issue is whether the United States can persuade Israel to pull out of the West Bank and Gaza and allow the Palestinians to determine their own future there.
Assurances from U.S. diplomats that the autonomy plan set up in the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is designed eventually to open the door to such self-determination are greeted here with "Show me." Jordanian officials depict the U.S. assurances as somewhat naive, saying Washington underestimates Israeli determination to retain control over the West Bank.
"We think we know more about dealing with the Israelis than the present leaders of the United States," said a top aide to Hussein. The Israelis "don't want security. They want the territory."
U.S. officials working on the negotiations "lack a clear vision of the future," he said, reiterating that Jordan would consider joining the talks only when the outcome is more clearly defined to include Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Diplomats here say Hussein and his adyisers impute no treachery to the Carter administration's peace efforts -- they only doubt the efforts will work within the Camp David formula.
"We think the United States should transcend the Camp David formula," the Hussein adviser said, adding that the present negotiations "will lead nowhere."
Against this backdrop. Hussein was deliberartely frosty when Robert Strauss, President Carter's special Middle East negotiator, visited Amman last month to push the autonomy talks in which he was then just getting involved.
The Jordanian government issued a communique immediately after his departure stating that Hussein had received him only as a personal envoy from Carter, not as chief of the U.S. team in the negotiations.
Hussein has been meticulous to align his policies with the other Arab states that decided on joint opposition to the Egyptian-Israeli treaty at the last Arb summit in Baghdadm Iraq. Despite realization that Arab unity seems to come true more often in poetry than in politics the king apparently has decided that a coordinated Arab stand is his best recourse now.
Builing his contacts, Hussein recently visited Syria and Saudi Arabia. President Saddam Hussein of Iraq was in Amman for talks with the king a short time ago, as was the Kuwaiti foreign minister. In addition, a highlevel PLO delegation is in Jordan now to increase coordination in efforts to help West Bank Palestinians with Arab-funded development, education and health projects.
This appeal to Arab unity seems to flow from several considerations. For one thing, it reflects what his closest aides depict as the king's genuine sentiment that, with Egypt out of the military balance, only by shouting together can other Arabs hope to make their voices heard.
In addition, it establishes Hussein more firmly within the Arab fold, erasing memories of his 1970-71 "Black September" crackdown on Palestinian guerrillas and guaranteeing state as suggested by some Israelis.
Moreover, the Baghdad accord included subsidies to front-line states estimated to amount to $1.25 billion a year for Jordan, more than a third more than Hussein received under previous Arab subsidy agreements dating from 1967 and 1974. Even if, as expected, Libya and Algeria balk at paying their share, the special Arab subsidies represent an important part of the Jordanian economy.
Some reports have suggested Husein's coordination efforts are building up to a Jordanian initiative to break the impasse created by the Camp David formula. His aides deny this, however, saying he is just consolidating his friendships and waiting to see what emerges from the negotiations.
A Palestinian with long experience in Jordan compared Hussein to one of his Bedouin ancestors in a desert storm, hunching down in his kaffiyyeh and turning occasionally to keep his back to the windswept political sand.
How Hussein would turn if, as Strauss has promised, the autonomy talks begin to show some progress is the subject of much speculation among diplomats here. His advisers make it clear Hussein would abandon his opposition if Israeli withdrawal came within reach under acdeptable conditions.
Should that happen, said a top foreign policy aide, "then we should not miss this opportunity."
He quickly followed up, however, by saying that in Jordan's assessment this pressure will not be forthcoming, particularly since Carter heads toward elections in the United States already burdened with such divisive issues as the new Salt treaty and energy shortages.
Hope of success in the autonomy talks also would force Jordan to define more clearly its own vision of the West Bank's future.
Hussein has said recently with more emphasis than ever before that he supports an independent Palestinian state. Many conservative Jordanians, however, still aim at reimposing the Jordanian control over the West Bank that lasted from 1948 to 1967 and Palestinians here say Hussein himself has not abandoned the idea of some kind of federation with himself as monarch.