The Jordanian government in an apparent attempt to reassert its influence in the West Bank, is preparing to reopen its passport officer there for the first time since it lost the territory to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The decision, conveyed in letters to mayors of the principal West Bank cities and to former passport officers, has led to some conflict between the Amman government and West Bank officials who openly support the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The National Guidance Committee, a political coordinating group of PLO supporters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, has called for a boycott of Jordan's plans and is pressing mayors not to respond to the instructions from Amman.
Some West Bank officials who retain close ties to Jordan have welcomed the passport plan, but others, who identify more closely with the PLO, say they will not cooperate because it would brand them as Amman-oriented and possibly ruin their political careers.
While the Jordanian government decision carries clear implications about the future of Amman's influence in the West Bank and the level of contact across the Jordan River in the days ahead, it does not suggest that King Hussein has altered his position against the Camp David peace negotiations and, the proposed scheme of autonomy for the West Bank's 700,000 Palestinian Arabs, West Bank sources stressed this week.
What it does mean, the sources said, is that Jordan, despite the recent attempts at rapprochement with the PLO, is concerned that its influence in the West Bank may be slipping. Reopening the passport offices is one way of reestablishing that influence.
"They want to take this responsibility away from the municipalities and give it to Jordanian employes. It's another way of trying to keep their hand in the pie," one West Bank source said.
The Israeli government has decided to look the other way, having concluded that the move is little more than a bureaucratic change that does not affect the political structure of the West Bank. Since 1967, Jordanian civil law has continued to be applied in the West Bank.
The half dozen passport officials who have been instructed to go back to work have continued to receive their salaries from Jordan for the last 13 years, as have a third of all West Bank public school teachers and many other civil servants.
Until now, West Bank Palestinians seeking to renew their Jordanian passports have had to either travel to Ammna or, working through the municipal governments, arrange for a courier to do it on their behalf. By reopening the passport offices, Jordan will establish what in effort will be regular diplomatic mail between the interior Ministry to Amman and the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In another sign of conflict between PLO supporters and moderate, Jordan-leaning West Bank officials, the National Guidance Committee has said it opposes plans by the Arab-owned East Jerusalem Electric Co. to appeal to the International Court of Justice at The Hague the recent decision by Israel to take over the company. East Jerusalem Electric services about 60,000 customers, including Jewish settlements in the West Bank and new Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem.
The National Guidance Committee reportedly has asked electric company chairman Anwar Nusseibeh not to go ahead with his planned appeal to The Hague. Nusseibeh is a former Jordanian defense minister.
The Guidance Committee said such an appeal would have to be submitted by Jordan because the court receives petitions only from states. An appeal by Jordan presumably would further advance Jordanian influence in the West Bank.