Islamic furor over Jerusalem, reinforced by the stalemate in the Palestinian autonomy talks, is increasingly pushing Arab moderates toward the uncompromising anti-Israeli positions of their extremist brethren.
The result in the coming months, it is expected here, is likely to be even stronger rejection of American, Egyptian and Israeli efforts to move beyond the separate Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty toward a West Bank and Gaza agreement that could win support from Palestinians, Jordanians, Saudis and other Arabs.
In the view of Jordanian and Palestinian analysts here, this is particularly true because of the diplomatic vacuum they expect in the Middle East during the American presidential elections. Although most moderate Arabs voice support for President Carter's reelection, few expect him to take any initiatives to unfreeze the talks until he is freed from the need for Jewish electoral support in the United States.
In addition, the analysts point out the U.S. political campaign coincides with a key Arab summit conference planned in Amman for the last week in November. In the atmosphere created by the Camp David process' increasingly forlorn record, moderate Arab leaders will have a hard time refuting the emotional hard-line appeals of such unbending foes of Israel as Iraq, Syria and Libya, they predict.
"They will be ready to listen to extremists," said a Jordanian official.
King Hussein's rule in Jordan has been characterized by prudence as much as any other quality in his three decades on the throne, another Jordanian recalled adding, however, that the king faces growing pressure from public opinion angered by Israeli actions on Jerusalem and from the Arab tradition of absolutist rhetoric.
"Your brain does you no good if you are living in a madhouse," he said, quoting an Arab proverb. "You have to behave like your fellow inmates."
Hussein has for the last six years -- since he was received back into the Arab world's good graces at the 1974 Rabat summit conference -- built his foreign policy on the need for a cohesive Arab position. As a result, he has been unwilling to pull away from the pack, particularly as regards the Camp David process that he personally judged to be an error from the start.
"The Jordanians, on all these things, are in a position of strong followership," cracked a Western diplomat.
The same assessment could apply to Saudi Arabia, the other main moderate nation whose support is needed if the Camp David talks are ever to succeed. The influential oil giant's wealth and Islamic prestige give it great weight in Arab councils. But the Saudi leadership also clings to Arab solidarity as a buttress against attacks on its royal rule.
Moreover, the Israeli law declaring all Jerusalem the eternal Israeli capital amounts to a direct challenge to the Saudis' pride in their role as protectors of the Moslem holy places. Eastern Jerusalem, captured from Jordan in 1967, contains Islam's third-holiest site, where Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven.
It is against this backdrop that Jordanians view the threat early this month by Iraq and Saudi Arabia to cut political and economic ties with any country that recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. King Khalid, in the view of informed analysts here, felt it necessary to go along with President Saddam Hussein of Iraq because, as the Saudi monarch, he could do no less and still retain his status as an Arab and Islamic leader.
Saddam Hussein, they noted, quickly telephoned most Arab heads of state to inform them of the decision with Khalid, reflecting his delight at moving in such influential circles. Iraq, ruled by Baath Party revolutionaries often warring among themselves, has long been considered an outcast in the Arab family and Saddam Hussein is eager to change that image. o
Saudi Arabia succumbed to similar Arab pressures at the Arab summit conference in Baghdad in November 1978, resisting and then accepting for the sake of Arab unity tough boycott measures to punish Egypt for the Camp David peace accords with Israel. That also was regarded as a triumph for Hussein and other uncompromising Arab leaders such as Hafez Assad of Syria and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, even though little practical punishment has actually been meted out to Egypt.
Last week's strongly worded statement from Crown Prince Fahd, the day-to-day Saudi ruler, also was seen here as a gesture acknowledging the Arab public opinion and the gathering regional influence of Saddam Hussein's Iraq rather than an expression of Saudi intentions to actually take strong action against Israel.
Saudi Arabia, with the United States and Western Europe heavily dependent on its oil, has at its disposal a perfect weapon for forcing attention on the Jerusalem crisis, Jordanians said. But unless Khalid and Fahd are willing to use it -- and so far they have not been -- their call for consideration of a jihad, or Islamic holy war, has a hollow ring, they added.
"The whole thing is nonsense" said a Jordanian official. "They are doing nothing, the Saudis. They will do nothing against the United States."
A Palestinian resident here described the Saudi statement as kalam fadhi, or empty rhetoric. Others noted that yesterday's declaration from the Islamic Jerusalem Committee meeting in Casablanca amounted to more of the same.
At the same time, observers recalled, Jordan was quick to give official endorsement to the Saudi-Iraqi communique promising to sever relations with any nation that recognizes Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Within a week, most other Arab states had joined in.
The Palestine Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat, also sent a message of congratulations to Fahd applauding his reference to a holy war over Jerusalem and urged the Casablanca conference to open and finance recruitment offices across the Arab world.
This Arab tendency to follow the most extreme lead is the focal point of moderate fears over the next several months during what is expected to be a freeze in U.S.-led peace efforts.Heightening these fears analysts here say, is the fact that little preparation has been made for the November summit, leaving room for the sirens of emotion and rhetoric.
A preparatory conference of foreign and finance ministers here in July accomplished little, they said, except to refer issues to committees. Recalling this, a Jordanian official said: "The only thing that is being prepared right is the conference hall."