A small dam of words burst last Sunday, and the wave that washed over the Arab-Israeli dispute rinsed a large rock that lies in the path of peace. Careful words from a king and crafty words from a Palestine Liberation Organization operative revealed deep Arab disagreement even about what the word "Palestine" designates.
On ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley," Bassam Abu Shareef of the PLO said "an" aim of the PLO is establishment of a state on "part of" -- on "any" part of -- Palestine. A state on the West Bank and Gaza would be "satisfactory."
Question: "Does this mean that (the PLO) can accept the simultaneous existence of Israel as a Jewish state?"
Shareef: "This is the PLO program. It was very clear, and although many people decided not to read it carefully because they don't want to read it carefully, we now read it to you carefully."
Oh? What "PLO program"? Not the Palestine National Charter adopted in 1968, the first point of which is that Palestine is an "indivisible" part of the Arab world, and the second point of which is: "Palestine, with the borders it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit." (More in a moment about why the PLO accepts the British "imperialist" definition of Palestine.)
Shareef's statement, another example of PLO "moderation" for U.S. media, refers to the PLO's 10-point program adopted in 1974. It held that "any" liberation of Palestine is but a step toward the destruction of Israel (point four) and -- note well -- the overthrow of the Jordanian regime (point five). When Shareef was asked if the PLO's argument about title to the West Bank is not "as much with Jordan as it is with Israel," he said: "Well, who told you that we differentiate greatly between Begin and Hussein?" There, suddenly, the mask of moderation slipped, the dishonesty was revealed.
Shareef was immediately followed on ABC by Hussein. He was asked about recent statements by Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon that Jordan is a Palestinian state. Before considering his answer, consider this:
The first modern use of the word "Palestine" to designate a specific territory was for the territory mandated to Britain when the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918. The League of Nations' mandate designated land on both sides of the Jordan River -- all that is now Israel and Jordan -- as Palestine. Later, Britain separated Transjordan (now Jordan), restricting the name "Palestine" to the West Bank and what is now Israel. But remember what Hussein never forgets: the PLO charter endorsed the original, inclusive definition of Palestine.
Responding to Israeli statements that Jordan is Palestinian, ethnically (65-70 percent) and geographically, Hussein said, obliquely: Jordan has given "a chance to feel at home" to "Palestinians awaiting a resolution of their problem, on their legitimate soil." By "Palestinian soil," he means everything west of the Jordan River. He spoke on Sunday of "Palestinian soil under occupation by Israel, and (sic) the West Bank, Arab Jerusalem and Gaza."
So "Palestinian soil" includes more than territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Unlike the PLO, Hussein says (or seems to) that there is no Palestinian soil east of the Jordan River. Like the PLO, he says (or seems to) that all soil west of the Jordan -- Tel Aviv, Haifa, everything -- is Palestinian.
For 19 years (1948-67) Jordan controlled the West Bank, which Hussein now calls "Palestinian soil," but made no move to offer it up to what Hussein now calls "legitimate Palestinian Arab rights." On ABC, Hussein called it "inaccurate" to say Jordan annexed the West Bank more than 30 years ago. He said, "It was an Arab effort to save what could be saved of Palestine" after the 1948 war. But no Arab nation supported Jordan's annexation. The United States never recognized it. Only two nations -- Britain and Pakistan -- did. Ironically, Israel sort of did, de facto, after 1967, by using Jordanian currency, applying Jordanian law and maintaining Jordanian education and civic practices.
On Monday, the Reagan administration declared that Jordan is not a Palestinian state. But on Sept. 3, 1980, Ronald Reagan said: "Israel and Jordan are the two Palestinian states envisioned and authorized by the United Nations. Jordan is now recognized as sovereign in some 80 percent of the old territory of Palestine."
Hussein's subtlety, even artistry, was on view Sunday. In September 1970, his army killed many times more PLO members than Sharon's army killed in Lebanon. Last Sunday, when an ABC correspondent said "the Palestinians" were expelled from Jordan in 1970, Hussein deftly, almost unnoticeably rejected the equation of the PLO and "the Palestinians." He simply said: "Not many left Jordan in 1970. A very few did so. . . ." That is true. Most Palestinians are still there, in Palestine.