The Palestine Liberation Organization's murky deliberations in Algiers have produced neither a red light nor a green light for President Reagan's Middle East peace plan but have left Chairman Yasser Arafat considerable room for future maneuver, in the view of State Department sources.
The ambiguous result of the Palestine National Council meeting was in line with advance indications, according to U.S. experts. It has done nothing to reduce the official optimism that King Hussein of Jordan can be induced to join the peace process.
A statement by Secretary of State George P. Shultz in a television interview Sunday marked the high point of publicly expressed confidence.
"I think it is well known by this time that King Hussein wants to enter the peace processs. . . . I'm pretty optimistic that one of these fine days the conditions will be right for raising that negotiating level a new notch by the addition of Jordan ," Shultz said on "This Week with David Brinkley" (ABC, WJLA).
Following the reports from Algiers yesterday, official sources here said nothing had happened to change Shultz' assessment. However, they also said it is likely to take several weeks to hear definitively how Arafat will choose to play the cards left by the Palestinian legislative body and how Hussein will react.
The officials anticipated that the PLO leader will visit Saudi Arabia and Jordan to report on the meeting and to indicate his position on Hussein's participation in negotiations about the Reagan plan. It largely will be up to Arafat how to interpret the deliberations and results in Algiers, sources said.
Two points should be clear to Arafat, in the view of the officials: that there will be no PLO delegation in expanded peace talks, and that there will be no negotiation for an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank.
On the other hand, Hussein is expected to recruit some West Bank Palestinian leaders as part of his negotiating team, if and when he joins the talks. In the U.S. view, the Algiers meeting left Arafat enough flexibility to give tacit approval to such an arrangement.
Statements attributed to Hussein about a March 1 deadline for his decision on whether to join the talks were not taken literally at the State Department. That deadline was seen as part of the Jordanian monarch's pressure for an early position by the PLO. Now that the Algiers meeting has been held, a decision from Hussein is expected sometime within March, officials said.
If and when Hussein does join the peace process, the first item of business is expected to be redoubled efforts to agree on "transitional arrangements" on the West Bank and Gaza as outlined in the 1978 Camp David accords.
Shultz hinted broadly at this procedure in his televised remarks Sunday. Officials said this was a major topic of discussion during Hussein's visit to Washington last December, with the United States making the point that it was better to resume negotiations within an established framework, where considerable work has been done, than to try immediately for more ambitious agreements.