Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, with an eye on the one remaining year of his stewardship of the government, said today he is convinced that Jordan's King Hussein is sincerely pursuing peace with Israel, but that the strategy Hussein is following could consume "years and years" before direct negotiations with Israel actually begin.
"The Jordanians are saying that time is running out and this is the last chance. Now if we follow the process they propose, it may take years and years before a meeting will take place," Peres said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Peres, showing a growing sense of frustration over the length of the stalemate, added, "Take just the first stage. It is supposed to be the easiest among them -- composing a [joint Jordanian-Palestinian] delegation. It is already four or five months, and there is not yet an agreement about it."
The Jordanian monarch and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres said, "suggested a plan which may be innovative in their eyes but which is leading us on a very long road, and God knows where it will go."
Repeating his call for immediate, direct negotiations between Israel and a delegation including Palestinians not directly affiliated with the PLO, Peres said, "Let's start talking sense. Why all these maneuvers?"
At another point in the one-hour interview, held in his office, Peres described the peace-making efforts as "a very long process, full of obstacles," but he said he did not think the problem was as simple as the PLO not wanting peace.
"I think they are incapable of making up their minds all the time," he said. "Some of them want it, some don't want it. But the organization, in order to satisfy conflicting views, is adopting a conflicting policy, which raises the suspicion that what they actually want is to be recognized by the United States and maybe undermine Hussein's position. Anyway, the picture is a picture of confusing and conflicting actions."
Arafat, he said, "all the time prefers the togetherness of his organization rather than the truth of his policies."
Peres' seemingly peevish mood over the deadlock surfaced as he prepared to enter his final year at the head of the coalition "national unity" government.
Under the agreement between Peres' Labor Party and the Likud bloc, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir will become prime minister on Sept. 14, 1986 -- unless the coalition crumbles before then and elections are held. It is widely assumed that a Likud-led government would adopt a harder line toward any negotiations that could lead to territorial concessions by Israel in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Peres said he was committed to fulfilling the terms of the unity government rotation, and would not force a split in the government "even if we have a good chance in the elections."
He said his "wish" was that he could conclude an agreement during the next year with Egypt over the Sinai border dispute, and then, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak exerting some influence on Hussein, open talks with the Jordanians and a delegation of Palestinians that does not include PLO members. Peres said he "wondered" whether there was a possibility of a breakthrough in the peace initiative without Mubarak's influence.
Peres also said he intended to hold a summit meeting with Mubarak only after resolving the question of whether international arbitration or conciliation will be employed to settle the dispute over Taba, a narrow strip of land on the Gulf of Aqaba claimed by both countries.
Asked whether he thought the Likud members of the government would attempt to place obstacles at any stage of the planned sequence, Peres replied, "I won't deny it. We didn't overcome our ideological differences, and we have in the Cabinet a great deal of convincing to do. I mean, it's not a simple matter to run a government of this nature, with two equal parties, without a majority. But then, when you look at the record, it was a fruitful year. We have achieved quite a lot of decisions, and we shall try to do it in the future."
In any event, Peres said, the major obstacle to a breakthrough is the issue of PLO participation, and whether Hussein will agree to drop PLO-affiliated delegates from the negotiating panel.
Asked whether he thought Hussein has the courage to drop Arafat and lead moderate Palestinians to peace talks, Peres said, "I would give him credit, because I believe his intentions are in the right place. And anyway, if we become suspicious of everybody, then what? I wouldn't want to become the victim of a preconceived concept that leads nowhere."
"I think that while the king is trying to achieve an agreement and is having problems about the negotiations, the PLO is trying to achieve negotiations without having an agreement. What they really want is to be recognized by the United States without confining themselves to the conditions which are necessary to conduct serious negotiations," Peres said.
Asked whether he thought there was any hope for peace talks if Hussein remains adamant about including the PLO, Peres replied, "I don't think so. If it's true what the PLO says that all or most of the Arabs on the West Bank are supporting the PLO, so why don't they appoint West Bank delegates who are acceptable to us also. . . . We don't put any censorship on positions, but we surely put reservations on weapons not being used. So either you are killing or you're talking."
Peres dismissed as unimportant Arafat's recent public offer of "peace for land" and his reported statement in Rome yesterday that he was ready to negotiate peace with Israel.
"The problem with Arafat is that while he makes some remarks outside Israel, he is trying to augment his terrorist activities inside Israel, and is bringing Israeli public opinion rightly to an outrage," Peres said.
Peres was skeptical about a proposal reportedly under consideration by the Reagan administration to satisfy Hussein's demand for an international peace conference by taking the peace negotiations to a European conclave that would not include Syria or the Soviet Union.
"I don't think that is what they the PLO are looking for," he said. "They are looking for Russian participation. They call it an international conference, but they spelled out that they want to see the five permanent members of the Security Council hosting this conference, and among the five are at least one that has cut its relations with Israel -- Russia -- and one that didn't recognize Israel.
"So you need a great deal of conviction to say to Israel, 'Look, we have prepared a beautiful trap. Why wouldn't you fall into it?' "
Asked how far he was prepared to go with the concept of territorial compromise if peace talks begin, Peres said Israel "will consider any proposal made by the opposite side, rather seriously," but he stressed that the coalition government's opening proposal would have to start with an offer of "self-government" for West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians "and then we shall see how the negotiations develop."