Israel tonight welcomed the announcement by King Hussein of Jordan that he has ended a year-long effort to work jointly with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat toward peace with Israel.
"This came as no surprise to us. We have said all the time that the PLO and Jordan don't go together," Avi Pazner, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said tonight after King Hussein's three-hour televised speech from Amman, which was broadcast to millions of Israeli listeners with English subtitles.
"It is obvious that the sooner the king got rid of the PLO, the better it is for the Middle East generally. The only way to peace is through direct negotiations between Jordan and Israel," Pazner said in a telephone interview.
One of the key Palestinian figures in the peace process, East Jerusalem newspaper editor Hanna Siniora, said tonight that a crucial phase of the negotiations had ended. He said he foresaw a "lengthy and tortuous process of negotiations."
Abba Eban, chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset, or parliament, said he was "delighted" by the Jordanian monarch's speech.
"We've been saying for a long time that the only obstacle to the peace negotiations is the PLO, and now the king seems to be agreeing to that. He is making a very clear distinction between the Palestinian people and the PLO," Eban said in a telephone interview.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, interviewed on Israeli television, said he saw an opportunity for substantive peace negotiations with West Bank Palestinians.
"If, indeed, the residents of the [occupied] territories will understand that this is the hour of truth, and they take the initiative to get together with Hussein, then this may be the opening for a renewed chance for a dialogue," Rabin said.
Newspaper editor Siniora did not directly address Rabin's suggestion.
"There are points where Palestinians and Jordanians see eye to eye, particularly with respect to Zionist expansion," he said. "But King Hussein insists that land comes first and that political considerations come second. We say that both should come together."
Siniora said the February 1985 agreement between Hussein and the PLO could still govern relations between Jordan and the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.