Now that agreement has been reached between Israel and Egypt over Sinai, the next Middle Eastern problem that may be tackled is the position of Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.
Now that agreement has been reached between Israel and Egypt over Sinai, the next Middle Eastern problem that may be tackled is the position of Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights. Even that looks like proving a difficult nut for Dr. Kissinger's step-by-step diplomacy. And beyond it, standing in the way of any general settlement, still lies the central problem of the Palestine Arabs and the West Bank of the River Jordan.
The West Bank was part of Jordan before the 6-day war of 1967. It is also the core of the territory in which the Palestinians aim to found their own state. Relations between Jordan and the Palestinians over the past few days reflect the tension inherent in his conflict of interest.
Five years ago, on September 11th, 1970, the Palestinian guerrillas blew up three aircraft on Dawson's Field in Jordan. They had blown up another four days earlier in Cairo. Two belonged to the United States, one was British and one Swiss. They had been hi-jacked in protest against the United States cease-fire plan, which was accepted by Israel, Egypt and Jordan, but rejected by Syria, Iraq and the Palestinians.
Within a week, fierce fighting had broken out between the Palestinians and the Jordan army - for the third time in a year. The September clash amounted to full-scale civil war and caused heavy casualties, particularly among civilians.
Eventually, under pressure from the rulers of the principal Arab States, King Hussein of Jordan and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, were brought together and signed agreements to put and end to the fighting. the armed guerrillas withdrew from Amman, but continued to occupy towns in the north of Jordan.
King Hussein's troops went on harrying them there for the best part of a year, and finally cleared the bases of armed men in July 1971. This brought scoring protests from other Arab States, notably Syria, Iraq and Algeria. The Palestinian reaction was more hi-jack attempts, on Jordanian aircraft; the assassination of the Jordanian Prime Minister, Wasfi Tell, in Cairo; and attempts on the lives of two Jordanian ambassadors.
In 1972, King Hussein put forward a proposal for a political solution: a United Arab Kingdom. It would be a federal state, the East bank Jordanian and the West bank Palestinian, under himself and a federal council of ministers, No-one had a good word for it, neither Israel nor the Arab states nor the Palestinians.
Two attempts to overthrow the Jordanian government, in which Palestinian guerrillas were involved, both failed. In May 1973, a now government was formed under Zeid al-Rifai, who was no friend to the Palestinians. He had been one of the targets of the assassination attempts of 1971, when he was Ambassador in London.
A move towards reconciliation between Jordan and its Arab neighbours came in September 1975, when King Hussein met President Sadat of Egypt and President Assad of Syria in Cairo. This was their first official contact for eighteen months. It turned out to be a prelude to the October was against Israel - though Jordan took little active part beyond sending troops to support Syria. It was followed, however, by the release of more than 700 political prisoners, most of them Palestinian commandos.
Another step towards a settlement came last November, at the summit meeting of Arab leaders in Rebat. King Hussein at last accepted the decision that the Palestine Liberation Organisation should be recognised as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestine peoples in all peace negotiations. Up till then, he had refused to allow it any standing in the West Bank area.
The apparent settlement between King Hussein and the Palestinians paved the way for better relations between Jordan and Syria. These countries, which have just made a new military alliance, are two that feel that the Egypt-Israel agreement still leaves their own dispute with Israel untouched.