The Israeli Invasion of Lebanon
The June 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon significantly altered Jordan's geostrategic position. Israel's willingness to remove PLO bases from Lebanon by force, despite widespread international criticism, raised apprehensions that Israel might launch an offensive against Jordan. The Arab states, weakened by internal rivalries, the Iran-Iraq War, and Egypt's isolation, did not respond forcefully to the Israeli actions. Hussein viewed the Lebanon invasion as part of a pattern of more aggressive Israeli policies that included the 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, confrontations with Syria, and an ambitious settlement policy in the occupied territories. The government of Menachem Begin, unlike its predecessors, was willing to use force to attain its territorial objectives. This led to concerns that Israel might have designs on Jordan, or that the PLO, after having its major base of operations in Lebanon destroyed, might attempt to reestablish itself in Jordan. Hussein also feared that Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank was rapidly reducing the chances of an acceptable settlement there.
To many Middle East experts, the increase in settlements, their strategic location, the militancy of many of the Israeli settlers, the rise of religious nationalism inside the political mainstream in Israel, and the expansionary views of the Likud leadership lent urgency to the need to reach a negotiated settlement. Jordan hoped to convince the Reagan administration to push policy makers in Jerusalem toward an acceptable peace settlement.
On September 1, 1982, President Reagan launched the Reagan Plan. Hussein applauded the new American proposal, seeing in it a clear break from the Camp David framework. In announcing the new plan, Reagan stated that "it was the firm view of the United States that self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan offers the best chance for a durable and lasting peace," specifying that the United States would not support the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Reagan Plan also stressed UN Resolution 242, stating that the resolution applied to all fronts, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and that the final status of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiation.
The war in Lebanon and the publication of the Reagan Plan ushered in a new symbiosis in Jordanian-PLO relations. Hussein needed PLO acceptance of Jordan's participation in the peace process in the framework of the Reagan Plan; PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, considerably weakened by the PLO's devastating defeat in the war in Lebanon, needed Jordanian support to gain access to the political process. In October 1982, Hussein and Arafat began a series of meetings designed to formulate a joint response to the Reagan Plan. These negotiations centered around the formation of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to future peace talks, and-- because neither Israel nor the United States recognized the PLO--on the extent to which the PLO would be directly associated with this delegation. Jordan proposed that the PLO appoint West Bank residents who were not members of the PLO to represent the Palestinians. In November 1982, agreement was reached on the formation of a Higher Jordanian-Palestinian Committee headed by Prime Minister Mudar Badran and Arafat.
Because of conflicting objectives sought by Arafat and Hussein, the joint Palestinian-Jordanian committee never materialized. Whereas Hussein saw the proposed confederation as a means to reestablish Jordanian control over the West Bank, Arafat viewed the negotiations as a means to gain PLO sovereignty over the occupied territories. In addition, Hussein and Arafat required evidence that Washington was willing to pressure Israel to make significant territorial concessions. Meanwhile, Israeli troops still occupied part of southern Lebanon, and the Israeli government had not made any commitments on the settlement issue. Moreover, given Iran's recent victories in its war with Iraq, tensions with Syria, and a depressed world oil market, Hussein could not isolate Jordan by unilaterally participating in the Reagan Plan without some show of Israeli flexibility.
Following Hussein's decision in April 1983 not to join the Reagan Plan, Jordan increasingly criticized Washington's inability to apply pressure on Israel to halt settlements in the West Bank. United States-Jordanian relations were further strained in May 1983 when the Reagan administration lifted a ban on the sale of F-16 aircraft to Israel. The ban had been imposed to pressure Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. The United States opposed a Jordanian draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council in July 1983 asserting the illegality of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, and relations between the two countries were further soured by the signing in November 1983 of a new agreement on strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States.
Syria emerged from the war in Lebanon as a pivotal regional power, able and willing to play a role in the affairs of neighboring Arab states. Whereas Syrian power was on the rise, Jordan's most powerful Arab ally, Iraq, seemed to be losing its costly war with Iran. Hussein tried to counterbalance the Syrian threat by making overtures to President Husni Mubarak of Egypt, but did not yet reestablish diplomatic relations. Hussein hoped that Mubarak, who had replaced Sadat after the latter's assassination in September 1981, would bring Egypt back into the Arab fold after Sinai was returned to Egypt in September 1982.
High-level talks between Egypt and Jordan occurred regularly throughout 1983 and 1984. In addition, Egyptian newspapers, banned in Jordan after the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, were allowed into the country in October 1983. Also, Jordan and Egypt signed a trade protocol in December 1983 and discussed the expansion of scientific and agricultural cooperation. Finally, in September 1984, Jordan officially announced the resumption of diplomatic relations with Egypt.
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