Arafat urged to sell peace to his people: King Hussein is worried by lack of progress, Annika Savill reports from Amman

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The Independent Online
KING HUSSEIN of Jordan yesterday called on the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, to refrain from autocratic tendencies and keep in touch with his people to help sell them the concept of peace with Israel.

Speaking on the day on which Israel was scheduled to withdraw from Gaza and Jericho, and on the day of the latest attack by Palestinian extremists inside Israel, the King said in an interview: 'There are in the region too many examples of lonely decisions without consulting people.'

'I've seen far too many times peace made between individuals . . . for something to be meaningful it has to come when people are able to express themselves freely.'

At a meeting with journalists at the Basman Palace in the Jordanian capital organised by the United Nations, the King declared: 'I wish our Palestinian brethren will enjoy democracy and pluralism . . . it is not for me to decide, or for Mr Arafat to decide, what the future should be.'

Asked if he would have advised Mr Arafat to condemn personally yesterday's bombing at Hadera by Hamas after the PLO chairman failed to condemn personally a similar attack last week, the King said: 'I wouldn't give him any advice. I've given him a lot of advice in the past, not on this but on other subjects. I really hope that he realises the importance of becoming a symbol for the Palestinian people. I hope that he delegates responsibility.'

He said there was 'a lack of co-ordination' among the Arab parties in the peace process as well as a problem with Israel 'moving to one track and then to another'.

For 20 years the PLO was recognised by the Arab world as the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people 'despite the surprise of Oslo and everthing else' - a reference to the secret Norwegian-sponsored talks leading to the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles last September.

Since then, the King said, 'I believe we have witnessed a kind of change . . . at a certain point in time there was so much optimism, so much hope that finally the root of instability in the region had been tackled quickly and efficiently.

'I believe that too much time has lapsed without any concrete result. The hopes that we felt then created a new divide, not Palestinian-Israeli, not Arab-Israeli, but a huge movement for peace - obviously there were those who were opposed to it but they were in a minority at that time,' he said.

'We warned that it was going to take much time, but even by my standards, as a person in a position of responsibility, I feel too much time has passed, too little has been achieved, and the spirit that shaped the peace accord has been dampened by what we have seen in the way of lack of progress on the one hand and the resulting very tragic events that have been happening and have cost a lot of lives so far.'

The King, bearded as he was during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis, looked well but smoked heavily despite repeated pledges to give up following his treatment for cancer.

He added: 'Extremists, for whatever reason, can succeed if we fail . . . I hope all of us realise this is the moment to act with courage and determination . . . everybody had better think very rapidly and move.'

Of the negotiations between Israel and the Arab states, which are regarded as an integral part of the peace process, he said: 'Others must move, Syria, Lebanon . . . not because we are waiting for them to move but because they must be given the opportunity to move.

'There doesn't seem to be much activity on the other tracks as should have been the case now . . . because in the final analysis what we want to achieve and we are seeking to have as a reality in our lives is a comprehensive peace.

'From a Jordanian perspective we have made it very clear that rather than the idea of writing a peace treaty, and then negotiating its contents, we should seriously negotiate.' The King was referring to Israeli demands to defer the details of border demarcation with Jordan until both parties had signed a peace accord in principle. Asked if the peace process as a whole had not now gained sufficient momentum to be irreversible, the King said he hoped so, but added: 'If we don't succeed it's going to be a mess.'